7 of the Most Awkward Dispatches from the Leaked Democratic National Committee Emails

The DNC email leak is revealing some ugly truths about the 2016 election.
Publish date:
July 25, 2016
DNC, HIllary Clinton, Democrat, Bernie Sanders

Wikileaks rides again! This time, with a release of some 20,000 purported internal emails from the heart of the Democratic party, right in time for this week's convention in Philadelphia. Just when we were worried that it couldn't possibly top the RNC, am I right?

Okay, first off, conspiracy theories: A lot of people (including the Clinton campaign) seem to think this was the Russians working to undermine the Democrats and pave Donald Trump's gold-plated road to victory.

I am not entirely convinced of this: My own personal conspiracy theory is that Wikileaks, headed by a noted misogynist and big fans of Milo Yiannopoulos, wanted to take a swing at Secretary Hillary Clinton for having the audacity to run for president while female, and this was a great way to do it. It's not a coincidence that these emails were released as part of the "Hillary Leaks" series, you know.

There's also a debate about whether hacking for freedom is really justified, and whether the release of such documents crosses a line. This is an especially big concern when we're talking about the release of personal emails and identifying information that could pose a security risk. Wikileaks doesn't obscure identifying data, so it's important to talk about this, and why it's a problem.

I'm always hesitant to endorse the release of personal information in the name of striking some kind of brave blow for freedom, but the fact is that these documents are in the public interest, because they are revealing some ugly and important truths about the internal workings of the DNC.

So let's take a look at some top hits.

1) Is Bernie Sanders a Jew or an atheist?

While not mentioned by name in this little gem, it's pretty clear that Brad Marshall was referring to Sanders when he said this: "Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist."

This is an election in which antisemitism has been pretty rampant, partly in thanks to Donald Trump and partly in thanks to the fact that some people had a big problem with a Jewish man running for president. Earlier this month, NPR covered Jewish reporters being harassed by antisemitic Trump supporters, highlighting how pervasive this is. So this comment was kind of a big deal — so much so that Marshall was forced to apologize for it.

2) A bowl of racism?

We all remember Donald Trump's infamous "taco bowl" tweet. If not, here you go:


But after that overt racism on the Republican side, there was a nice little shot of internal racism with an email in which Rebecca Christopher refers to "taco bowl engagement." Now, if I was generous, I'd say she was riffing off the taco bowl controversy and referring to the outrage over the Trump tweet. But her comments are ambiguous enough that it...kinda sounds like she's referring to Latinx voters as "taco bowls."

Update: After this piece ran, the DNC contacted us with the following statement:

"The 'taco bowl' reference in the email was clearly part of a discussion about the DNC's video response to Donald Trump's tone-deaf Cinco de Mayo tweet, and should not be misconstrued as anything else. It is part of the DNC's job to hold Donald Trump accountable for his divisive campaign, and we will continue to do that from now until Election Day."

3) "He isn't going to be president"

Throughout Bernie Sanders' run, he and his followers accused the DNC of throwing up roadblocks at every turn. A lot of those were pretty obvious even to casual observers, as the DNC clearly had its support behind Secretary Clinton from the start — though to be fair, Secretary Clinton had decades of history as a Democrat, and Senator Sanders only just switched parties, clearly with the intent of facilitating a presidential bid, since it's very challenging to run as an independent.

One revelation that came up again and again in these emails, though, is that the DNC really worked against the Vermont senator, and viewed him extremely dismissively — which is one of the more newsworthy elements of these emails.

In May, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, using her private email, said: "He isn't going to be president," reacting to a statement from Senator Sanders that he would block any attempt at reappointing her. Granted, by May this was quite obvious, but it still looks pretty tacky, and it's telling that she opted not to own the statement with her official email address (especially given that Secretary Clinton has spent months being raked over the coals for using her private email for official correspondence). Of course, a month earlier, the DNC was already drafting end of primary emails thanking Senator Sanders for his hard work.

4) Neutral on the sheets, Camp Hillary in the sheets

Donna Brazile, Vice Chair for Civic Engagement and Voter Participation, publicly went on the record as neutral, as she should have — her job isn't to make decisions about the candidates, but to promote the Democrats. But behind the scenes, it's a different story, as evidenced by an email in which she talked about cussing out the Sanders camp when it demanded better representation on the platform committee.

This email is particularly important because it was sent in May, when the Sanders campaign was well aware it wouldn't be on the ticket in November. Instead, his staff was angling to have some influence over the party platform, which was honestly the goal of his campaign all along. This is an indicator that the depth's of the DNC's hostility were pretty impressive.

5) No smell like free press

In an email exchange about a New York Times piece covering the Sanders campaign's attempts to get in on the platform, Luis Miranda made comments suggesting that the DNC had leaned on the reporter to get the coverage it wanted.

"We were able to keep him from including more on the [joint victory fund], it has a mention in there, but between us and a conversation he had with Marc Elias he finally backed off from focusing too much on that." Excellent way to feed the beliefs of those who felt that the media unfairly slanted Clinton — and there's a lot more documentation in the emails to reinforce that, including this little number and this one, which suggests a journalist was preclearing stories with the DNC (Politico claims it was for "fact checking").

6) Plenty of dirt to throw around

Multiple emails show the DNC strategizing on how to air some Sanders laundry. In May, people were discussing how to feed information with no "fingerprints," with the clear goal of undermining the credibility of the Sanders campaign. Members of the DNC also exchanged an email about a "Bernie narrative" that would paint his campaign as inept and disorganized.

Though Luis Miranda commented that "the Chair has been advised to not engage," some of the content in that email definitely made it into media coverage.

7) This is a Clinton-only zone

When a Sanders supporter attempted to attend a Democratic event — you know, because she's a Democrat? — the DNC had a big ole debate about whether to allow her to attend. Why? Because she was a Sanders supporter, and she'd thrown "shade." The most telling thing about the thread isn't even the debate about vetting.

It's what they say when talking about the Sanders campaign and the Senator's supporters. There are references to "the big bad establishment" and collecting phones at entry so she couldn't "film and post any stunts." She was painted as some sort of agitator out to make the DNC look bad, while they engaged in exactly the kind of behavior that people were concerned about.

These emails are already having a huge impact — Debbie Wasserman Schultz will be stepping down from her post at the DNC after the convention — and they tell a pretty damning story about how this year's election went down. It should be clear that Senator Sanders lost for many reasons, and the DNC can hardly be blamed for his performance, but they certainly didn't help, and it's likely they shot at least a few holes into the hull of the good ship S.S. Bernie before it sank.

Hopefully the release of these emails will be a sobering wakeup to the DNC when it comes to future conduct. They might want to start with taking Jordan Kaplan's advice of May 19: "Don't be a dick."

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons