As noted by Susan Wright yesterday, Donald Trump said of Julian Assange in 2010: “I think there should be, like, death penalty or something.” (Trump now says he loves Wikileaks — an evident display of hypocrisy.) After J.D. Durkin at Mediaite termed this a “joke” that was being overblown by CNN, Andrew Kaczynski released more evidence showing that Trump was not joking at all:
During [an] interview with Fox Business Network’s “Follow the Money,” Trump, who was considering a run for president, brought up WikiLeaks on his own accord as an example of a decline of America’s prestige. At the time, WikiLeaks was publishing classified material leaks to them by Pfc. Chelsea Manning, who was then known as Pfc. Bradley Manning.
“You look at WikiLeaks, I mean, in China, if this would’ve happened the people would get a bullet through their head within 24 hours and here in this country we’re embarrassed, everybody’s embarrassed,” Trump said. “We’re calling the leaders of other countries horrible names — how do you go back and negotiate with people with that. That’s just not the way life works. As far as I’m concerned it’s spying, it’s espionage.”
“They should try that young — they call him private first class — I call him private last class. They should try that young private and they should frankly either put him in jail for the rest of his life or maybe get the death penalty,” continued Trump. “You know, in the old days if you were a spy and that’s what he is you’d get the death penalty.”
During a rally in October of this year Trump exclaimed “I love WikiLeaks.” The organization was at the time leaking emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and had previously released emails from the Democratic National Committee.
That Trump and other Republicans defend this is an example of how tribal politics causes people to defend anything and anybody these days. Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson has a good piece about this at the Washington Post:
Not long ago, Trump recommended the death penalty for Assange. Now he publicly sides with him against U.S. intelligence services. Palin urged the United States to go after Assange “with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda.” Now, we have seen her abject pleading: “Julian, I apologize.” Hannity once called for Assange’s “arrest.” Now he provides a sympathetic platform for Assange’s (and thus Vladimir Putin’s) views.
Let’s be clear about what this means. The president-elect of the United States is elevating a man whom the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., holds responsible for putting the lives of operatives in direct danger. The 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee is bowing and scraping to the man who materially aided the Taliban. Fox News is now an outlet for the Russian version of events.
All this raises practical questions. If I were a prospective intelligence asset — an Iranian nuclear scientist, say, or a North Korean general — why in the world would I cooperate with a country that can’t keep secrets and apparently doesn’t care to? How will the CIA and other intelligence agencies deal day to day with a president who distrusts and publicly defames them?
But the most illuminating question is this: What changed about Assange between these dramatically evolved judgments? Nothing. Except that Assange hurt John Podesta, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.
It would be difficult to formulate a purer example of motivated reasoning and tribal politics. We are dealing with political and moral argument at this level: Trump is good. Assange helped him. So Assange is good.
That’s about the size of it.
As a good right-wing pundit I am expected to offer defenses of Trump’s rank hypocrisy.
I’m expected to, but I won’t. I’m sick of partisan bull****.
All that said, I do owe Donald Trump a debt of thanks.
I thank Donald Trump for showing me how badly partisan hypocrisy has infected the body politic.