Clinton herself features rarely in the emails
The emails paint the picture of a methodical and calculating campaign
When it comes to the Hillary Clinton brand, as she once wrote, it takes a village.
Hacked emails from Clinton’s campaign manager’s private Gmail reveal a cast of characters working behind the presidential candidate, who at times expressed frustration with her and with each other over bad habits or secrecy amid the crush of campaign strategizing and the highs and lows of the cycle.
Passing through campaign chairman John Podesta’s inbox were longtime allies of Clinton and her husband, inner circle aides on whom she relied, and newer members of the team who joined the campaign in its infancy. The newer circle at times chafed at the old guard, as all the while the campaign tried to deal with fallout from the revelation of Clinton’s private server use and a tougher-than-expected primary against progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The emails paint the picture of a methodical and calculating campaign that agonized by committee over everything from the nuances of the candidate’s position on trade deals and minimum wage to how to respond to congressional inquiries into her server.
Clinton herself features rarely in the emails. She exchanged a few messages, but is largely removed from the back-and-forth of her aides. Huma Abedin, Clinton’s longtime right-hand woman, often served as a surrogate voice for the candidate, weighing in on her mindset, prep work and relationships with politicians and donors for the benefit of the group.
Frequently featured in the emails are Clinton’s communications staff, top campaign leadership, outside advisers in polling and strategic communications, donors and advisers with less formal roles. Neera Tanden, president of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress and a veteran of both Clinton and Obama administrations, pops up as a frequently unfiltered adviser to Podesta, a CAP co-founder and former president.
Emails reveal frustration
WikiLeaks has been dumping the thousands of emails in groups every day for more than two weeks. As WikiLeaks controls the release of the emails, they are often dropped out of order and without context.
The Clinton campaign and those involved in the emails have refused to confirm or deny the authenticity of individual emails, instead pointing the finger at Russian government hackers for working with WikiLeaks to influence the presidential election. The Russian government and WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange have denied the charge.
The campaign, Tanden and senior adviser Philippe Reines declined to comment to CNN on specific emails. Clinton spokesman Glen Caplin has responded to inquiries by stressing the campaign’s assertion that the leaks are politically motivated to benefit Russia.
Amid the mundane campaign email traffic, there are also unvarnished exchanges that have captured frustration inside.
In one newly released email exchange with Podesta, Tanden marveled at why the longtime Clinton team wasn’t more forthcoming before the story broke that she used a private email server setup at home for her work as secretary of state.
“Why didn’t they get this stuff out like 18 months ago? So crazy,” Tanden wrote to Podesta in March 2015.
She singled out Cheryl Mills, a top Clinton legal adviser and aide.
“This is a cheryl (sic) special. Know you love her, but this stuff is like her Achilles heal (sic). Or kryptonite. she just can’t say no to this s—.”
Podesta also expressed frustration with Mills alongside Clinton lawyer David Kendall and Reines, saying they “sure weren’t forthcoming on the facts here.”
“I guess I know the answer – they wanted to get away with it,” Tanden wrote. That line was quickly seized upon by Republicans who have long tried to paint Clinton’s actions as illegal, though a lengthy FBI investigation ultimately determined there was not enough evidence to make any criminal charges.
In another series of exchanges around Clinton’s public response to the server use, Tanden emailed Podesta to say Clinton “rocked it!!” in a September 4, 2015, interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell during which Clinton said she was “sorry” for causing confusion. But Tanden noted it wasn’t a full apology.
“Everyone wants her to apologize. And she should. Apologies are like her Achilles heel,” Tanden wrote. “But she didn’t seem like a b—- in the interview. And she said the word sorry. She will get to a full apology in a few interviews.”
Three days later, Tanden emailed asking if she could help get Clinton to issue a full apology. “This apology thing has become like a pathology. I can only imagine what’s happening in the campaign,” she wrote.
Podesta suggested Tanden reach out to Clinton herself. “Tell her to say it and move on, why get hung on this,” he said.
The next day, September 8, 2015, Clinton gave a fuller apology to ABC News.
During the same week, Podesta fretted to Tanden about Vice President Joe Biden possibly entering the race and “terrible decisions” that couldn’t be undone.
“We’ve taken on a lot of water that won’t be easy to pump out of the boat,” Podesta wrote. “Most of that has to do with terrible decisions made pre-campaign, but a lot has to do with her instincts.”
Tanden replied: “Almost no one knows better (sic) me that her instincts can be terrible.” But Tanden also said she was confident in Podesta and in an email months later as primary voting neared, she said she “owe(d)” Clinton “a lot” and was a “loyal soldier” for her.
Older and newer members of Clinton’s world also butted heads in March 2015. Podesta exchanged a series of emails with Reines over “leaks,” as word got out of plans to do an interview with MSNBC. Podesta told Reines “you got to stop this,” prompting long emails from Reines defending himself and bristling at Podesta’s assumption.
“With that, I’m going to sit quietly in the corner until Cheryl calls me to admonish me for sending this reply and digging myself into an even deeper hole with you than I already was,” he closes one. “For those keeping score, that will be two more admonishment than the culprit(s) have received.”
Just the day before in a different thread, Reines had made a suggestion with the subject “new ways” that the campaign plant a story that it was Clinton’s new team of advisers who helped counsel her to be forthcoming about the server, throwing himself and others of the old guard under the bus.
“A sign that while the campaign team is still coming together and gelling, they already are having an impact on the way we do business, showing that even if it’s a little bumpy to start, things WILL be different this time,” Reines wrote. “Good for them, good for her, bad for Cheryl & me but in the scheme of things it’s a minor indignity as compared to others coming our way. I’m happy to take one for the new team, it really is in her best interest which is all that really matters.”
Reines said he communicated the idea to Clinton herself. But Mills replied: “I not (sic) with you.” It’s unclear if Podesta ever responded.
The Clinton circle
While Reines, Abedin, Mills and others, like policy adviser Jake Sullivan, were all part of Clinton’s State Department team and have been close to her for years, Podesta, campaign manager Robby Mook and communications director Jennifer Palmieri have been in and out of the Clinton orbit Democratic politics over the years.
Clinton is known for relying on a tight circle of advisers, but has injected new blood into her 2016 campaign from her failed bid in 2008, including Mook, Palmieri and Podesta. Her potential White House staff is expected to draw from the people she trusts – but they have been the subject of more public scrutiny than in years past due to the release of State Department emails from her private server and the hack of Podesta’s gmail.
Though thousands of the emails are innocuous, dry or positive, the friction examples have drawn attention amid a tense campaign home stretch into Election Day.