Trump’s collusion scheme to exploit Catholics just got exposed

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One of the things Special Counsel Robert Mueller is considering as proof that Donald Trump and the Trump presidential campaign colluded with the Russians to influence the 2016 election is the way some of the thousands of private emails illegally made public by Wikileaks were used, perverted and promoted to trick voters. 

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A significant case can be made that one of those was a five-year-old email stolen from the account of  John Podesta, dating back to well before he was Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager – or there was a Clinton campaign – that was twisted for political purposes to make it falsely appear Clinton was anti-Catholic and anti-Christian. 

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“This specific case illustrates a broader point about WikiLeaks: The stolen emails had power, and Trump and his allies so badly wanted to use that power to win the White House that they tried to get early access to the stolen emails at least six times before WikiLeaks public released them,” reports 

It may not seem important that the Russians, the Trump campaign and Trump himself on multiple occasions showed Secretary Clinton was anti-Catholic until you consider two things.

First, that the leak took place only four days after the Access Hollywood tape has become public, and a major Catholic organization was calling on Trump to drop out of the race.

Trump at the time was already out of favor with Catholics for his attacks on the Pope and for his adultery and multiple marriages, by as much as 23 percent, according to one poll.

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Second, that at least two of the key swing states that Trump desperately needed to win – Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – have very large Catholic populations. 

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In Pennsylvania, 29 percent of the voters are Catholic, while in Wisconsin, 32 percent are Catholic. 

“That means there are about 3.7 million Catholics in Pennsylvania, a state that Trump won by fewer than 50,000 votes,” writes Vox.  “There are about 1.8 million Catholics in Wisconsin, a state he won by about 20,000 votes.”

That was enough to assure Trump of the slim majority he won in the Electoral College.

“It was absolutely part of the strategy to focus on blue-collar Catholics in the Rust Belt; it as a major initiative of the Trump campaign” Stephen Schneck, a professor at the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, told Vox.

The story of the emails begins five years ago when three Democrats who are also Catholics traded emails accusing Republicans of picking aspects of their religion for policial gain.

John Halpin, then with the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) called it at the time “an amazing bastardization of the faith.”

He was writing to Jennifer Palmieri, who also worked for CAP at the time.

Copied on the email chain was Podesta, then head of CAP and a former White House chief of staff.

Five years later Podesta was Clinton’s campaign manager and Palmieri was head of communications for Clinton’s campaign.

On Oct. 11, 2016, WikiLeaks dumped onto a public website thousands of emails, many stolen from Podesta’s personal account, including the five-year-old messaging between Halpin and Palmieri, that was copied to Podesta. 

Within a day, the Russian state-owned media outlet RT began running stories highlighting the old emails which it called “disparaging comments” about Catholics and Christians.

For Trump, it was raw meat served up at a time he desperately needed to distract voters, especially religious Christians. 

On Oct. 11, 2016, the very day WikiLeaks released the emails, Trump said at a campaign rally in Florida that the exchange shows “the Clinton team attacking Catholics.”

The next day, at another rally, Trump charged that the emails “show members of the Clinton team viciously attacking Catholics and Evangelicals,” which he called “election changing.”

The Trump campaign invited journalists to listen to a conference call in which Trump supporters Kellyanne Conway, later his co-campaign manager with Steve Bannon,  and Newt Gingrich, both Catholics, along with leaders of several conservative Catholic organizations, attacked Clinton for being anti-Catholic.

Gingrich, the former Congressman who became a major Trump apologist, said he and his wife Callista (who Trump recently appointed the ambassador to the Vatican) feel the emails are an “assault not just on Catholicism but on people of faith, the callousness, the contempt.”

“Now we know what Hillary meant by deplorable,” added the hyper-partisan Gingrich. “It’s people of faith.”

A week later Trump spoke at the annual Al Smith dinner, a fundraiser for Catholic charities that usually is lighthearted but Trump was heavy-handed. “Clinton,” he declared, “hates Catholics.”

There were more attacks, both in the press and in a series of ads on Fox News and elsewhere.

It illustrated, writes Vox, “the sophistication with which WikiLeaks released the stolen emails for maximum political effect – and the speed with which the emails ricocheted through the conservative media ecosystem and then into Trump’s own remarks.”

When the attacks began Trump was losing the Catholic vote but by election day, he won Catholic voters by seven percentage points.

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Halpin, who supported Bernie Sanders for president, told Vox that he was astounded by how the emails were incorrectly interpreted: “It had absolutely nothing to do with Hillary Clinton.”

In the hands of a desperate, unscrupulous candidate like Trump and his equally unethical team, the emails were powerful weapons to turn the tide away from the real anti-religion candidate who had the sexual history of a satyr, and use it against a moral, righteous woman who unlike Trump, actually was a Christian who went to church. 

One of those Mueller has talking is George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign advisor, who played a central role in arranging the release and timing of the WikiLeaks leaks, and was known to have coordinated with Russians.

Papadopoulos has now pleaded guilty to charged brought by Mueller and will be one of his witnesses.

Although we do not yet know just what he will say, turning these old emails into weapons of mass deception is likely to be a key in efforts to prove Trump and his campaign did collude with the Russians for their own gain – and that it helped them win the election. 

Benjamin Locke

Benjamin Locke is a retired college professor with an undergraduate degree in Industrial Labor and Relations from Cornell University and an MBA from the European School of Management.

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