After leaking information only damaging to Hillary Clinton and the Democrats during the presidential campaign, WikiLeaks may finally be attempting to balance the scales with a Twitter plea asking for Donald Trump’s tax returns so they can be published on the site.
But the request, apparently to hackers or any whistleblowers with access to the documents, unleashed a stream of criticism against the internet leak site, which was so inexplicably silent on Trump during his race to the presidency.
The call to potential leakers was made after White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said on TV Sunday that the president will not release his tax returns after all, despite Trump’s campaign pledge that he would do so. (She later walked back her statement.) Every president since Richard Nixon has routinely revealed his tax returns (or a summary, in Gerald Ford’s case). Tax information on Trump, who retains ownership of businesses around the world as president, is particularly critical to establish or settle conflict of interest concerns.
“Trump Counselor Kellyanne Conway stated today that Trump will not release his tax returns. Send them to: https://wikileaks.org/#submit so we can,” said the WikiLeaks tweet Sunday. WikiLeaks also said that Trump’s refusal to release the returns is even more “gratuitous” than “Clinton not releasing transcripts of a meeting with Goldman Sachs,” referring to paid speeches she made to executives of the powerful financial firm.
A poll earlier this month by The Washington Post/ABC found that 74 percent of Americans — including 53 percent of Republicans — want to see Trump’s tax returns. Suddenly, so does WikiLeaks. But the request from the come-lately outlet triggered criticism over its apparent past bias. American intelligence has concluded that hackers working at the behest of Russian President Vladimir Putin to help get Trump elected provided the damaging leaks against the Democrats.
New York Times editor Patrick LaForge quickly added his own tweet to the WikiLeaks request with a “better idea,” noting that the Times provides “ways to get in touch and share materials with our journalists confidentially.”
Another journalist also suggested “any other news sites” that “aren’t playing for given outcomes.”
Another reader responded to the WikiLeaks tweet: “You built this s*** bed, now lie in it.” Another said: “Wait, what? Is WikiLeaks beings unbiased? Tell me I’m not dreaming.”
The WikiLeaks tweet, apparently urging a hack or leak, was similar to Trump’s controversial suggestion to Russia during his campaign, when he said he “hoped” that the country had “hacked” Clinton’s emails while she was secretary of state. “If they hacked, they probably have her 33,000 emails. I hope they do,” Trump said at a July press conference. The comments drew a firestorm of criticism for the apparent encouragement of a foreign nation to commit a crime against an American citizen, and hack emails that likely included classified information. Trump later said he was being “sarcastic.”
WikiLeaks posted thousands of hacked emails last year from the Democratic National Committee and from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has denied the emails were provided by Russian hackers under Putin’s thumb. Trump has supported Assange’s denials over findings by U.S. intelligence leaders, even though he called Assange’s previous publication of classified information from Chelsea Manning “disgraceful” and suggested there “should be like the death penalty or something” for the breach of information.
Trump promised during his campaign that he would release his returns after an IRS audit was completed — though nothing about an audit prohibits him from making the information public.
Conway said flatly in her interview on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday: “He’s not going to release his tax returns. We litigated this all through the election. People didn’t care.” Trump also said during his news conference earlier this month that Americans “don’t care at all” about the returns, and that only reporters do. Conway was responding to a question about a petition posted on the White House website ― signed by 228,000 people as of Sunday evening ― demanding that Trump immediately release his tax returns. The petition was posted shortly after the inauguration.
Another leak site that has declared war on Trump is the hacker activist collective Anonymous, which has vowed to make the president “regret the next four years.”
This article has been updated to reflect that Conway walked back her comments.