WASHINGTON – Thousands of hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, were posted online Friday evening, including what appears to be excerpts from transcripts of closed-door speeches Clinton gave to Wall Street companies after leaving the State Department.
WikiLeaks, which has been alleged to work with Russia, posted more than 2,000 emails from Podesta and promises to post more from a trove of more than 50,000 the group said it has access to.
The Clinton campaign would not confirm the authenticity of any of the documents but has not disputed the contents.
Clinton’s comments to financial firms, if legitimate, would validate what supporters of Bernie Sanders long said about her: Clinton is a fake populist who is really out of touch with the middle class. But the timing of the leaks, well after the Democratic primary and the same night video emerged of Donald Trump bragging about being able to grope women, could blunt any political impact.
About a week after Sanders raised the issue in a January debate, the campaign’s head of research, Tony Carrk, sent around the excerpts, apparently provided by “HWA” (likely referring to the Harry Walker Agency, a firm representing Clinton and other high-profile speakers), to Podesta and other top campaign officials, including Podesta and Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri.
The speech excerpts shed light on Clinton’s relationship with Wall Street behind closed doors, as well as her positions on issues such as trade and regulation.
Clinton’s presidential campaign has sought to cast the former secretary of state as a fighter for the middle class, someone who will stand up to monied interests and corporations, and advocate on behalf of people who have seen wages stagnate over eight years under President Barack Obama.
In one 2014 speech, Clinton admits to being “kind of far removed” from the struggles of the middle class.
“My father loved to complain about big business and big government, but we had a solid middle class upbringing,” she said in the remarks. “…And now, obviously, I’m kind of far removed because the life I’ve lived and the economic, you know, fortunes that my husband and I now enjoy, but I haven’t forgotten it.”
The emails released Friday range from menial email blasts and newsletters to highly sensitive internal campaign discussions from inside the Clinton campaign as they were facing a strong primary challenge from Sanders. And they come just hours after top national security officials accused Russia of trying to influence the US elections through highly-coordinated hacks.
Podesta fired off a series of tweets Friday night, blasting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and pointing to Russia as the source of the hacks, although there is no official link between his specific emails and hacks by Russia.
“I’m not happy about being hacked by the Russians in their quest to throw the election to Donald Trump,” Podesta tweeted Friday night. In another tweet, he said, “Don’t have time to figure out which docs are real and which are faked.”
The Clinton campaign declined to confirm whether the emails were Podesta’s.
“Earlier today, the US government removed any reasonable doubt that the Kremlin has weaponized WikiLeaks to meddle in our election and benefit Donald Trump’s candidacy,” Clinton spokesman Glen Caplin said in a statement Friday night. “We are not going to confirm the authenticity of stolen documents released by Julian Assange who has made no secret of his desire to damage Hillary Clinton.”
Caplin also pointed to concerns that Russian hackers could have doctored the content in the emails, saying, “Guccifer 2.0 has already proven the warnings of top national security officials that documents can be faked as part of a sophisticated Russian misinformation campaign.”
Sanders sought speech transcripts
For many Sanders supporters, including some who remain wary of Clinton, the release of Clinton’s paid speech transcripts is too little, too late.
Sanders made Clinton’s speeches to Goldman Sachs and other financial interests a cornerstone of his stump speeches, regularly slamming Clinton for the private remarks.
“I kind of think if you’re going to be paid $225,000 for a speech, it must be a fantastic speech,” Sanders said during a speech in Warren, Michigan. “A brilliant speech which you would want to share with the American people.”
He regularly added that the remarks must be “Shakespearean” given Clinton’s fee.
With Sanders’ urging, the refrain caught hold among his supporters. Protesters at Clinton events routinely yelled “Release your transcripts” and the phrase became a commonly used hashtag on social media.
But the reality of Friday’s release is that these partial transcripts would have had more impact had they been released in March, not October — especially Clinton’s comments on trade.
After calling the Trans Pacific Partnership the “gold standard” as secretary of state, Clinton has said publicly that she now does not support the deal.
“I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as President,” Clinton said earlier this year in Warren, Michigan.
But in a 2013 speech, Clinton told an audience that her “dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity for every person in the hemisphere.”
Clinton has publicly said that she believes in trade, but has made running against the way certain trade deals are enforced – including the North American Free Trade agreement – a key to her outreach to union and white working class voters.
“I am not satisfied with the status quo, I am not telling you everything is peachy keen,” Clinton said about trade in a July speech in Philadelphia. “I am telling you we have made progress but we have work to do.”
‘You need both a public and a private position’
While Clinton’s comments at the paid speeches are different than what she usually says, Clinton has been up front – in public – about the fact that she and Bill Clinton have vaulted from the middle class to wealth since they came onto the national political scene in the late 1980s.
“Bill and I have been blessed,” Clinton said in Raleigh in September. “We didn’t come from millionaire families. My husband’s father died before he was born.”
She added, “They struggled, they worked hard. And America gave him the chance to get a good education, pursue his dreams, end up being president.”
In a 2013 speech, Clinton told members of the National Multi-Housing Council, “you need both a public and a private position” in politics.
“I mean, politics is like sausage being made,” she said. “It is unsavory, and it always has been that way, but we usually end up where we need to be. But if everybody’s watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So, you need both a public and a private position.”
State Department technology
Clinton also weighed in on her use of technology at the State Department — an issue that would later plague her campaign when it was revealed she exclusively used a private email server to conduct State Department business.
“When I got to the State Department, it was still against the rules to let most — or let all Foreign Service Officers have access to a Blackberry,” Clinton said in August 2014. “You couldn’t have desktop computers when Colin Powell was there.”
She also spoke about how the State Department was targeted by hackers “every hour, more than once an hour.”
“And we knew it was going on when I would go to China, or I would go to Russia, we would leave all of our electronic equipment on the plane, with the batteries out, because this is a new frontier,” said Clinton.
Carrk, the man who wrote the hacked document, currently serves at Clinton’s research director and is part of Clinton’s campaign inner circle, trusted enough that he has been part of Clinton’s tightly controlled debate preparations.
Carrk worked for Clinton during her 2008 campaign and later led rapid response research at the Democratic National Committee. Before joining Clinton’s 2016 campaign, the Democratic operative lead the research operation at the Center for American Progress.
By Laura Koran, Dan Merica and Tom LoBianco, CNN