While Hillary Clinton’s campaign staffers have publicly attempted to downplay the scandal around her use of a private email server while secretary of state, they acknowledged in private just how damaging the issue could be to Clinton’s political aspirations.
Leaked emails reveal the Clinton campaign actually wanted reporters and the public to focus on the 2012 Benghazi terror attacks — considered one of the darker marks on Hillary’s record as secretary of state — instead of on the private email server.
The emails show a pattern of campaign staffers working to keep the public focus on the Benghazi attacks that left four Americans dead, including U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.
About a month before Hillary’s campaign officially launched, the New York Times reported on March 2, 2015 that she exclusively used a private email for government business while secretary of state. The emails were found during the course of a House investigation into the Benghazi attacks.
Almost immediately after, emails show, Clinton staffers scrambled to keep the focus on follow-up stories on Benghazi and off of Hillary’s private email.
As part of a follow-up story that ran March 23, the NYT submitted three questions to Clinton’s team of staffers: Why did Mrs. Clinton’s staffers at times use their personal accounts to communicate with her? Were all these emails captured in the State Department’s network? Were Mrs. Clinton’s advisers given legal advice about whether it was appropriate for them to correspond with her using their personal accounts?
None of the questions submitted by the NYT focused on (or even mentioned) Benghazi. But Clinton’s team crafted its answers to try and guide the paper into making the story about Benghazi.
While exchanging emails with other staffers including current campaign chairman John Podesta, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill noted “a few tweaks” he and others had made to the statement.
“Specifically, we added some straight-forward language in the third paragraph that aims to do two things: give this guy some simple context for the emails he references, and nudge this ever-closer to putting it in the Benghazi box,” Merrill said.
The NYT’s story ran with the headline, “In Clinton Emails on Benghazi, a Rare Glimpse at Her Concerns.” Clinton’s team considered that a job well done.
“Nick,” Podesta emailed Merrill about the story, “Great job in fighting this to more or less of a draw.” He added, “this story is smoke without even the warmth of a fire.”
The campaign’s work on the NYT story was consistent with a message Podesta communicated to longtime Clinton aide Cheryl Mills 10 days prior.
“My perspective is that we want the fight to be about Benghazi, not about servers in her basement,” Podesta said.
Clinton’s testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi took place on October 22, 2015. In the weeks leading up to her testimony, her campaign looked for the best way to spin the hearings.
One way the campaign did this was through an ad campaign on cable television.
Speaking of the ad campaign, Clinton director of paid media Oren Shur said in an email to senior staffers, “The trick, of course, is to connect Benghazi to emails in a way that’s credible. But we discussed different ways to do it.”
“The difficult part here is testing – if we want to ship something early next week, our testing options are very limited, and I feel like we really need to understand whether voters will believe that we can credibly
conflate Benghazi and emails,” he continued.
Later on the same email thread, discussing which states to buy the ads in, Clinton spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said,”I am for IA and NH. I know the boss wants a national cable buy to reach the inside the beltway types, press and donors. But press will hate this. We will lose ground with them because of it. (I am still for doing it).”
“If the objective is purely to undermine the Benghazi hearings, I think these spots will certainly help do that,” Shur shot back.
“But if the objective is to connect emails-Benghazi and conflate the two in voters’ minds (which consultants feel is an imperative here), I’m not sure we know whether we can credibly do that – we’ll get a read from groups, but may need to just make a judgement call once we see rough cuts,” he continued.
The FBI recently re-opened its investigation into Clinton’s private email server. (RELATED: Leaked Memo: Hillary Wants Clinton Foundation To Keep Accepting Foreign Donations)
The Clinton Foundation is also currently under investigation from both the IRS and the FBI. (RELATED: Secret Recordings At Center Of FBI Feud With DOJ Over Clinton Foundation Probe)