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An insider's guide to a hacked election, from Russia, without love

NONFICTION

Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-Ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House

By Donna Brazile

Hachette Books

288 pages $28

This week, America celebrated and mourned the first anniversary of the 2016 presidential election.

Whether you partied or pouted depends on which candidate you liked more -- or maybe hated less -- and which ideological bubble you choose to occupy.

But as even the most casual observer of the culture knows, the fight is still being waged and the legitimacy of the Donald Trump victory is still the subject of something between informed conjecture and fact, thanks to the alleged involvement of the Russian government and its cyber criminals.

The ongoing intrigue wouldn't just make a good book; it would make a good library. We already have heard from Trump's vanquished foe, Hillary Rodham Clinton. But how about the perspective of a longtime political operative and pundit who was thrust into the middle of this fight long after it started?

Like it or not, you've got it.

Donna Brazile, who led the Democratic National Committee for the final few months of the campaign, has her say in "Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-Ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House."

Sure it's a wordy title, but Clinton already took "What Happened?" "How it Happened" would have worked, but that would have been confusing.

But that's what Brazile attempts to do: explain how she got an education in what it means to be on the business end of a computer hack from a foreign power bent on influencing an election and why neither her party not the U.S. government did enough to prevent or deal with it. It's not exactly a page-turner, it's often a little "inside baseball" and lacking in the kind of introspection that some time might have provided. But given the public's seemingly insatiable appetite for information about the current occupant of the White House and how he got there, it's understandable that a publisher would like to get Brazile's perspective in print sooner rather than later.

In the early summer of 2016, Brazile had no reason to believe anyone would care about her perspective on the election to come. The longtime strategist who is perhaps best known as the manager of Al Gore's close-but-no-cigar 2000 presidential campaign was a familiar member of the TV pundit class and working as vice chair of the DNC under Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. But in an omen of things to come, Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign when leaked emails showed that she was working to undermine the candidacy of Clinton's main intraparty rival, Bernie Sanders.

Brazile is a good foot soldier for her party and she reluctantly agreed to step in for what she thought would be a march to victory for the first woman to become president of the United States. But within days of taking the job, she learned that she would be a bit player in a campaign that was largely being run through Clinton headquarters in Brooklyn. (Someone should have told Brazile that her insistence on using "Brooklyn" as a synonym for the Clinton camp was a mistake. Where's an editor when you need one?)

Among her many disagreements with the campaign was is its reliance on analytics to determine how to get the necessary votes.

"I heard them saying that they only needed to register five new Hillary voters in this neighborhood and seven over there. Why five? Why not ten? Or why not fifty? ... They were so precise, they made me feel as though this style of politics I learned in my forty years was about to be put out to pasture."

Here we understand that "Hacks" may have a double meaning; as has been widely reported, Clinton's camp was furious at how it was portrayed in the book.

But for most of the book, she intends it as the meaning we have come to understand as a breach of a computer system. Brazile learned that Russia was essentially at war with her candidate through a hack of DNC computers that went unreported for months. Hence the title of chapter 3: "The Russians, the Russians, the Russians."

Instead of doing what she could do best - raise money and get out the vote for Clinton - Brazile spent most of her time trying to stop the infiltration. But it was far too little and much too late; Wikileaks, with what was believed to be a huge assist from Russian hackers, released sensitive information that would dominate news cycles and take attention away from Trump and his issues.

Speaking of news cycles, the chapter in this book that has spent time in many of them since its release is chapter 10, "Bernie, I Found the Cancer, but I Won't Kill the Patient." In it, Brazile reveals that she found evidence that the Democratic primary was rigged in Clinton's favor. She alleges that the Clinton campaign essentially controlled the DNC and its money long before Clinton was the nominee. News outlets, including the Washington Post, say Brazile "walked back" that allegation when she was pressed on it, but she seems clear in the book.

Also clear is the recurring theme of the book: bitterness. Brazile feels played, mistreated and misunderstood. She viewed the 2016 election as chance to make history and instead became a bit player as she watched the other side make history. She wants Americans to understand that her moment was stolen by a hostile foreign power and that something needs to change or her worst nightmare - Donald Trump sitting in the Oval Office - will soon seem like the good old days.

Bruce Andriatch is the News Assistant Managing Editor for Features.

 

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