WikiLeaks won't feel responsible if Trump beats Clinton

The whistle-blowing site maintains that publication of the Podesta emails was in the public interest.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
3 min read

Clinton has been left bruised by WikiLeaks.

Yana Paskova, Getty Images

WikiLeaks made enemies of Democrats last month when it published thousands of emails allegedly belonging to Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta. The leak made the Democratic nominee look bad at a critical time in the contentious presidential race.

Now, on Election Day in the US, the controversial whistle-blowing site is standing by its decision to publish the emails and says voters should check them out before heading to the polls.

"Everyone should read WikiLeaks before voting today," said Juan Branco, a legal adviser for the organization, at the Web Summit in Lisbon on Tuesday. His comment was backed up by a tweet from WikiLeaks that encouraged people to read the Podesta emails.

If Republican nominee Donald Trump should win when the polls close Tuesday evening, the organization won't feel responsible for the outcome, said Branco. WikiLeaks maintains that it would have been ethically wrong to not publish the leaked material, because the emails are in the public interest.

"I don't think there are responsibilities to be taken for a democratic process," he said. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has not tried to play a role in the presidential election, he added, "other than give the electorate information to help them make the wisest choice, the most informed choice."

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The Clinton campaign has avoided confirming or denying whether the emails from WikiLeaks are real, and didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Branco's remarks. CNET couldn't independently verify the information in the emails, and it's entirely possible that someone altered those emails before they were publicly released.

After publishing the alleged emails, WikiLeaks was accused by some of partisanship and trying to influence the US electorate in Trump's favor. The organization rebutted the claims, saying that if WikiLeaks had received any verifiable incriminating information relating to Trump, it would have published that too.

WikiLeaks checked incoming correspondence for leaks regarding Trump and the other candidates, but did not find anything verifiable that was in the public interest, Branco said.

Assange confirmed this in a statement following Branco's press conference in Lisbon. "We cannot publish what we do not have. To date, we have not received information on Donald Trump's campaign," he said.

The Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where Assange has resided for the past four years, cut off the activist's access to the internet after WikiLeaks published the Clinton emails. "There is an increasing difficulty because of the pressure of the election," said Branco on Assange's living situation. "It is going to be solved soon," he added, suggesting that after the US election, internet access may be restored.

Ecuador cut Assange's internet after US Secretary of State John Kerry asked foreign countries not to interfere with the election. Given the nature of the leaks, the South American country wanted to make sure it was not complicit in attempting to sway public opinion in the US.

"In that sense, it was more of a cautionary move for Ecuador," said Branco."It didn't affect the publication of WikiLeaks."

Assange maintains that his choice to publish the alleged Podesta emails was "not due to a personal desire to influence the outcome of the election," but to defend the right of the electorate to know the truth.

"Irrespective of the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election, the real victor is the US public which is better informed as a result of our work," Assange said.