Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff debated over what to call the mass shooting in San Bernardino, according to leaked emails.
Emails published online by WikiLeaks from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s hacked Gmail account show top aides were concerned over the labeling of the San Bernardino shooting that killed 14 people and injured 22.
“Defer to Jake and Laura but don’t think we can say it is ‘becoming clear this was terrorism’ – that seems too definitive,” Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s communications director, wrote in a December 4, 2015 email to top campaign staffers regarding edits to a speech Clinton was giving in Sioux City, Iowa the next day.
“Maybe ‘becoming clearer terrorism is a real possibility,’” Palmieri suggested. “There is still nothing in public domain on motive.”
“Agree with the less definitive statement,” Clinton foreign policy adviser Laura Rosenberger wrote back. “Or maybe even ‘a terrorist element is a real possibility here.’”
The email chain came two days after Syed Rizwan Farook killed 14 of his work colleagues at a Christmas party. Farook and his Pakistani-born wife Tashfeen Malik, both self-professed Islamic State sympathizers, were killed about four hours later in a gun battle with police.
Podesta worried the campaign’s proposed remarks made Clinton look “too much like” President Barack Obama on the issue. Obama was heavily criticized by Republican primary candidates for not immediately calling the shooting an act of terrorism.
Obama also used the attack to push for stronger gun laws, which he said could have prevented Farook from killing 14 people. Obama didn’t call the San Bernardino shootings “an act of terror” until three days after the attack.
“I think we have the problem of looking too much like Obama,” Podesta wrote. “Might have been terrorism? Might have been work place? Who knows? I’d lead in harder.”
“I’m inclined to the first formulation, but at least something like we should all be concerned that this has all the markings of a terrorist attack,” he suggested.
Podesta was also caught saying it would have been better for the campaign if the San Bernardino shooter was a white guy, instead of a Muslim.
“Better if a guy named Sayeed Farouk was reporting that a guy named Christopher Hayes was the shooter,” Podesta wrote in a December 3rd email, referring to a tweet on the shooter’s identity sent out by MSNBC host Chris Hayes.
Palmieri suggested Clinton should also “de-emphasize” gun control in her remarks about the attacks.
“Laura had good formulation for how to describe it (has all the markings),” Palmieri wrote. “Let’s do that and demphasize guns. Think POTUS formulation of equal weight on ins and terror hurts.”
“Do terror then shorter section on guns…should not be so easy to get guns and hit Senate for vote last night,” she wrote.
Clinton was quick to weigh in on the San Bernardino attacks. The day after the attack, the former secretary of state said it was “becoming clearer that we are dealing with an act of terrorism.”
She also pushed for a law to ban gun sales to those on the secret “no-fly” list.
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