Hacked Emails Suggest Caution Is Key in Clinton Messaging


WSJ – Hacked Emails Suggest Caution Is Key in Clinton Messaging

Staffers mull over highly scripted campaign statements, new round of emails released by WikiLeaks shows

Some days it takes a village for Hillary Clinton to send a tweet.

A new round of leaked emails shows a string of Clinton aides chewing over campaign messages large and small as she moved through the Democratic primary and into the general election showdown with Republican rival Donald Trump. The emails underline Mrs. Clinton’s image as a highly scripted, deeply cautious candidate, and perhaps provide clues as to how she might operate if she wins the presidency.

The emails, released over the past several days by WikiLeaks, came from a hack of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email account. They offer an unusually revealing look at the internal thinking that shapes Mrs. Clinton’s public utterances.

Few presidential candidates wing it in the trail. But the notes flying back and forth among her staff show that even lines meant to sound spontaneous, as well as seemingly off-the-cuff tweets, are scrupulously vetted. Mr. Trump has harshly criticized Mrs. Clinton as inauthentic and calculating, while she has hit back at him as unprepared and volatile.

The emails suggest than even some of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters have worried her campaign may be overly controlled. One came from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who in July 2015 sent a note to a Clinton adviser saying the campaign “feels stale, with very few signs of the kind of freshness and transparency that the American people (especially millennials) will need to trust and ultimately elect HRC as president.”

The Clinton campaign neither confirmed nor denied the authenticity of the emails on Monday, repeating an approach it took with a batch of emails released by WikiLeaks last week. But the campaign blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for unearthing them, suggesting he did so to aid Mr. Trump.

“The timing shows you that even Putin knows Trump had a bad weekend and a bad debate,” the campaign said in a prepared statement.

U.S. intelligence agencies issued a joint statement last week accusing Russia of trying to influence the U.S. election, including by hacking internal documents and releasing them on WikiLeaks. Mr. Trump, in Sunday’s presidential debate, questioned not only Russia’s role but whether hacking was even occurring.

The latest batch of emails also opens a window into personal relations within the Clinton camp, including the fraying of ties between Doug Band—a former White House aide and longtime confidant to Bill Clinton—and the former president’s daughter, Chelsea.

Mr. Band stayed with Mr. Clinton after the White House and helped set up his charitable foundation. In recent years, Ms. Clinton has taken on a larger role at the foundation.

In an email to Mr. Podesta in November 2011, Mr. Band, while talking about the business consulting company he co-founded, Teneo Holdings, criticized Ms. Clinton. He said she was “acting like a spoiled brat kid” and had “a lack of focus in her life.” The context of the criticism isn’t clear, and Mr. Band declined to comment.

Ms. Clinton, in her own email to Mr. Podesta in December, 2011, voiced concerns that her father’s name was being used in Britain on behalf of Teneo clients. “I will raise all of this and more with my father this evening,” she wrote. Ms. Clinton’s office didn’t reply to a request for comment.

The latest disclosure in addition shows that when Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) took toTwitter in July 2015 to criticize Mrs. Clinton’s views on Cuba, several Clinton campaign officials debated how to respond in a series of internal emails. They tested out possible rejoinders against Mr. Rubio, then a top GOP presidential hopeful, in 140 characters.

As the conversation continued, more campaign officials were added to the email chain, as a mix of policy and communications aides discussed such questions as whether to include the Republican senator’s Twitter handle. Notably, this tweet-by-committee was to be signed by “-H,” a designation that is supposed to signify that a tweet came directly from Mrs. Clinton.

In the end, this response was tweeted from the former secretary of state’s account:

“@marcorubio You’ve got it backwards: Engagement is a threat to the Castros, not a gift. Embargo hasn’t worked for 50+ years. -H”

Over the course of more than four hours one day in October 2015, some of Mrs. Clinton’s closest advisers went back and forth on whether she should tell a joke about Donald Trump’s hair.

Mr. Podesta, in an email to speechwriter Dan Schwerin and more than a dozen other top advisers, suggested Mrs. Clinton tell a joke referring to her 11 hours of testimony before the House Benghazi committee chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.). The speech was to be given later that day at a fundraising dinner for the Iowa Democratic Party.

“On freshening things up,” Mr. Podesta began, “what about: I used to be obsessed with Donald Trump’s hair, that was until I got to spend 11 hours staring at the top of Trey Gowdy’s head.”

“LOVE the Trey Gowdy line,” replied Mandy Grunwald, a longtime communications adviser to the Clintons. “Just wonder if that undercuts our statesmanship point too much.”

Mr. Podesta responded, “I don’t think so.” Communications director Jennifer Palmieri fired back, “That’s because you love your own joke. But I think it is OK.”

Joel Benenson, the campaign’s pollster, had the last word: “We own the high ground right now. We should stay there.”

In another email thread, top staffers discussed the editing of a particular document, apparently a speech Mrs. Clinton was supposed to give. The speech wasn’t attached to the email, but after a few rounds of edits, one staffer wrote, “Is everyone comfortable w her saying ”Yo Mama”?

“Yikes,” wrote back another staffer.

The exchange was an apparent reference to a coming visit by Mrs. Clinton to a restaurant in Birmingham, Ala., called ”Yo’ Mama’s.”

Write to Peter Nicholas at peter.nicholas@wsj.com and Byron Tau at byron.tau@wsj.com

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