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What Podesta’s emails reveal about Clinton’s ties to the progressive left

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, accompanied by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), speaks to and meets New England voters during a rally at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire on Monday October 24, 2016. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

One of the mundane aspects of reading John Podesta’s emails is getting a sense of how Hillary Clinton’s network operates. When it comes to Clinton’s ties to the progressive left, however, the mundane takes on special meaning.

Podesta’s emails provide a window on Clinton’s inner circle as it grappled with the risks and rewards presented by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and the liberal wing of the Democratic Party in 2014 and 2015. The emails were hacked from his account and published online by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

Here are five takeaways:

1. Clinton relies heavily on a few individuals to communicate with and provide advice about Warren. 

Mandy Grunwald, a political strategist who has worked for both the Clintons and Warren, and Gary Gensler, a Warren favorite and the Clinton campaign’s chief financial officer, appear to be critical players for bridging the two camps.

“I am still worried that we will antagonize and activate Elizabeth Warren by opposing a new Glass Steagall,” Grunwald wrote Oct. 2, 2015 as the Clinton team finalized an op-ed about Wall Street. The Glass-Steagall Act was a 1933 law separating commercial and investment banking that progressives want reinstated.

Grunwald continued: “I worry about defending the banks in the debate … I worry about Elizabeth deciding to endorse Bernie [Sanders].”

Later in the day, Gensler wrote he “spoke with EW twice this week and numerous earlier times re: Glass Steagall as well as possible other financial reform proposals” in coordination with Clinton aide Jake Sullivan.

As a side note, Clinton ultimately dismissed the idea of bringing back Glass-Steagall less than a week later on the campaign trail, and the issue did become a flash point in her primary debate the next month with primary opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders. Clinton’s campaign argues she has a stronger, more comprehensive approach to reforming Wall Street.

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2. Two prominent women apparently put pressure on Warren on Clinton’s behalf when she’s “critical” or not “effusive enough.”

Those women are Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). Here’s how we know.

After Clinton and Warren met privately at Clinton’s Chappaqua, N.Y. home in early December 2014, Huma Abedin emailed a summary of the discussion to Podesta. The summary included the desire of Warren’s team to communicate more directly with Clinton.

“I think every time EW says something interpreted as not being effusive enough or critical, she hears from a Neera, Gillibrand, Mandy or we suggest that [Clinton speechwriter] Dan [Schwerin] talk to her policy person. Basically her people are saying say enough already, lets just talk direct,” Abedin wrote.

3. Podesta also communicates with Warren directly on occasion.

On Feb. 26, Warren sent him a brief message from her personal email account asking to speak on the phone. The two connected by the end of the day after Podesta got off a flight. “I’ll call in one minute,” Warren wrote.

4. Warren and her team are proactive in communicating their views to Clinton. And Clinton’s team has been eager to meet with Warren’s suggested candidates for appointments. 

Warren sent Clinton a list of potential administration appointees in December 2014 or early January 2015, according to an email sent by Dan Schwerin after he met with a Warren adviser.

“We have already been in touch with a number of [those candidates] and I asked if he would be comfortable introducing me to the others, to which he seemed reasonably amenable,” Schwerin wrote Jan. 6, 2015.

Schwerin and the Warren adviser, Dan Geldon, met to follow up on the Clinton-Warren meeting in Chappaqua. Here’s how Schwerin described their talk:

We spent less time on specific policies, because he seemed less interested in that. (Although he did express some flexibility on Glass-Steagall, said too big too fail is the bigger issue, and was open to our ideas on addressing through the tax code assuming it actually works.) He spoke repeatedly about the need to have in place people with ambition and urgency who recognize how much the middle class is hurting and are willing to challenge the financial industry … 

Overall, it was a polite and engaged but not exactly warm conversation.  They seem wary — and pretty convinced that the Rubin folks have the inside track with us whether we realize it yet or not — but open to engagement and to be proven wrong.  He mentioned that everyone will be watching carefully any leaks about who HRC is meeting and talking to.

“Rubin folks” refers to what progressives see as a group of leaders with moderate attitudes toward Wall Street cultivated by former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.

5. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is very eager to help Clinton’s team.

De Blasio, a noted progressive, gave Podesta regular updates throughout 2015 about his work on Clinton’s behalf.

“I am pleased to note that I have used the specific word ‘hopeful’ (along with the word ‘optimistic’) many times recently with our friends in the media who have asked about Hillary,” he wrote April 28, 2015.

De Blasio also passed along intelligence like this, regarding his plan to decline Sanders’s request for support on Sept. 18, 2015:

As I mentioned to Robby, I accepted Bernie Sanders’ request for a mtg today. Will try to keep it low-key but assume it will leak out. My message to him (saying this in confidence to you) is that I will always want to work with him in the future and will never have a bad word about him, but won’t be supporting him in this campaign.

This year, Podesta asked de Blasio on March 17 what he thought of the idea of a super PAC promoted by Sanders to funnel small-dollar donations to progressive candidates and to Clinton.

“I am sure our team would view it as competition and try to strangle it, but I think it might have merit,” Podesta wrote.

“On first blush, I think it has A LOT of merit,” de Blasio replied later. “It would give Bernie followers a way to connect that would then be a good gateway to getting them more comfortable with Hillary. We need to keep continuity with them. And the money will be left on the table otherwise … I stand ready to help build this.”