Leaked emails show how the Clinton campaign deals with the press

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It was late July 2015, "Hardball" host Chris Matthews was being Chris Matthews, and Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign was nervous.

In the latest Wikileaks document dump about Clinton-related emails, there's a flurry on the night of July 30, 2015 after Matthews interviewed U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida congressman and ultimately ill-fated Democratic National Committee chief. In particular, there was this query:

"Whatever is the difference between a Democrat and a socialist?" asked Matthew with characteristic lack of ambiguity. "I used to think there is a big difference. What do you think it is?" She hemmed and hawed briefly, and he displayed Matthewsean impatience. "You're chairman of the Democratic Party. Tell me the difference."

She stumbled and claimed "the relevant debate" involved "what's the difference between a Democrat and a Republican." Matthews responded with curt disbelief: "I think there's a huge difference."

At 11:30 p.m. campaign spokesman Brian Fallon emailed colleagues, "This may require us to articulate the difference bt us and Bernie sooner than we thought."

At 1:42 a.m. came a response from Jennifer Palmieri, the campaign's director of communications:


It's among several thousand emails disclosed yesterday by WikiLeaks and spanning as many as nine years, though mostly the last two, and apparently from the account of John Podesta, the campaign chairman and longtime Clinton family aide and Washington establishment fixture.

They provide a window onto internal political machinations. "Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Strained to Hone Her Message, Hacked Emails Show." (The New York Times)

But a random scouring last evening (while sitting under a tree and watching a 7-year-old's soccer practice) turned up other examples of relations with, and predictably maniacal attention to, the press.

Indeed, spokesman Nick Merrill seems to have done more writing (for internal consumption) than any of the reporters covering the campaign, albeit almost all about the reporters covering the campaign.

Here's a potpourri of one perusal:

Finding affirmation where you can

On May 20, 2015 the campaign found solace in MSNBC's "The Ed Show," at least when it comes to its dawdling on showing its cards on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

"Report on HRC's (Hillary Rodham Clinton) stance on the TPP; used footage from HRC’s Iowa roundtable on Tuesday; Jonathan Alter said HRC was just fine in saying she wanted to hold off taking a position on TPP until she read the deal."

Obsession with the press

There are unceasing memos with summaries of any story the campaign can find anywhere about the campaign. You name it, they list it. A typical one on May 29, 2015 cites (among many stories) the Bloomberg TV show, "With All Due Respect."

"Reported on the NYT story about WJC (William Jefferson Clinton) accepting a $500,000 donation for The Clinton Foundation in exchange for WJC to give a speech to a charity; WJC’s open letter about The Clinton Foundation that he sent today; reported on Nancy Pelosi saying the Clintons would have to answer questions about The Clinton Foundation; (Mark) Halperin said the most ominous of the three stories was a tie between the NYT and Pelosi’s comment; (John) Heilemann said the Pelosi comment was the most ominous given that Pelosi did not more fully come to HRC’s defense." It links to the video.

A little help from Donna Brazile

On Jan. 4, 2016 Donna Brazile, the all-purpose pundit, Democratic partisan and paid speaker, sent the Clinton campaign a Bernie Sanders camp memo about a planned "Twitterstorm" by the "Bernie 2016 African-American Outreach team."

Campaign aide Adrienne Flood quickly responded, "Thank you for the heads up on this, Donna." Brazil's fidelity has been rewarded with selection as temporary boss of the Democratic National Committee.

Guns and "Today"

On Oct. 4, 2015, Fallon wrote colleagues that NBC's "Today" show "has indicated they definitely plan to ask bout (sic) guns, and so to have the discussion be more of a news event than her previous times discussing guns, we are going to background reporters tonight on a few of the specific proposals she would support as President — universal background checks of course, but also closing the gun show loophole by executive order and imposing manufacturer liability."

Pipeline leak

On Aug. 8, 2015, campaign aide Schwerin wrote longtime Clinton confidant Cheryl Mills about the tricky matter of opposing the Keystone XL oil pipeline and, thus, President Obama.

"We are trying to find a good way to leak her opposition to the pipeline without her having to actually say it and give up her principled stand about not second-guessing the president in public."

Post-debate grousing, pre-debate hopes

On Oct. 13, 2015, Nathan Fletcher, a military veteran-turned-Republican-turned-Democratic politician, groused to Podesta about the questioning in Democratic primary debates. "CNN failed to ask a single questions about veterans in the last debate. There was a huge outcry from veterans and organizations that represent us."

"I personally was very critical of Jake Tapper (directly to him). He responded by creating a webpage on cnn.com focused on vets, asking questions on 'State of the Union,' etc."

"I doubt Anderson Cooper will go through the debate without asking a veterans question. But at any point, Secretary Clinton could really make a statement by pointing out the lack of questions in last GOP CNN debate and mention the need to care for the veterans we have. It fits in nicely anytime there is discussion on ISIS, Syria, Afghanistan, etc."

Pre-book launch pre-emptive strike

On April 19, 2015, Fallon wrote to "ALL" about how New York Times reporter Jo Becker was working on stories "based on material provided by the publisher of the upcoming 'Clinton Cash' book." But a colleague, Amy Chozick, called to reveal she had her own copy and was filing a story the next day. She wasn't going to "unpack all the books' claims," Fallon said but planned "a more process-y story" about the publishing process seeking to "spoon-feed" media outlets about some of the book's disclosures.

"We think this story, though it was not originated by us, could end up being somewhat helpful in casting the book's author as having a conservative agenda. Moreover, we think Amy is suspicious of the arrangements that the book's publisher has reached with the various media outlets (including her own paper)." He then claims, "In fact, Jo Becker is apparently trying to get this story killed because she thinks it will undermine her investigative piece later this month. But so far it is running in tomorrow's paper."

He proposed sending Chozick a statement that included, "It appears that this book is being used to aid this coordinated attack strategy, twisting previously known facts into absurd conspiracy theories. It will not be the first work of partisan-fueled fiction about the Clintons' record, and we know it will not be the last."

A piece did appear the next day and included parts of the response. (The New York Times)

Bernie bails

On Feb. 20 2016, Merrill passes along word from Las Vegas: "Good live interview with Univision local this morning. Bernie was supposed to be on right after us but bailed late last night. She did her pitch, talked about immigration, no fireworks."

Prepping for a foundation story

On Aug. 2, 2012, a Clinton Foundation spokeswoman informed Podesta and Gene Sperling, a former economic aide to both Presidents Clinton and Obama, that Chozick was planning to profile Bill Clinton and the foundation, traveled with them in Africa and "is justness sitting down to write." She sought two former Clinton aides who also knew the foundation.

"Congrats, you're both winners," he wrote, adding, "For now, her story is trending in the direction of 'Clinton Foundation as a Family Business, Chelsea was on the trip with us, she's obviously very curious about HRC's post-State plans, etc."

Sperling, who never shied from publicity, responded, "Totally good. But just want you to send me lots of info and what points you most want me to make. Unlike Podesta, I am controllable."

Sex and Bill Clinton

On Jan. 10, 2016 Podesta got a note from apparent Brent Budowsky (brentbbi@webtv.net), a one time U.S. Senate staffer for the late Texan Lloyd Bentsen, who announced a "a multi-email exchange with someone in the media this morning — a name you would know — who is telling me that there are people close to the Clintons who says WJC's sex life could be damaging to her."

He said he'd disagreed and that Bill's assets are, yes, "huge." But, "I never ask journalists about their sources."

Requests stacking up

So surprise, Clinton was forever inundated with interview requests, as underscored in a March 25, 2015 note to Podesta from an aide. It merely offers the status of many, many requests. Among them:

"Julie Pace has renewed her request for an off-the-record dinner idea with AP staff. She is aware we’re holding."

"HOLDING: Gloria Borger (CNN, chief political analyst): Gist: Basic 'who is' profile on each major candidate as they announce. *More from Gloria: *'I know John will have an exalted place in the campaign, and would love to chat with him about HRC — in a general way, not in a gotcha way re HRC. It would be about 10 mins, very general, about her as a person and a candidate.”

"HOLDING: (Bloomberg's) Mike Dorning again, new story: 'Now more focused on the idea that Secretary Clinton hasn't yet signaled where she will be on the progressive v. business/moderate internal debate within the party on where to go on economic policy/inequality.' Deadline: Not clear, but through beginning of next week."

"HOLDING: Pending a call with her to say 'I can’t talk soon': (NPR's) Mara Liasson."

"One of those endless New Yorker pieces"

The March 25, 2015 update for Podesta included this, too:

"Pending consideration, but you said likely not: Connie Bruck (New Yorker). Profile on Sen. Feinstein. Deadline: Mid-March.

"Gist: 'The piece is one of those endless, 10,000-word New Yorker profiles. So I'm interested in any experiences with Senator Feinstein that John has had, going back to his Clinton years and, of course, his last year with President Obama. He could speak on the record or on background, as he prefers.'"

Sidney Blumenthal

On Oct. 21, 2015 longtime Clinton confidant and former longtime journalist Sidney Blumenthal (who's been mentioned in each presidential debate by Donald Trump) sent Podesta a 10,000-word Newsweek story ("Benghazi Biopsy: A Comprehensive Guide to One of America’s Worst Political Outrages") by Kurt Eichenwald.

Improbably, Trump misconstrued it yesterday on the campaign trail, citing it as Blumenthal's handiwork, replete with a seemingly Russian government claim that even Clinton's allies knew she could stop Benghazi.

Eichenwald underscored what a crock it was for Trump to use this on this morning CNN "New Day."

Dealing with The Post

On Feb. 25, 2015, the Clinton Foundation's Craig Minassian wrote the Clinton campaign about ongoing consideration of how to respond to The Washington Post about the relationship of the foundation and the campaign.

The paper's question: "Why was it important for the foundation that some foreign government donations be allowed to continue after Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State (i.e. those from governments that had been giving and then continued to do so at a steady pace, as well as new or increased donation that cleared a state department review)? Why do foundation officials believe such donations did not pose any conflicts of interest given Secretary Clinton's role, as some have alleged?"

His revised proposed response: "As with other global charities, we rely on the support of individuals, organizations, corporations and governments who have the shared goal of addressing critical global challenges in a meaningful way. When anyone contributes to the Clinton Foundation, it goes towards Foundation programs that save lives..."

The story ("Foreign governments gave millions to foundation while Clinton was at State Dept.") appeared with the response. (The Washington Post)

Atwitter over Breitbart

A window onto the Washington nexus of politics, lobbying and moral ambiguity is offered by internal response to a Breitbart News story about Tony Podesta, John's brother and a notorious capital fixer, lobbying for a Russian-owned uranium firm.

John emailed campaign colleagues, "You guys turned into any of this. One stream is that I'm pro-fracking because Tony and I went to Greek Independence Day together where he must have convinced me to be anti-environment."

In a note to Tony, Podesta Group colleague Missi Tessier counsels, "All of us agree that it is not in anyone’s interest to engage with or respond to purposefully inaccurate right-wing bloggers as it will only result in additional rounds of stories that will do nothing to correct the record. Our internal digital analysis has shown that this storyline has flatlined over the last several days and we do not believe that inducing another spike in the online discussion will be beneficial."

If only Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks impresario who sits in self-exile in Ecuador's London embassy, agreed.

Corrections? Tips? Please email me: jwarren@poynter.org. Would you like to get this roundup emailed to you every morning? Sign up here.

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.


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