“As it pertains to the CNN debates, I never had access to questions and would never have shared them with the candidates if I did.”
— Brazile, statement released by the DNC, Oct. 11
In an interview after the third presidential debate. Fox News’s Megyn Kelly confronted Donna Brazile about an email that was disclosed by WikiLeaks through a hack of the email account of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The email indicated that while Brazile was working for CNN as a commentator, she had given inside dope on one of the questions that Clinton might face during a CNN town hall. (At the time of the email exchange, Brazile was a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, in addition to working for CNN.)
As can be seen in the quotes above, Brazile adamantly denied that she had received questions in advance, although she seemed to qualify her statements by saying “from CNN.” But then it was revealed on Oct. 31 that she had been forced to resign from CNN after another email emerged through WikiLeaks indicating she had provided the Clinton campaign with yet another question.
In light of the new email, let’s review the accuracy of her statements on the matter.
The first email that emerged was sent March 12 from Brazile to Jennifer Palmieri, director of communications for the Clinton campaign. The subject line was: “From time to time I get the questions in advance.”
Brazile then provided a description of a possible death penalty question. It turned out that the question she supplied matched closely with a question associated with an exonerated death-row inmate the next night, March 13, during a town hall hosted by CNN’s Jake Tapper and Roland Martin, a TV One host.
Reading between the lines, the email indicates that Brazile got the question from Martin. “I’ll send a few more. Though some questions Roland submitted,” Brazile writes.
Palmieri responded by telling a Clinton aide, copied on the email, to share the campaign’s canned answer on the death penalty.
(Martin has said he did not believe he shared his answers with Brazile. Her email to Palmieri was sent a day before Martin sent his proposed questions to CNN.)
When Kelly, in her Oct. 19 interview, started quoting from the March 12 email, Brazile responded: “As a Christian woman, I understand persecution, but I will not sit here and be persecuted because your information is solely false.”
Kelly answered, “I’m getting it from Podesta email.” Brazile replied that it had been stolen and suggested it might have been doctored.
The Kelly-Brazile confrontation appeared to leave the matter unsettled, but then a second email emerged on Oct. 31.
That email actually had been sent a few days earlier, on March 5, to Podesta and Palmieri, in advance of a primary debate between Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) that would be hosted by CNN.
The subject line: “One of the questions directed to HRC tomorrow is from a woman with a rash.”
Brazile then explained in the email: “Her family has lead poison and she will ask what, if anything, will Hillary do as president to help the ppl of Flint.”
On March 6, at a debate held in Flint, Mich., and hosted by CNN’s Don Lemon and Anderson Cooper, two women asked questions about the water crisis. One was Lee-Anne Waters, a whistleblower and mother whose family suffered through rashes because of the contaminated water.
It would seem obvious that a debate being held in Flint would include questions on possible solutions, although Clinton took the opportunity to answer Waters’s question by committing to remove lead from water systems across the country within five years. Waters later said Clinton’s answer “made me vomit in my mouth” because that was too long to wait in Flint.
The DNC declined to comment on Brazile’s statements, except to point the Fact Checker to a statement issued by Brazile on Oct. 11 that mostly attacked the Russian government (suspected of supplying the Podesta hack to WikiLeaks) and Donald Trump. The statement included this claim: “As it pertains to the CNN debates, I never had access to questions and would never have shared them with the candidates if I did.”
The Pinocchio Test
It’s pretty clear that Brazile shared, on at least two occasions, questions that later came up in a CNN town hall and a CNN-hosted primary debate. In one case, she provided the essential text of a question; in another instance, she informed the campaign that Clinton would be asked about solutions to the Flint water crisis.
Brazile, in her interview with Kelly, gave rather slippery answers — that CNN never gave her questions, that she never got CNN documents. That leaves open the possibility that she got a question from another source. She tries a similar dance in her DNC statement, saying she “never had access to questions.”
But also in her DNC statement, Brazile left herself little wiggle room, flatly saying she never shared questions with “the candidates.” Maybe she did not communicate directly with Clinton, but she clearly shared questions with Clinton’s staff. So that’s too slick by half — and her statement is false and misleading.
Brazile earns Four Pinocchios.
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