Sidney Blumenthal, often seen as the brain behind Hillary Clinton, apparently still serves this function after the election. In a telling Nov. 11 interview, Blumenthal equated her loss with a “coup d’état,” placing the blame on FBI director James Comey and “a cabal of right wing agents of the FBI in New York office.” The next day Clinton blamed (you guessed it) Comey for her defeat.
Blumenthal’s goofy influence over the former secretary of state has baffled the outside world for decades. Now, thanks to various e-mail disclosures, we know that even Clinton insiders find the Hillary/Sidney bond perplexing and dismaying.
Starting in the 1990s, Sidney Blumenthal made a reputation for himself as the Clintons’ court fool, earning nicknames like “Grassy Knoll” (for being an obsessive conspiracy theorist) and “Sid Vicious” (for spreading lies about Monica Lewinsky). He was widely ascribed Hillary Clinton’s notorious “vast right wing conspiracy” phrase.
On Hillary’s becoming secretary of state in 2009, she tried to hire Blumenthal in the State Department but the Obama administration rejected that on account of his harsh attacks on Obama, including the “birther” rumor which Blumenthal promoted.
Although Blumenthal was banned from the State Department, he was then hired in 2009 for $10,000 per month at the Clinton Foundation and Politico reported that staffers questioned Blumenthal’s value; his hiring was seen as a favor to him from the Clintons. During this time, Blumenthal sent Secretary Clinton his endless “intelligence” reports on such topics as Libya and Israel (reports drawing in part on rabid anti-Israel screeds from his son, Max Blumenthal).
Clinton was receptive to these often-inaccurate analyses, frequently forwarding them to be circulated, printed out and discussed – even when her aides, distracted with real work, should have focused on genuine intelligence reports. When Blumenthal’s emails became public, Hillary’s campaign viewed them very differently than the former secretary. For example, senior aide Philippe Reines dismissed these memos as “nonsense from Sid.”
Such scorn is on full display in the WikiLeaks’s trove of hacked emails from John Podesta, chairman of the 2016 Clinton presidential campaign. Their views make for amusing reading while offering unique insight into the Hillary/Sidney bond.
Brent Budowsky, left-wing columnist for The Hill and Clinton supporter, sent Podesta long missives questioning Hillary’s judgment:
It is disquieting that when HRC [Hillary Clinton] was secretary of state she spent a good time of time doing gossip emails with Sid Blumenthal about various matters. … Blumenthal did not have the slightest idea of what he was talking about in his girlie gossip with the secretary of state about this. Why she places such great stock over so much time in these exchanges with Blumenthal is mystifying to me – and frankly troublesome.
This whole subject, to use vernacular, gives me the creeps. Secretaries of state, presidential candidates and presidents should not be spending their time on this kind of minor league stuff.
To which, Podesta replies, “Sid is lost in his own web of conspiracies. I pay zero attention to what he says.”
In an exchange with Podesta, Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress quips sarcastically in apparent reference to an unflattering article in Politico about Blumenthal, “Sidney sure is the gift that keeps giving!” Podesta replies: “It always amazes me that people like Sid either completely lack self awareness or self respect. Maybe both. Will you promise to shoot me if I ever end up like that?” Tanden later jokes, “on the off chance I will def do the deed. Just ask that you do the same for me.”
Concerned about a damaging full-page ad in the New York Times titled “Hillary must disavow her anti-Israel advisors,” a reference to Sidney and Max, donor Haim Saban reached out to her campaign: “Some unflattering points, that we better be aware of [which could] be very damaging.” Podesta replied recalled Tanden’s phrase: “Sid is the gift that keeps on giving,” adding, “I thought his troublemaking on Libya was plenty enough.” Saban replied sarcastically, “It gets better with his son Max,” with a link to a tirade against Israel.
The Podesta emails also reveal how outsiders realized the Clinton campaign machine saw Blumenthal as a nuisance and buffoon. Politico’s Glenn Thrush contacted Podesta: “I’m doing a Sidney thing (your favorite subject) and want to clear some stuff I’ve been hearing (namely that he’s always been a pain in the ass to u because he ignores appropriate channels of influence).” Later in the thread, commenting on policy, Podesta wrote, “I can sink my teeth into that.” Thrush returned to the Blumenthal topic and joked: “Sid’s ass?” Thus is Blumenthal the frequent butt of jokes, so to speak.
Perhaps aware of his poor reputation, Blumenthal sometimes used self-depreciating qualifiers such as “John, my 2 cents for what it’s worth” as he sent unsolicited advice to Podesta. When Blumenthal offered to do a press gaggle about his Libya memos, the campaign thought this “unhelpful.” In what seems like an act of desperation, Blumenthal sent out an e-mail blast citing an article written by friend James Fallows where he highlighted the following about himself: “the conversion of one man’s name [Sidney Blumenthal] into shorthand for ‘what we don’t like about the Clintons’ is out of control, and unfair.”
As revealed by the inner workings of the Clinton machine, those in Hillary’s own circle questioned her judgment in general and specifically about Blumenthal as much and perhaps more than the public. In spite of efforts to spin it otherwise, even those closest to Hillary Clinton are most likely aware that it was not some “vast right wing conspiracy,” nor James Comey, nor a “cabal of right wing agents” that brought about her political demise – but her overall poor judgment, such as relying on misinformation from advisors like Sidney Blumenthal.