PHILADELPHIA — A U.S. election that has already seen its share of drama witnessed a James-Bond-level plot twist Sunday — accusations of Russian meddling in the campaign.
It's a charge levelled by Democrats as they gather for their convention.
Hillary Clinton's campaign manager did a round on the weekly talk shows where he raised the suggestion that Russian actors are looking to undermine her in an attempt to elect Donald Trump.
He pointed to a pattern that includes reports of Russians hacking into the Democratic Party's servers; the Trump campaign's business ties to Putin allies; Trump's words and positions undermining NATO, the European Union and assistance for Ukraine; the compliments back and forth between Trump and Putin; and now the leak of those hacked emails at a moment likeliest to disrupt the Democratic convention.
Hillary Clinton speaks at a Planned Parenthood Action Fund Membership event on June 10, 2016. (Photo: Getty Images)
"What's disturbing to us is that experts are telling us Russian state actors broke into the (Democratic National Committee), stole these emails and other experts are now saying the Russians are releasing these emails for the purpose of actually helping Donald Trump,'' Robby Mook told CNN, in comments he repeated elsewhere.
"When you put it all together, it's a disturbing picture. And I think voters need to reflect on that. ... I don't think it's very coincidental that they're being released at this time — to create maximum damage and help elect Donald Trump.''
He barely touched on the substance of the leaks. The whistleblowing site WikiLeaks was provided a batch of emails in which supposedly neutral party officials discussed ways to undermine Bernie Sanders.
In one message, someone suggested smearing Sanders' atheism before Bible-belt primaries. As a Canadian-related aside, the batch included an email from one businessman who said he'd stop donating to the Democratic Party, miiffed he wasn't invited to the White House state dinner for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Bernie Sanders said his top-short term priority is to make sure Donald Trump doesn't become president and to elect Hillary Clinton. (Photo: AP)
Sanders said the revelations proved his point: The party apparatus was in the tank for Clinton. He called it outrageous, and reiterated his call for reform at the party. Already, party chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz has been knocked out of the speaking lineup at this week's Philadelphia convention.
But he made it clear that he'll remain a team player.
His top short-term priority, he said: "Make sure that Donald Trump — perhaps the worst Republican candidate in the modern history of this country ... by temperament, by ideology — must not become president of the United States. I'm going to do everything I can to defeat him, and to elect Hillary Clinton.'' As a longer-term priority, Sanders called for electing progressives nationally, statewide, locally and even at the school-board level.
He said Clinton had moved toward aspects of his agenda for helping the working class, including his positions on health care and free tuition at public colleges.
Democratic Presumptive Nominee for President and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, accompanied by Senator Tim Kaine. (Photo: The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Asked whether he was disappointed in Clinton's choice of a more moderate running mate, he remained onside: "Compared to Donald Trump ... on his worst, worst, worst day, Tim Kaine is 100 times better than Donald Trump will ever be."
The Vermont senator also corrected the record on his religion — he told CNN he's not an atheist.
Trump's campaign called the allegations of Putin involvement nonsense.
"It's pure obfuscation,'' campaign manager Paul Manafort told ABC.
Trump campaign director Paul Manafort appears live on FACE THE NATION on May 1 in Washington, D. C. (Photo: Getty Images)
"What they don't want to ... talk about is what's in those emails. And what's in those emails show that it was a clearly rigged system, that Bernie Sanders never had a chance. And, frankly, I think you're going to see some of that resentment boiling over this week in Philadelphia, because Wikileaks clearly uncovered what Sanders has been saying."
Manafort spent years working as a political advisor to the Putin-backed Viktor Yanukovych who was ousted in 2014.
Another WikiLeaks cable, from 2006, from U.S. diplomats described Manafort's role this way: "Yanukovych's Party of Regions is working to change its image from that of a haven for mobsters into that of a legitimate political party. Tapping the deep pockets of Donetsk clan godfather Rinat Akhmetov, Regions has hired veteran (Washington) K Street political help for its 'extreme makeover.'''
Recent reports have also chronicled Trump' business partnerships in Russia, and his military advisor Gen. Michael Flynn attended a dinner for the Kremlin-backed news operation Russia Today, where Putin delivered remarks.
Donald Trump speaks at the Republican U.S. presidential candidates debate at the University of Miami in Miami, Florida, U.S. March 10, 2016. (Photo: Reuters)
Trump's allies at last week's convention fought for an uncharacteristically dovish Russian position on Russia in that party's platform. They removed language about arming the new Ukrainian government against Russian rebels.
This was on a week where Trump broke from longstanding policy within the NATO alliance, telling The New York Times he might not intervene if Russia invaded a neighbouring NATO member.
As for the European Union, he told NBC this weekend that it was designed to beat the United States economically. Trump has been endorsed by anti-EU politicians from Britain's UKIP, France's National Front, the Dutch Party for Freedom and Hungary's Jobbik — some of which have relied on financial support from Russia.