Clinton criticizes UK for blocking Russian influence report
LONDON (AP) — Hillary Clinton says she's "dumbfounded" that the U.K. government has failed to release a report on Russian influence in British politics as the country prepares for national elections.
The former U.S. presidential candidate told British media that the public needs to know what is in the report by Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee before Britain's Dec. 12 vote.
The government said it needs more time to consider the report before releasing it to the public. Critics, however, claim the report has been withheld until the next Parliament because it is embarrassing to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative Party, which is trying to win a majority and push through Johnson's Brexit plan to take Britain out of the European Union.
"I'm dumbfounded that this government won't release the report ... because every person who votes in this country deserves to see that report before your election happens," Clinton told the BBC on Tuesday.
Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the 2016 U.S. presidential election found that Russia interfered in the vote in a "sweeping and systemic" fashion. U.S. President Donald Trump has dismissed the Mueller report's conclusions, but the investigation has put Russia into the crosshairs of a debate on freedom and the integrity of elections worldwide.
Clinton also spoke about the British report with the Guardian newspaper at an event promoting "The Book of Gutsy Women," a work she co-authored with her daughter, Chelsea.
"I am, as a great admirer of Britain, concerned, because I can't make sense of what is happening," Clinton told the Guardian . "We have a president who admires dictators and takes their help and does all kinds of crazy stuff. So we need you to be the sane member of this partnership going forward."
Bill Browder, a former investment manager in Russia, told the BBC that he gave the intelligence committee evidence on wealthy Russians who were working to influence British politics. The Sunday Times reported nine Russian business people and other wealthy Conservative Party donors were named on the report on illicit Russian activity in Britain.
The Intelligence and Security Committee report was sent to the prime minister on Oct. 17, and it needs government approval before it is made public. Johnson's Downing Street office said the report has not yet gone through the necessary clearance process for publication.
Lawmakers from a range of parties, including Johnson's Conservatives, have urged the government to publish the report during a debate in the House of Commons. But Foreign Office minister Christopher Pincher argued it was "not unusual" for the review of such reports to "take some time."
The Russian report comes amid increasing concerns about the security of an election being fought in an increasingly digital world. Britain's election laws are woefully out of date to face the new age, written more for a time when leaflets were pushed through the mailbox instead of Facebook and other social media publishing political ads.
Following an 18-month investigation into online privacy and the use of social media to spread disinformation, an influential parliamentary committee in February urged the British government to urgently approve new laws addressing internet campaign techniques, insisting that democracy itself was under threat.
While the government agreed with many of the recommendations made by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, it has done little other than circulate its own report for public comment in preparation for future legislation.
Former Committee Chairman Damian Collins said the government had been following a timetable that would have modernized Britain's electoral laws by 2021 or 2022, the original date for the next general election.
But Johnson called an early election on Dec. 12 in response to the political turmoil caused by Britain's pending departure from the European Union, which is now scheduled for Jan. 31. Britain's 46 million eligible voters will be choosing 650 lawmakers in the House of Commons.
The campaign has already shown signs of being fought fiercely online. In one example, a video posted on Twitter and Facebook by the Conservative Party contains a misleading edit of a television interview with Keir Starmer, a senior Labour Party figure. The video had been altered to show Starmer failing to answer a question about Brexit, when, in fact, he responded quickly.
The chairman of the Conservative Party called the doctored video lighthearted satire but it highlighted the gray area being exploited by the campaigns.
In another sign of the shift, Britain's Labour Party announced Tuesday that it had experienced a "sophisticated and large-scale cyberattack" on its digital platforms. The main opposition party says the attack did not succeed, because of "robust security systems" and that it had referred the matter to the National Cyber Security Centre.
Collins had been appealing for a coordinated approach across all parts of government to combat disinformation campaigns and protect the electoral system.
The work has heaped pressure on social media companies, who have faced global scrutiny following allegations that political consultant Cambridge Analytica used data from tens of millions of Facebook accounts to profile voters and help Trump's 2016 election campaign.
In other election news, Brexit Party chief Nigel Farage changed course, announcing Monday that his party would not challenge Conservative candidates in nearly half of the U.K.'s districts. The tactic may make it easier for pro-Brexit forces to prevail in the election and should boost the chances that Johnson's Conservatives win a majority.
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