Emails: Top Hillary Staffers Lunch Weekly With Beltway Lobbyists

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Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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Emails released last week by Wikileaks show that a small but powerful group of lobbyists and politicos — including members of the Democratic National Committee, the Hillary Clinton campaign and close allies of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe — hold weekly bull sessions at The Palm, a swanky Washington D.C. steak house frequented by Beltway power brokers.

The emails, which come from the inbox of Jordan Kaplan, the DNC’s national finance director, provide a rare behind-the-scenes look at the national Democratic party’s finance operations.

They also lend even more evidence to support the long-held belief that the DNC favored Clinton in the primaries over Bernie Sanders.

No supporters of the 75-year-old democratic socialist are included on the email list for the weekly power lunches.

But several lunch invitees are major bundlers for the Clinton campaign. Others cut their teeth working for McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton crony and former DNC chair who is currently under FBI investigation over $120,000 in campaign contributions he received from a Chinese businessman during his 2013 gubernatorial bid.

McAuliffe met that businessman, Wang Wenliang, at a fundraiser at Clinton’s home that same year. (RELATED: McAuliffe Met Chinese Donor At Clinton’s Home)

At least two Democrat lunch attendees — Michael Halle and Brian Zuzenak — work for the Clinton campaign.

Halle was executive director of McAuliffe’s Common Good VA PAC when it was accused of promising access to McAuliffe in exchange for $100,000 campaign contributions. He now serves as director of battleground data and analytics for Clinton.

Zuzenak, who now directs McAuliffe’s PAC, operates Clinton’s campaign operations in Virginia.

The lunches appear to have been organized by Patrick Hallahan. A longtime political operative, Hallahan was married at McAuliffe’s home. He has also worked for the Chicago-based high-frequency trading firm, Chopper Trading.

That company was founded by Rajiv Fernando, a major Obama and Clinton bundler who was appointed to the State Department’s International Security Advisory Board during Clinton’s tenure despite having no national security background.

In April and May, Hallahan sent out emails to the group of D.C. insiders to remind them of the lunch meetings.

In the first email from the Wikileaks trove discussing the lunch — sent on April 28 — Hallahan mentions that one topic of discussion would be “Hillary’s big Tuesday” — an apparent reference to Clinton’s successful showing in primaries held in states in the Northeast.

Clinton won four of five states that night. Her one loss to Sanders, which came in Rhode Island, seems to have been a source of some frustration for Hallahan.

“We may even have the one and only special guest from Rhode Island to discuss what happened there,” he wrote in the email to his fellow Democrats.

Halle, Clinton’s operative, suggested in his response to the email that he was involved in planning the event in some way.

“Crab cocktail will be on the table,” he wrote.

The next week Hallahan informed the group that that week’s bull session would have to be cancelled because “several of our participants are headed to Kentucky for the Derby.”

The group met again following a May 17 email from Hallahan.

The emails are brief and contain no damning exchanges. But the revelation that the DNC’s Kaplan and Clinton campaign operatives were meeting with lobbyists reinforces Clinton’s establishment credentials.

The lunch emails are not the first documents contained in the Wikileaks trove to support that theory.

As The Daily Caller reported on Monday, in April the DNC compiled a spreadsheet of high-dollar DNC donors who were to be considered for appointments to federal boards and commissions. (RELATED: Leaked DNC Documents Show Plans To Reward Big Donors With Federal Appointments)

Other lunchgoers include Clinton campaign bundlers Ankit Desai, a vice president with Cheniere Energy, David Jones, a lobbyist with Capitol Counsel, and Andrew Smith, a lobbyist with McGuireWoods Consulting.

Desai has raised $144,250 for Clinton while Jones and Smith have collected $641,991 and $64,705, respectively.

Both Jones and Smith are also longtime McAuliffe associates. Jones worked with McAuliffe in the 1990s to raise money for Democrats. Smith served as finance chief for McAuliffe’s 2013 campaign for governor.

Peter O’Keefe is also included on the email chain. A former DNC official under McAuliffe, O’Keefe worked in the Bill Clinton White House before heading up major donor development for the Clinton Foundation.

Tyler Anderson is on the email invite as well. He worked as an official with McAuliffe’s PAC and is finance director for the Democratic party in Virginia.

Other attendees have worked closely with Clinton.

One name on the email list is Kris Balderston. He worked for Clinton when she served as Senator and as secretary of state. Balderston was the State Department’s chief fundraiser for the U.S. Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo. He tapped corporate donors to cover the $60 million needed for the project, which Clinton has touted as an achievement.

Jonathan Mantz also attended at least one of the lunches. A lobbyist with BGR Government Relations, Mantz is longtime friend of McAuliffe’s. He served as national finance director for Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and served as an adviser for the pro-Clinton PAC, Priorities USA.

Jackson Dunn of FTI Consulting also attends the lunches. He worked in the Bill Clinton White House official and was head of the DNC finance office in 2004. He is a registered lobbyist for Wal-Mart, Noble Energy, and The Dow Chemical Company.

A handful of the lunchgoers are political operatives but are not currently affiliated with any particular campaign.

They include Sam Brown, an Obama White House alum who serves as executive vice president at Amalgamated Bank. The company provides banking services for unions and non-profit groups.

Andrew Bleeker, the founder of the digital media company Bully Pulpit Interactive, has been invited to the lunches. As has Daniel Kalik, the chief of staff at J Street, a liberal group that supports negotiations to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict and supports the Iran nuclear deal.

Two attendees work for members of Congress. Tim Del Monico is the legislative director for embattled New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez. Gregory Mecher, the chief of staff to Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy, was also invited to at least one of the sessions. Mecher is also married to Jen Psaki, the White House communications director and former spokeswoman for the State Department.

TheDC reached out to Hallahan for comment, but he did not respond by press time.

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