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Student describes how she became a Clinton plant

  • Story Highlights
  • Student says Clinton staffer showed her a binder with about eight questions
  • "College student" in brackets before top question, student says
  • Campaign: Clinton "did not know which questioners she was calling on"
  • Student said she was not the only one told what to ask
  • Next Article in Politics »
From Chris Welch and David Schechter
CNN
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GRINNELL, Iowa (CNN) -- The college student who was told what question to ask at one of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign events said "voters have the right to know what happened" and she wasn't the only one who was planted.

Student Muriel Gallo-Chasanoff said a staffer told her what to ask at a campaign event for Sen. Hillary Clinton.

In an exclusive on-camera interview with CNN, Muriel Gallo-Chasanoff, a 19-year-old sophomore at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, said giving anyone specific questions to ask is "dishonest," and the whole incident has given her a negative outlook on politics.

Gallo-Chasanoff, whose story was first reported in the campus newspaper, said what happened was simple: She said a senior Clinton staffer asked if she'd like to ask the senator a question after an energy speech the Democratic presidential hopeful gave in Newton, Iowa, on November 6.

"I sort of thought about it, and I said 'Yeah, can I ask how her energy plan compares to the other candidates' energy plans?'" Gallo-Chasanoff said Monday night.

According to Gallo-Chasanoff, the staffer said, " 'I don't think that's a good idea, because I don't know how familiar she is with their plans.' " Video Watch the student speak out about question »

He then opened a binder to a page that, according to Gallo-Chasanoff, had about eight questions on it.

"The top one was planned specifically for a college student," she added. "It said 'college student' in brackets and then the question."

Topping that sheet of paper was the following: "As a young person, I'm worried about the long-term effects of global warming. How does your plan combat climate change?" Video Watch the student ask the planted question »

And while she said she would have rather used her own question, Gallo-Chasanoff said she didn't have a problem asking the campaign's because she "likes to be agreeable," adding that since she told the staffer she'd ask their pre-typed question she "didn't want to go back on my word."

Clinton campaign spokesman Mo Elleithee said, "This is not acceptable campaign process moving forward. We've taken steps to ensure that it never happens again." Elleithee said Clinton had "no idea who she was calling on."

Gallo-Chasanoff wasn't so sure.

"I don't know whether Hillary knew what my question was going to be, but it seemed like she knew to call on me because there were so many people, and ... I was the only college student in that area," she said. Video Watch the full interview »

In a separate statement in response to the campus article, the campaign said, "On this occasion a member of our staff did discuss a possible question about Sen. Clinton's energy plan at a forum. ... This is not standard policy and will not be repeated again."

Gallo-Chasanoff said she wasn't the only person given a question.

"After the event," she said, "I heard another man ... talking about the question he asked, and he said that the campaign had asked him to ask that question."

The man she referenced prefaced his question by saying that it probably didn't have anything to do with energy, and then posed the following: "I wonder what you propose to do to create jobs for the middle-class person, such as here in Newton where we lost Maytag."

A Maytag factory in Newton recently closed, forcing hundreds of people out of their jobs.

During the course of the late-night interview on Grinnell's campus, Gallo-Chasanoff also said that the day before the school's newspaper, Scarlet and Black, printed the story, she wanted the reporter to inform the campaign out of courtesy to let them know it would be published.

She said the "head of publicity for the campaign," a man whose name she could not recall, had no factual disputes with the story. But, she added, a Clinton intern spoke to her to say the campaign requested she not talk about the story to any more media outlets and that if she did she should inform a staffer.

"I'm not under any real obligation to do that, and I haven't talked to [the campaign] anymore," Gallo-Chasanoff said, adding that she doesn't plan to.

"If what I do is come and just be totally truthful, then that's all anyone can ask of me, and that's all I can ask of myself. So I'll feel good with what I've done. I'll feel like I've done the right thing."

The Clinton campaign's acknowledgment that it planted a question reinforces a widely held criticism of the senator -- that she is not entirely honest, said Bill Schneider, CNN's senior political analyst.

"It's the same criticism often made of her husband," Schneider said. "Most Americans never felt Bill Clinton was honest and trustworthy, even when he got elected in 1992 -- with only 43 percent of the vote. His critics called him 'Slick Willy.' ... Will her critics start referring to the New York senator as 'Slick Hillary?' "

Asked if this experience makes her less likely to support Clinton's presidential bid, Gallo-Chasanoff, an undecided voter, said, "I think she has a lot to offer, but I -- this experience makes me look at her campaign a little bit differently."

"The question and answer sessions -- especially in Iowa -- are really important. That's where the voters get to ... have like a real genuine conversation with this politician who could be representing them."

While she acknowledged "it's possible that all campaigns do these kind of tactics," she said that doesn't make it right.

"Personally I want to know that I have someone who's honest representing me."

A second person has a story similar to Gallo-Chasanoff's. Geoffrey Mitchell of Hamilton, Illinois, on the Iowa border, said the Clinton campaign wanted him to ask a certain question at an Iowa event in April.

"He asked me if I would ask Sen. Clinton about ways she was going to confront the president on the war in Iraq, specifically war funding," said Geoffrey Mitchell, a supporter of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois. "I told him it was not a question I felt comfortable with."

No questions were taken at the event. Elleithee said this incident was different from what happened with Gallo-Chasanoff in Newton. Elleithee said the staffer "bumped into someone he marginally knew" and during a conversation with Mitchell, "Iraq came up." Elleithee denied the campaign tried to plant him as a friendly questioner in the audience.

Mitchell said he had never met the staffer before the event.

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Former presidential adviser David Gergen said the front-runner's campaign could take a hit from the incident.

"When a campaign plants a question, it's a pretty minor infraction of the rules -- like a parking ticket," Gergen said. "The problem here is it feeds a damaging perception of Hillary Clinton that she can't quite be trusted." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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