Clinton Campaign chair John Podesta speaks with CNN's Wolf Blitzer before the final 2016 presidential debate. Still from CNN Broadcast.
Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign contends the publication of emails from the campaign are part of a Russian plot. It believes raising the issue of Russia’s alleged involvement is enough to avoid discussion of the contents of emails. However, the campaign has been inconsistent in appearances on cable news networks.
Multiple individuals explicitly insist there are doctored or forged emails to dodge questions. Some of these people had their email exchanges published by WikiLeaks. Yet no member of the Clinton campaign can name a single example of a forgery.
Representatives of the Clinton campaign back away from talking points and answer questions about the emails if they can make a point that may be useful to the campaign about Donald Trump or Clinton’s progressive credentials. But when hosts of news programs ask questions they do not want to answer, they repeat a set of talking points; in particular, how Republican Senator Marco Rubio said this shows the Russians are trying to rig the election and people should stop talking about the emails.
During the debate, similar to her answer during the second debate, Clinton did not claim the emails were forged. Instead, she immediately pivoted to her campaign’s allegations that Trump is a “puppet” of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
In the afternoon on October 19, hours before the third presidential debate, campaign chairman John Podesta, who admits the emails are from his account which was hacked, appeared on CNN. He told Wolf Blitzer the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) have indicated the hack came from “Russian sources,” and they’re “in cahoots” with WikiLeaks. Podesta suggested WikiLeaks is “dribbling” the emails out each day because the “Russians are intervening in this election on behalf of Donald Trump.”
Blitzer asked, “Have any of the emails or transcripts that have been released been doctored or are they accurate?” In response, Podesta said, “When this first came out, it came out with a lie from Julian Assange, which was that, you know, when he first released these, that I was a co-owner of the Podesta Group, which is just factually and completely untrue.”
All Podesta could come up with is an inaccurate representation of his job title. Podesta’s answer skirted the issue of whether the Clinton campaign is aware of any “doctored” emails. And, when Blitzer asked if the transcripts of Goldman Sachs speeches were “accurate,” he refused to say yes or no and made a statement about defeating Trump so financial reform legislation is not repealed.
Blitzer noted Clinton said in one of those speeches a politician needs “one position in public for the American people, and but you need another private position.” He also asked if Podesta called Bernie Sanders a “doofus” in an email.
“There was a moment where he opposed the Paris deal, where, you know, without conferring the accuracy of the email, I was frustrated with him, but he and I have a very good relationship,” Podesta replied.
Blitzer said, “I’ll take that as a yes,” provoking a testy exchange at the end of the interview, but the confirmation that something made Podesta think Sanders was acting like a “doofus” pretty much indicates CNN asked about a real email.
“We’re Not Going To Verify Any Of These”
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook appeared on CNN about an hour before the debate. When Jake Tapper asked Mook about the Goldman Sachs speeches—and what Clinton would say if debate moderator Chris Wallace asked why she has two different positions on Wall Street, Mook addressed the question without any statements about the emails being “doctored” or “forged.”
Mook even took the extraordinary step of attempting to help the public better understand the contents. “I think it is important to keep in mind a lot of these documents were again hacked from the campaign. Some of it was research compiled by professionals within the campaign who actually try to characterize materials as the opponent would.”
So, Mook continued, some of the material is skewed and was taken out of context. “For example, there was, you know, one email where she was just [talking] about how to create more synergies for green energy production in the western hemisphere and it’s been construed into all kind of things that it’s not.”
Now, this is all spin, but it is spin that accepts the contents of what WikiLeaks published are authentic. They are not doctored or forged.
Two hours before appearing on CNN, Mook appeared on MSNBC’s “MTP Daily” with Chuck Todd. He was also asked about the emails, but he responded very differently.
“Well, I think, what’s going on here is that the Russians in an effort to help Donald Trump want these questions,” Mook argued. “They want this conversation. They’re selectively leaking materials at a rate that it is impossible for us to validate them for exactly the purpose of calling things into question, what really happened, who said what, is this true, is this not true. We’re not going to verify any of these right now because, again, they’re coming thousands a day. It’s simply too much for us to do that.”
Yet, if it is true the campaign has been unable to verify any of the contents of the emails, why did Mook go on CNN shortly after and address the contents of specific emails directly?
The same day, Joel Benenson, Clinton’s chief strategist, was on CNN a few hours before the debate. Blitzer asked about her suggestion that politicians need one position in public and another in private. While Benenson had previously mentioned the allegations from U.S. intelligence agencies that the Russian government is behind the hacking of emails, he did not suggest at any point that the emails are doctored or forged. In fact, he answered the question without saying his answer is just what the Russians would want.
“She was referring to something that had to do with a negotiation that was going on. It was a movie scene. That’s what she was referring to,” Benenson said. He later added, “The reality is, when you’re doing these things, you see congressional leaders meet all the time behind closed doors. They go out, and they talk to you guys in front of the microphones. They’re not telling you guys everything they’re talking about behind closed doors when they’re trying to get something done that will actually make a difference [to] people.”
“I Know That Russia And Other Forces Would Love Us To Have a Debate”
Clinton adviser and Center for American Progress president Neera Tanden appeared on CNN’s “New Day” the day after the debate. She was asked about an email she sent, where she suggested Clinton’s “inability to just do a national interview and communicate genuine feelings of remorse and regret is now I fear becoming a character problem.”
Host Chris Cuomo found the email interesting because it was similar to discussion happening outside the campaign. Cuomo wanted to know what the reaction was internally to this realization that Clinton has trouble communicating “genuine feelings.” Tanden flipped out.
“You know, I know that Russia and other forces would love us to have a debate,” Tanden responded. “This is exactly what they want. They want us to have a debate about the internal structure of Hillary’s campaign. What’s true, what’s not true. And I’m just not going to play that. I’m sorry.”
She, too, mentioned Rubio. “I think Marco Rubio is right about this. People should not be using this as weaponizing the e-mails or personal e-mails of anyone and sending them.”
Cuomo very astutely pressed Tanden by arguing the Clinton campaign would talk about the emails if they were between staff from the Trump campaign. Tanden would not have it. “That’s absolutely false. I would not be doing that.” To that, Cuomo highlighted the leaks related to Trump’s taxes.
Although Cuomo insisted the emails “say what they say,” and it should not matter how they were made public, Tanden still wouldn’t answer the question.
“If you say I never said this, that’s something different,” Cuomo argued. “If you say this isn’t me, I didn’t write that. That’s a legitimate basis. Otherwise, it seems like you’re ducking it because you don’t want to own what you said.”
“I’m not not owning it. I’m not owning it. I’m saying we shouldn’t really be dealing with people’s private emails. This is I think an issue of privacy. I agree with a lot of people who made this point on both sides of the aisle,” Tanden asserted.
“I Understand Persecution But I Will Not Sit Here And Be Persecuted”
While Democratic National Committee interim chair Donna Brazile does not work for the Clinton campaign, she corresponded with the campaign when she was a CNN contributor. An email from Brazile shows her improperly giving the campaign a heads up on a debate question so the campaign could prepare for it.
Megyn Kelly of Fox News asked Brazile about this email on October 19, after the debate, and Brazile went off on Kelly for asking about the emails.
“What information are you providing to me that will allow me to see what you’re talking about?” Brazile asked, which was ridiculous. She put out a statement on the email about a week ago when it made headlines.
Then, Brazile declared, “As a Christian woman, I understand persecution but I will not sit here and be persecuted because your information is solely false.” And, she accused Kelly of being a thief who wants to “bring into the night things” that were found.
When Kelly confronted her with comments her former colleague, Jake Tapper, made, where he said it was “unethical,” she cut out the theatrics and gave a direct answer.
“Once again, I’ve said it and I’ve said on the record, and I’ll say on the record and I keep saying it on a record. I am not going to try to validate falsified information,” Brazile insisted. “I have my documents. I have my files. Thank God, I have not had my personal emails ripped off from me and stolen and given to some criminals to come back altered.”
Later, Brazile said, “A lot of those e-mails, I would not give them the time of the day. I’ve seen so many doctored e-mails.”
Kelly needed to wrap the segment and was out of time. She should have asked her to highlight one specific example of the “many doctored emails” she falsely claims are out there.
David Brock, the founder of the Clinton super PAC, Correct The Record, which helped spread all the worst attacks on Sanders during the Democratic primary, was on CNN hours before the debate. He said, “It’s not known which of these emails are real.”
Host John Berman said the campaign has not “denied the existence of any of them” and that “isn’t really the issue here.” Yet, Brock defiantly insisted, without any proof, “There have been a few that haven’t been recognized.”
To be clear, if there were doctored, fabricated, forged, inauthentic, or impossible to “recognize” emails, there would be lots of media coverage of how WikiLeaks published fraudulent documents. U.S. media organizations have great antipathy for WikiLeaks and its editor-in-chief Julian Assange, who they refuse to treat as a journalist. They never hesitate to run stories alleging documents WikiLeaks published enabled authoritarian governments to crack down on innocent civilians. So, they would like nothing more than to further undermine the global credibility of WikiLeaks by running news reports proving the organization forged Clinton campaign emails.
How the emails wound up in the possession of WikiLeaks is one thing, and according to WikiLeaks, its submission system protects the identity of those who pass on documents. The organization may or may not have tried to figure out where the documents came from after verifying the authenticity of the emails.
Regardless, they are real and actual Clinton campaign emails, which contain revelations that are extremely relevant to any progressive groups or grassroots movements that plan to advance an agenda for social justice under a Clinton administration. Clinton campaign officials can make all the deranged comments they want to avoid addressing them, but countless people who supported Bernie Sanders are reading the emails.
They, along with other activists, see the emails as confirmation of suspicions they had while Clinton dishonestly attacked Sanders and depended on the DNC to rig the primary so it was difficult for Sanders to win the nomination. The emails will likely color their views of how Clinton will handle challenges from the grassroots as president, and the Clinton administration will only appear foolish if they pretend to be ignorant about why activists and left-leaning organizations do not trust them.