“WikiLeaks had dumped my cellphone number. I used to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee. The Russians were able to hack into the DNC, and they were able to get my number. WikiLeaks dumped it out. And then my voicemail filled up with really creepy messages,” Kaine said, admitting that the experience left him feeling “pretty paranoid.”
To the rest of the world, it was politics, but to Kaine, recounting the experience for a group of reporters in Waynesboro on Friday, it was also personal, forcing a change in phone number, which he shrugged off as not being “a big deal.”
There were other inklings to something funny going on in the campaign before the Sept. 13 Guccifer 2.0 leak that ensnared Kaine’s personal info.
Two months earlier, for instance, on the day that Kaine was nominated by the Democratic Party to run for vice president, then-Republican nominee Donald Trump actively encouraged hackers to dig up dirt on the Hillary Clinton campaign.
“I will tell you this, Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said at a July 27 news conference.
“I remember hearing that and thinking, it’s like fiction,” Kaine said. “Nobody would say that who wants to be president. Our head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is telling us that Russia is our chief adversary. Who would say this?”
Kaine said he didn’t personally realize the full extent of the impact of the hacking until the Jan. 6 report that formally accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering a campaign to influence the U.S. election and hurt Clinton’s candidacy.
“And, yeah, it kind of makes me feel sick to my stomach,” said Kaine, who serves on two Senate committee, Armed Services and Foreign Relations, that are being briefed regularly on the investigation into the Russia hacks.
The investigation has taken an unusual turn with the odd machinations of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, who appears to be colluding with the Trump White House to provide political cover in the guise of leading a congressional inquiry.
Kaine said Nunes has taken what should be a “watchdog” role as the chair of the Intelligence Committee and turned it into a “lapdog role.”
“This week was a very damaging week. It turned the House process … it shut the ignition off. I don’t know that they can recover from that,” Kaine said.
The Senate process has been bipartisan, and it will need to continue to be, according to Kaine, to maintain a sense of legitimacy.
“We have to keep it bipartisan. That’s why the House thing is blowing up, because there’s no bipartisanship,” Kaine said. “But when Mark Warner and Richard Burr stand up together and say the Trump Tower was not wiretapped by President Obama, we can tell you we’ve done the investigation, there was no wiretapping, that’s so much better when it’s said by a Democrat and Republican than when it’s just said by a Democrat. If we can keep it together, and always reach the conclusions and then announce the conclusions, when we can announce them, in a bipartisan way, it leads the American public to have more confidence in it.”
Kaine is among those who expects the Trump team to continue to try to deflect attention from the investigation as much as it can.
“The Trump administration, they either say this is partisan, or they say it’s fake. And I can tell you, this is not fake,” Kaine said. “I’m very, very involved in this. I was a victim of it, and now I see a lot of the intel. It was not fake, and the full extent of it has not yet been completely told, but it will be.”
Story by Chris Graham