WikiLeaks has been releasing thousands of emails from John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. With so many emails to sift through, it can be tough to know which ones are worth reading and which ones have been misinterpreted. These are the most revealing or intriguing emails from the WikiLeaks releases so far, along with some corrections to frequently-misinterpreted messages. (There are many other sources for reading up on the Podesta leaks, including a list put together by people of Reddit here.) If you see any other emails of interest not listed, feel free to mention them in the comments below.
Here’s what you need to know.
Podesta: Clinton’s Instincts Support Law Enforcement Crypto Arguments
In one email, sent in November 2015, Podesta stated that Clinton’s “instincts” would always be to side with law enforcement when it come to government surveillance and strong encryption. This discussion occurred when questions about Apple’s encrypted phones were all over the news. Luke Albee approached Podesta with a suggestion that Clinton might have an opening if she supported less surveillance in contrast to Donald Trump’s comments about registering Muslims. Podesta didn’t say it was impossible that Clinton would do it, he just answered:
Interesting. Her instincts are to buy some of the law enforcement arguments on crypto and Snowden type issues. So may be tough, but worth looking for an opening.”
Speechwriter: Clinton Won’t Come Out Against Keystone Because She Wants to Support Obama in Public
In this email exchange, Clinton’s speechwriter says that Clinton firmly believes in always supporting President Obama in public. So they wanted to just “leak” her opposition to the Keystone Pipeline, rather than having her come out and say she opposed it.
Desai: Oxfam ‘Screwed Over’ the Clintons in Haiti
An email from Amitabh Desai of the Clinton Foundation to John Podesta and others in May 2012 talks about a request for Bill Clinton to raise awareness about the food crisis in West Africa. Desai adds that Clinton shouldn’t be fundraising for Oxfam or the UN, just mention the crisis.
He may recall that Oxfam screwed us publicly in Haiti around the earthquake anniversary.”
It’s not mentioned exactly what Desai is referring to. However, Oxfam was very critical of Bill Clinton’s Haiti recovery commission around the one-year anniversary, PBS reported in 2011. Oxfam released a report revealing that only 5 percent of the rubble was removed and only 15 percent of needed housing has been built. The report was very critical of Clinton’s interim Haiti Recovery Commission, noting that less than half of the reconstruction aid promised by donors was disbursed after a year. “So far, the Commission has failed to live up to its mandate,” the report said. The controversy continues today, with National Review releasing an article in July titled: “How the Clinton Foundation Got Rich off Poor Haitians.”
Questions Are Sometimes Planted
There have always been questions about whether reporters are sometimes baited to ask certain questions or if questions are planted during events or press conferences. In this WikiLeaks email, you can see firstname.lastname@example.org (Tom Matzzie) sending an email to John Podesta in 2007 talking about tracking 50 events and implementing a plan for “tough questions that we plant or bait reporters to ask that draw the Republicans closer to Bush…”
Tom Mattzie, took to Twitter earlier on October 14 to address other emails of his that were released by WikiLeaks. He referenced email ID 2187 as one that was about work he was doing. In one tweet, Mattzie wrote: “We tested negative attacks on BOTH candidates Clinton and Obama in 2008. We were testing expected attacks by Republicans on them.”
Clinton Talked About ‘Economic Fairness’ to Wall Street for PR Reasons
This email exchange provides an interesting look into the decisions about what to include in Clinton’s Wall Street speeches. A section about economic fairness and how the financial industry lost its way was included in one of her paid speeches for the sole purpose of using it as an example, in the future, of what she was saying behind closed doors. Specifically, Dan Schwerin wrote:
Following up on a conversation this morning about needing more arrows in our quiver on Wall Street. … In October 2014, HRC idd a paid speech in NYC for Deutsche Bank. I wrote her a long riff about economic fairness and how the financial industry has lost its way, precisely for the purpose of having something we could show people if ever asked what she was saying behind closed doors for two years to all those fat cats…”
You can read the full email here.
Did Donna Brazile Share Debate Questions with Clinton in Advance?
On March 12, 2016 at 4:39 p.m., Donna Brazile sent an email titled “From time to time I get the questions in advance.” The email was about a death penalty question for Hillary Clinton that worried her. Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton Communications Director, responded to Donna and another person on Clinton’s campaign, writing: “Yes, it is one she gets asked about. Not everyone likes her answer but can share it…” Brazile was DNC vice chair at the time.
This email has been the subject of a lot of controversy. One day later, a very similar question was asked of Clinton at a CNN Town Hall, Politico wrote. Brazile said she did not notify Clinton of a question in advance. She said she supported all the candidates and often shares thoughts about the campaign with them. She said she never had access to questions in advance and would never have shared them if she did. Meanwhile, a Democratic party official claimed that the question was about an ABC panel that Brazile was appearing on the next day.
However, Roland Martin, who co-hosted the Town Hall with CNN’s Jake Tapper, had sent an email the next day to CNN producers with three questions, including one which dealt with the death penalty. According to Politico, the text of the death penalty question that Martin sent was identical to the text of the death penalty question that Brazile sent in her email. During the Town Hall with Clinton and Sanders, Martin introduced an audience member who asked Clinton a death penalty question in very similar language.
Interestingly, Brazile later passed along to the Clinton campaign an email from Bernie’s campaign revealing his strategy to reach the African American community in a Twitterstorm. We know from the DNC leaks that Wasserman-Schultz and other DNC officials were biased against Bernie’s campaign. This may be more evidence of the same, possibly even an indication of helping being given for the debates against Bernie themselves.
Clinton: Refugees Can’t All Be Vetted
In a luncheon with the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago Vanguard in October 2013, Clinton said that all the Syrian refugees to Jordan couldn’t possibly all be vetted.
So they don’t know if, you know, jihadists are coming in along with legitimate refugees.”
You can read the speech in this attachment.
Haim Saban, Univision Chair, Supports Clinton
Univision’s chair, Haim Saban, has been on Clinton’s side since before the primaries, according to Podesta’s email leaks. Saban has contacted Clinton’s campaign on many occasions with suggestions. For example, in this email exchange, John Podesta mentioned that Haim had been in contact with him about their campaign strategy on July 3, 2015. “Haim thinks we are under reacting to Trump/Hispanics. Thinks we can get something by standing up for Latinos or attacking R’s for not condemning.” On March 10, Univision hosted a debate between Sanders and Clinton. After the debate, Rob Friedman from Lionsgate wrote Haim and said: “I just wanted to tell you that I thought the moderators for last nights Debate were excellent. They were thoughtful , tough and incisive. I thought it made Hilary appear direct and strong in her resolve. I felt it advanced our candidate. Thanks for Univision.” Haim appeared to forward the email to Podesta and other’s in Clinton’s campaign with the note: “OK, I like this one.”
Then on March 15, the huge primary day, Saban wrote Podesta and others that night saying: “Cheryl and I are very happy…. relieved.” And Mook responded: “Thank YOU for making it possible!!” Saban wrote back: “SHE is the one that made it happen with you guys and your teams by her side. Thank you for saying what you said about us but we’re just on the periphery….. At best. Onward and forward.” Almost a year earlier, in August 2015, Saban sent Huma an email, complaining about an article noting Univision’s pro-Hillary coverage. He wrote: “I have nothing to do with it. I NEVER tell our news dept. What to cover.”
Qatar & Saudi Arabia Emails and other Foreign Affairs Comments
In 2014, Hillary Clinton stated in an email that Saudi and Qatar governments were funding ISIL. Clinton wrote to Podesta, in part: “While this operation is moving forward, we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”
Two years earlier, in 2012, Qatar wanted to give Bill Clinton $1 million for his birthday. You can read that part of the email here, from Amitabh Desai of the Clinton Foundation, which says: “Qatar … Would like to see WJC ‘for five minutes’ in NYC, to present $1 million check that Qatar promised for WJC’s birthday in 2011.” In the same conversation, Qatar was seeking advice about investment in Haiti in education and health. It’s important to note that the email only mentions Qatar wanting to give Bill Clinton money for his birthday, but it never says if Clinton accepted that money or if there was any reason he shouldn’t.
Meanwhile, another email exchange indicated that Podesta owns 75,000 shares in a Putin-connected energy company. This revelation wasn’t exactly news, however, as it was reported on by The New York Times in 2013.
As far as other foreign affairs mentioned in the emails, there are quite a few. However, some have been incorrectly reported. For example, in an email exchange with Podesta, one person writes that the Iran deal “condemns the next generation to cleaning up a nuclear war in the Persian Gulf” and Podesta replies, “Yep.” What is often not noticed, however, is that they were exchanging a BuzzFeed article, and the quote about nuclear war was taken from that article. Podesta may have simply been indicating that he did, indeed, see that in the story.
Plans to Make Republicans Look Unpalatable & Elevate Trump
Not everything is a smoking gun, but some emails do provide some insight into how running for President of the United States actually works behind the scenes. Marissa Astor, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook’s assistant, sent an email to members of Clinton’s campaign on April 2015 titled “Friday Strategy Call at 8:00 AM ET.” It included a memo about their approach to the GOP candidates, which you can see partially in a screenshot above. Their goals included forcing all Republican candidates to take extreme conservative positions that would hurt them in a general election, and to undermine the credibly these candidates would have in making inroads to independent voters, plus “muddy the waters on any potential attack lodged against HRC.”
The plans also included using “Pied Piper Candidates” as more extreme candidates who would represent the Republican party. These included, but weren’t limited to, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Ben Carson. Their goal was to elevate these candidates as leaders who should be taken seriously. They also planned to boomerang any attacks on Hillary back onto the Republicans.
Some people point to an email from November 2015 as further clarification that the Clinton campaign wanted Trump to be the frontrunner. They cite the line: “But it may be too early to raise this. Or maybe she SHOULD pick a fight with Trump on this to help cement his front runner status.” However, that line was written by Luke Albee, someone who periodically shared his thoughts and ideas with Podesta. It was not written by a member of Clinton’s campaign.
Obama, Executive Privilege, & Clinton Emails
In an email written on March 4, 2015, John Podesta told Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s attorney:
Think we should hold emails to and from potus? That’s the heart of his exec privilege. We could get them to ask for that. They may not care, but I [sic] seems like they will.”
The meaning of the email’s a bit confusing. On March 14, 2015, Clinton was issued a subpoena by the Justice Department. That same day, Podesta emailed Clinton’s attorney, Cheryl Mills, and asked about holding emails that were to and from POTUS. You can read the exchange above. The meaning of the email is subject to a lot of different interpretations. In late September, the FBI reported that Obama had used a pseudonym when emailing Clinton. The State Department, Politico reported, has not made any emails between Clinton and Obama public, citing executive privilege. In March 2015, Obama said he found out about Clinton’s use of a personal email server in the media.
Responding to News of Sid Blumenthal’s Missing Emails
…if pressed on whether we are essentially admitting the possibility that she deleted some emails: Look, we do not know what these materials are, or where they came from. Just take a look at them: many of the documents are not even formatted as emails. But even if Sid is right and some of these documents were at some point sent to Clinton, there is nothing in any of these emails that is remotely new or interesting. Indeed, none of these 16 emails are qualitatively different than the dozens of others that Hillary already produced to the State Department.”
Possible Journalists Friendly with Clinton’s Campaign
The WikiLeaks Podesta emails indicate journalists who may be friendly with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. However, it’s hard to judge to what extent they work together versus simply having a cordial relationship. And sometimes, journalists will naturally reach out to sources for quotes before a story is published, but it doesn’t mean they are biased. The following media came up in the Podesta emails:
- The New York Times once asked Clinton’s campaign to edit a transcript of a previous interview she gave with The New York Times and offer permission to use parts of the interview. It’s not known, however, if this was simply New York Times policy regarding all interviews with politicians.
- Katie Couric contacted Clinton’s campaign about doing a “10 things you didn’t know about Hillary Clinton” piece to showcase her personality, with “lots of viral potential.” She was specifying how viral the story could become because she trying to get Clinton on board. She wrote: “I know there are a lot of demands on her time, but we have been waiting patiently to schedule something…” This doesn’t automatically indicate bias, because media often want interviews with major presidential candidates and may have to wait to get those stories.
- Frank Islam of the Huffington Post wrote: “I am committed to make sure she [Hillary] is elected as the next President of the United States.” He doesn’t have any articles on Huffington Post listed since September 16, as of the time of publication. On August 29, he wrote an article titled: “The Mind of the Trump Supporter.” On August 22 he wrote: “Donald Trump: Baby, Bully and Buffoon?”
- Paul Begala is a Democratic strategist who appears on CNN. He has had some emails in the Podesta files, but it’s not really surprising, since one would expect a Democratic strategist to be pro-Democrat in his leanings and statements.
- The Washington Post participated in some type of unlisted fundraiser with the DNC in September 2015. It’s not known what this fundraiser was about, but it was brought up in the DNC Leaks, not the Podesta leaks. The email subject was titled “WaPo Party” and Anu Rangappa from the DNC wrote: “They…do not want their party to be listed in any package we are selling to donors…” And Jordan Kaplan responded, “We were never going to list since the lawyers told us we cannot do it.”
- Maggie Haberman of Politico (and other publications) works closely with Clinton’s campaign. In this email, Nick Merrill, who works for Clinton, wrote on January 13, 2015 about being proactive in shaping a public narrative. “We have has [sic] a very good relationship with Maggie Haberman of Politico over the last year. We have had her tee up stories for us before and have never been disappointed.”
- Before Clinton announced her candidacy, she had an off-the-record cocktail with press where they gave reporters their first thoughts about the campaign and “framing the HRC message and framing the race.” A reporter attending the cocktail does not mean the reporter is friendly or biased toward Clinton. But if you’re interested in seeing who attended, the list is in the attachment to this email.
Glenn Hutchins from CNBC contacted Podesta for ideas about a question he could ask Trump when Trump was calling in one morning.
Incorrectly Reported Emails
There are some moments when readers, excited about jumping on a possible scandal, forget to look at who sent an email or the greater context of a message, and find themselves spreading misinformation. Here are two examples.
A rumor that Clinton said she hates everyday American is not true. In the email, Podesta is saying that she hates the phrase “everyday Americans,” but they want to use it when she announces she’s running for President.
News that Hillary admitted to deleting her emails in the Podesta leaks is also not true. An often-cited email was actually just part of a list of questions for a roundtable discussion, provided by someone outside the Clinton campaign.
Additional Emails & Clarifications
There are far too many emails to list them all individually in this article. Here’s a short list of other emails that you might want to review:
- FEC Rules: There’s an in-depth discussion on Reddit here about whether or not Podesta emails indicate that Clinton’s campaign complied correctly with Federal Election campaign laws. It takes a lot of digging into FEC rules to determine what’s true and what’s not true.
- Catholicism: An email between Jennifer Palmieri and John Halpin of Center for American Progress discusses Catholicism. Halpin called it “an amazing bastardization of the faith.” Palmieri wrote: “I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they became evangelicals.” After the release, John Sununu, New Hampshire governor, said the emails showed “religious bigotry.” But Palmieri said she didn’t even remember sending the email, and she was Catholic herself.
- Hillary Scandals: In an email exchange between Podesta and Neera Tanden in March 2015, they discussed some big scandal that “the WH crapping on her is going to send this into orbit.” She later advised Podesta: “I have dealt w/ my fair share of Hillary scandals. I have had experience w/ her going to a point where she is toying w/ legal niceties to make sure every i is dotted, but actually secretly measuring if the velocity is moving up or down on the scandal. Have no idea if that’s happening here.” Read the email here.
- TPP: In this email, her staff discusses Clinton’s position on the TPP.