Hillary Clinton wanted the crowd at New York’s Ozy Fest to know two things: Russian hackers are still trying to attack the U.S. electoral system, and there’s no more meaningful form of protest against the Trump administration than going to the polls in November.
Clinton touched on a wide range of topics on Saturday afternoon during her Q&A session with Laurene Powell Jobs, founder and head of Emerson Collection. The Clinton conversation was the main event on the first day of the two-day festival in Central Park that bills itself as part think tank, part food fair, part music festival.
Clinton, the former secretary of state and senator from New York who ran against President Donald Trump as the Democratic candidate, said the depth of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election became clear after intelligence agencies did their post-mortem reviews. By early 2017, it was clear that Russian operatives, at the behest of President Vladimir Putin, directed a wide-ranging campaign to not only sow the seeds of division in the culture, but directly attempt to compromise electoral systems. Most ominously, Clinton said, there is evidence that the covert influence operation is still going on.
“This was a very broad and unfortunately successful cyber attack on our electoral system,” Clinton told Powell Jobs during the 45-minute Q&A. She cited comments from the current director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, confirming that the threat remains ever-present.
“We also know they have been probing and gathering information about critical infrastructure,” she said, citing the nation’s electrical grid, airline traffic, water systems, and nuclear power plants.
“They’re still looking for ways to steal information about voter registration,” she added. “The Russians are still at it. They’re using agents and bots and all kinds of means of trying to create dissension. We have to reject that.”
Clinton said the fact that Russia has not faced significant sanctions for its actions in the U.S. will only enable other hostile regimes that engage in cyber attacks, namely China, North Korea, and Iran.
“Make no mistake: This is a direct attack on our democracy,” she said. “If any one of them gets away with the kind of attack Russia did, it only empowers them and gives them more reason to keep probing, and possibly damaging or destroying certain institutions in our economy and our government.”
After a beat, she added, “The great mystery is why the President hasn’t spoken up for our country.”
Clinton, not surprisingly, added her voice to the chorus of critics of Trump’s comments last week during his summit meeting with Putin in Helsinki. She said the lack of other participants in the meeting between Trump and Putin was problematic because it’s hard to be certain about what commitments were made and what issues were discussed.
“Putin is basically telling the world what was decided,” Clinton said. “He’s reaching out to other leaders, saying, ‘Here’s what we decided’ and we’re hearing crickets from the White House. She also said the suggestion that the U.S. would turn over a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, for questioning by the KGB is “simply unbelievable.”
Moreover, “somehow we are not sure where our own President stands. It is deeply disturbing,” she said. “The best way to deal with that is to vote in November.”
Clinton described her past experiences with Putin during her meetings with him and President Barack Obama during her 2009-2013 tenure as secretary of state. She said he is unfailingly “aggressive” and always comes in with a specific agenda.
“As a former KGB spy, he is quite adept at reading people and understanding how to manipulate them,” she said. She decried the Russian state’s use of violence, extortion, bribes, and more to achieve Putin’s goals. “The whole ‘active measures’ tool kit has been used by him.”
And still, President Trump “wants to be friends with Putin for reasons we’re all still trying to figure out,” she said.
Clinton offered her dismay at Trump administration priorities ranging from the now-discontinued policy of family separation for undocumented migrants to the trade wars threatened by Trump’s vows to impose high tariffs on trading partners. But the topic that she returned to again and again was pushing young voters to get out and vote in the midterm elections in November. She urged the crowd to work at voter registration and turnout drives this year. Ozy Fest is organized for a millennial demographic by the liberal-leaning Ozy Media, in which Powell Jobs is an investor.
“People who care about any of these issues, it is the most important act you can take to try to bring us back into an effort to have a more perfect union,” she said. “We can march all we want. If at the end of the day, if we don’t win elections for people who will stop what’s happening now and try to bring us back to a more unified understanding” the political climate will never change, Clinton said.