Hillary Clinton has described the UK government’s handling of a report examining Russian influence in British politics as “shameful” and “inexplicable”, adding the public “deserve[s] to know what is in that report”.
The former US presidential candidate said the delay was disgraceful given the upcoming election, referencing the proven Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
So what exactly is all the fuss about?
Why was the Russia report commissioned?
Russian interference into the US presidential election of 2016 is well-documented and Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation even indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies on charges related to attempt to influence the vote.
As a result, the UK government thought it proper to establish if similar had occurred in public votes in Britain.
And did it?
We don’t know – the report was submitted to the government before publication to ensure no sensitive information is inadvertently made public, but is yet to be released.
Although vetting is standard procedure for such documents, a row has broken out over how long the process should take.
Dominic Grieve, the chairman of the committee, has said the report was sent to the prime minister for approval on October 17. The former attorney general, who now sits as an independent after losing the Tory whip, has said the process was normally completed within 10 working days and has accused the government of “sitting on the report”.
However, the timescale was disputed by government sources who said that it usually took six weeks.
Why would the government delay the publication?
And does it?
Again, we don’t know although there have been some possible clues.
The Sunday Times claimed that nine Russian business people who gave money to the Tory Party are named in the report in what is the first major leak from the publication.
This is very different from the kind of interference seen during the US presidential election but would obviously be hugely embarrassing for Boris Johnson and his government.
The Sunday Times claims Alexander Temerko, who formerly worked for the Kremlin’s defence ministry, is named after donating more than £1.2m to the party and describing Boris Johnson as a “friend”.
Meanwhile, major Tory donor Lubov Chernukhin, wife of former Vladimir Putin ally Vladimir Chernukhin, is also said to be included in the report.
Chernukin has handed the party over £450,000 in the past 12 months, and famously paid £160,000 during a Conservative fund raising event to play a tennis match with Johnson.
How has the government responded to this?
Basically by doubling down on the delay. On Sunday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps blamed the “machinery of government” and said at the time of an election, the government of the day is “not allowed to publish things which are seen as controversial in any way”.
Shapps admitted he was “not close” to the report, but believes the fact that the report is delayed is “just the usual way that purdah works”.
Where does Hillary Clinton come into this?
As the loser of the 2016 presidential election, the topic of Russian interference is one Clinton has a keen interest in.
Speaking to Emma Barnett on BBC Radio 5 Live this week, Clinton said: “I find it inexplicable that your government will not release a government report about Russian influence. Inexplicable and shameful. You’re having an election.
“People deserve to know what is in that report. We had a somewhat similar problem in 2016.”
Clinton stressed the importance of the UK security report being made public before the General Election to allow voters to make informed decisions, PA Media reported.
She continued: “(Donald) Trump and his campaign were under investigation for their connections with Russia, and Russians, and Russian cutouts and Russian agents, and others promoting Russian interests.
“And the public didn’t know before the election. And I would hate to see that happen here. Whatever the outcome.
”We don’t know what’s in it, any more than anybody else does. But certainly, people who are about to vote in a month or so deserve to know what is in a report that one has to speculate must have something of concern, otherwise why wouldn’t it be publicly disclosed?”