Bill Clinton was behind two separate political attacks on two of his wife’s progressive challengers — one concerning Bernie Sanders’ medical records and another concerning Barack Obama’s past cocaine use — a top 2008 Clinton campaign official speculated in newly leaked emails.
Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress and policy director of Clinton’s 2008 campaign, speculated in a Jan. 17 email exchange with Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta that Bill Clinton may have put David Brock, an infamous pro-Clinton opposition researcher, up to calling for Bernie Sanders to release his medical records earlier this year.
She also suggested that in late-2007, the former president or someone at the highest level of the campaign authorized Mark Penn, the campaign’s chief strategist, to subtly attack then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama over his past cocaine use.
Tanden offered her thoughts in response to Podesta stating that a tweet he had sent out seemingly in response to Brock was held up by the campaign.
“I am passed about one thing. I suggested doing that at 4:30 and got held,” Podesta wrote.
“You mean pissed? Got held by who? Hillary. God. Her instincts are suboptimal,” Tanden replied.
The tweet in question appears to be one Podesta sent addressed to Brock. The operative had publicly stated that he planned to call on Bernie Sanders to release his medical records. The move was seen as dirty politics.
“Chill out,” Podesta wrote to Brock on Twitter. “We’re fighting on who would make a better President, not on who has a better Physical Fitness Test.”
Tanden speculated on who might have ordered Brock to go after Sanders, who was gaining on Clinton at the time.
“Pretty typical though. I would not be surprised if wjc told him to do it,” Tanden remarked, referring to President Clinton.
She added: “Just as I’m pretty sure mark Penn didn’t do his cocaine rang against Obama without some higher up approval.”
The reference to Penn goes back nearly nine years.
The strategist generated controversy in Dec. 2007 when he mentioned Obama’s past cocaine use during an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. That came just a day after the campaign parted ways with Bill Shaheen, the co-chairman of the Clinton campaign’s New Hampshire operations, because of his remarks about Obama’s drug use in an interview with The Washington Post.
“The issue related to cocaine use is not something the campaign is in any way raising,” Penn told Chris Matthews.
Though Penn portrayed that remark as a disavowal of Shaheen’s statements, his use of the word “cocaine” was seen as a dog whistle at the time.
Penn has been labeled a political failure for failing to help Clinton win the Democratic nomination that cycle.
Tanden’s disdain for Brock, a former conservative journalist who now works closely with the Clintons, is made clear in other emails with Podesta.
In one May 13, 2015 exchange, Tanden asserted that the Clinton campaign’s coordination with a super PAC operated by political attack dog David Brock “does seem shady.”
Tanden had forwarded to Podesta an article from The Washington Post about coordination between the Clinton campaign and Brock’s super PAC, Correct the Record.
Though campaigns are usually not allowed to coordinate with super PACs, Correct the Record exploits a loophole that allows for coordination via the Internet.
“I’m not their biggest fan,” Tanden wrote. “But this does seem shady.”