Hacked emails posted by WikiLeaks took down Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz in July, and now they’re threatening her replacement, Donna Brazile. CNN announced on Monday that it’s dropped Brazile as a commentator after it was revealed that the longtime Democratic strategist shared a primary debate question with Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Three weeks ago, a message purportedly from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta appeared to show Brazile forwarding a question from a CNN/TV One town-hall debate in March. “From time to time I get the questions in advance,” Brazile wrote to Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri a day before the event.
At the time, Brazile claimed she offered advice to all Democratic presidential candidates, but insisted that she’s never shared questions from an actual debate. “As it pertains to the CNN Debates, I never had access to questions and would never have shared them with the candidates if I did,” she said.
Emails leaked on Monday suggest otherwise. Politico reports that in an email sent a day before the March 6 debate in Flint, Michigan, Brazile told Palmieri and Podesta, “One of the questions directed to HRC tomorrow is from a woman with a rash. Her family has lead poison and she will ask what, if anything, will Hillary do as president to help the ppl of Flint.”
CNN and ABC temporarily suspended their contracts with Brazile when she became interim DNC chair. Brazile was expected to resume her role as commentator after the election, but on Monday CNN revealed that they accepted her resignation on October 14, days after the report about the town-hall question.
“CNN never gave Brazile access to any questions, prep material, attendee list, background information or meetings in advance of a town hall or debate,” said CNN spokeswoman Lauren Pratapas. “We are completely uncomfortable with what we have learned about her interactions with the Clinton campaign while she was a CNN contributor.”
Following the announcement Brazile tweeted:
In an interview with the New York Times Brazile said she offered her resignation last month because, “I didn’t want CNN to get involved in this WikiLeaks controversy,” adding, “I didn’t want to put CNN in the middle of what has been a real invasive cyberintrusion.”
Brazile would not say exactly how she obtained the questions from the two CNN events. “I often talk to everybody before an event,” she said. “I try to learn as much as I can, share as much as I can.” An anonymous CNN employee suggested to Politico that Brazile may have met the woman from Flint at a service event the day before the event.
In a newly released reply to the Clinton team, Brazile said she obtained the town hall question from co-moderator Roland Martin of TV One. “I’ll send a few more,” Brazile wrote. “Though some questions Roland submitted.” Martin said he does not believe he shared any of the questions with Brazile.
It wasn’t exactly a shock that the candidates would be asked about the water crisis while in Flint, but it suggests that Brazile may have been trying to give Clinton a hand during a tough primary battle with Bernie Sanders. It’s possible she fed the same information to the Vermont senator’s campaign, but emails from his campaign have not been hacked.
Sanders supporters would have been incensed about the revelation months ago, but his former national press secretary Symone Sanders expressed support for Brazile. She told Politico that Brazile was fair during the primary process and regularly “reached out for messaging guidance from us and was very helpful.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest praised Brazile as well, saying the president thinks she’s done a “fine job” of leading the party in recent months. “Look, those of us who have known Donna a long time know that she is a person of integrity and she is a person of high character,” Earnest said. “She is a true professional who is a tenacious and effective advocate for Democrats.”
Donald Trump used the incident as fodder for his call to “drain the swamp,” and shifted the blame to Clinton. “Who cares about Donna Brazile? Who cares,” he said at a rally in Warren, Michigan. “What I care about is: Hillary Clinton gets the questions to a debate — that’s a big deal — and then what happens is the media, they never say: Why didn’t you turn it in? Why did you use those questions?”