Weeks before WikiLeaks released emails in 2016 implying Hillary Clinton’s health was failing, conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi emailed Trump associate Roger Stone about the forthcoming leak.
In an August 2, 2016 email to Stone, Corsi suggested they should start spreading rumors about Clinton’s health, as the topic was likely to feature in the forthcoming WikiLeaks dump. Two days after Corsi’s email, Stone’s Infowars associate Paul Joseph Watson released a video accusing Clinton of having a host of ailments, including brain damage.
The video set off a series of right-wing rumors about Clinton’s health. Those rumors worked their way from fringe websites, to Fox News, to Trump himself, who suggested Clinton was too ill to be president. Weeks later, WikiLeaks released the emails Corsi appeared to reference in his email to Stone. For Trump fans, those leaks were confirmation of the health rumors that had taken off with Watson’s video.
Corsi’s emails were revealed on Tuesday when he released a statement of offense drafted by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office. Mueller’s office is investigating Corsi’s and Stone’s alleged contacts with WikiLeaks as part of a broader investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
On July 25, 2016, Stone encouraged Corsi to make contact with WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, according to other emails included in the statement of offense.
Corsi appears to have been successful.
“Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps,” Corsi wrote Stone on August 2, 2016, according to the statement of offense. The embassy appears to be Ecuador’s U.K. embassy, where Assange resides.
Corsi’s email continued, “would not hurt to start suggesting HRC old, memory bad, has stroke... I expect that much of next dump focus, setting stage for [Clinton] Foundation debacle.”
Stone did not return The Daily Beast’s request for comment. Corsi’s lawyer declined to comment.
Trump supporters rarely discussed Clinton’s health prior to August 2016, usually limiting themselves to speculation about her condition after a concussion in 2012. (Stone tweeted critically about Clinton’s wellbeing in 2014. In January 2016, Corsi wrote an article for conspiracy website WorldNetDaily, claiming Clinton’s blood thinners could have dangerous side effects.)
But those claims differed from the August allegations, which specifically attacked Clinton’s mental faculties. Corsi’s August 2 email recommended “suggesting HRC old, memory bad, has stroke.” Two days later, on August 4, Watson’s video falsely accused Clinton of suffering strokes, tumors, and degenerative brain diseases.
Watson was a writer and guest host on Infowars in 2016 at the same time Stone and Corsi were contributors. At least once that summer, Watson interviewed Stone about the Trump campaign. All three worked at the right-wing conspiracy outlet in 2017.
“Hillary's bizarre behavior and strange seizures: Is she having a breakdown or does she actually have brain damage?” Watson’s video description read. The video exploded across right-wing Reddit and fringe blogs, quickly amassing more than 1 million views, The Daily Beast reported at the time.
Watson denied any connection to Stone or Wikileaks when asked.
“Categorically no,” he told The Daily Beast via email. “I made the video as a result of Hillary Clinton’s numerous coughing fits that occurred in the weeks and months prior, which were widely reported.”
By August 7, the Drudge Report had taken up the attacks, sharing a blog post that claimed Clinton was in poor health because staffers had been photographed helping her up the stairs. “The questionable health condition of Hillary Clinton should be a major issue of the 2016 campaign,” the article begins. The photograph, taken when Clinton briefly stumbled on a staircase, was from February. The following day, the Trump-friendly National Enquirer picked up the Clinton health allegations, running them under the headline “Hillary Clinton’s Secret Health Crisis.” Fox News host Sean Hannity devoted a segment to the manufactured health scare. He would continue to peddle the conspiracy theory over the following weeks, even hosting a doctor who claimed to diagnose Clinton with a brain condition. In an interview with MSNBC Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson stated that misdiagnosis as fact.
By August 15, Trump was parroting the claims about Clinton’s health. “She also lacks the mental and physical stamina to take on ISIS,” he said during a campaign speech that day. He made similar comments the following day on the campaign trail.
Trump’s campaign trail comments finally prompted the Clinton camp to comment on the health rumors. “Donald Trump is simply parroting lies based on fabricated documents promoted by Roger Stone and his right wing allies,” the campaign said in a statement.
But the meme had already set in voters’ minds. By August 8, “is Hillary having health problems?” was a trending question on Google. The search term “Hillary Clinton health” received little interest before August 4, Google search trends show. But it spiked after Watson’s video, and continued to grow through August 22, when WikiLeaks released its next dump of Clinton documents.
Then, just as Corsi said would happen, WikiLeaks promoted two leaked emails that suggested Clinton suffered health problems as secretary of state.
Since then, Corsi and Stone have denied colluding with WikiLeaks to release damaging information about Clinton.
“None of the emails cited prove I had advance notice of the source or content of either allegedly hacked or allegedly stolen emails published by WikiLeaks,” Stone told the Washington Post of his July and August emails with Corsi. “When did political gossip become a criminal activity? More importantly these emails provide no evidence that I received any materials from WikiLeaks or Assange or Corsi or anyone else and passed them on to Donald Trump or the Trump campaign or anyone else.”
Mueller’s office, meanwhile, was apparently prepared to accuse Corsi of lying during previous interviews about his contacts with WikiLeaks. Corsi told investigators that he had never worked with Stone to make contact with WikiLeaks, Mueller's office said in the statement of offense. His emails, included in the statement, say otherwise.
Corsi defended himself against allegations of perjury by claiming he’d simply forgotten about the communications. Stone was less forgiving.
"The only thing illegal here" Stone told Business Insider, "[is] that [Corsi] tried to delete these emails and then lied about them to federal agents.”
Correction: Watson’s response was sent prior to publication. We regret the error.