The Smoking Gun, which specializes in publishing documents obtained through public records requests and leaks, claims to have gained access to "a large swath of campaign emails, memos and documents" through a hacker who successfully breached the Gmail account of a Clinton volunteer. According to the website, one string of emails shows staffers updating one another on Merica's every movement at the Vegas rally, where the Clintons planned to work the crowd but wanted to keep journalists at a remove — in designated areas away from the rope line — to avoid questions.
"It appears Merica was being secretly tracked by campaign workers concerned that the CNN employee might detonate a question if he got too close to any of the Clintons," the Smoking Gun reported.
Another email chain reportedly shows a similar effort to keep tabs on Lynn Sweet, the Chicago Sun-Times's Washington bureau chief, at an event in March.
The Smoking Gun did not post copies of the emails, making their authenticity difficult to verify. A Clinton campaign spokesman did not respond to a Fix inquiry about the messages' legitimacy. Merica and Sweet also did not respond to requests for comment.
Merica did, however, retweet a video clip Tuesday afternoon that had been posted by CNN colleague MJ Lee, who apparently succeeded in infiltrating the handshake line at a Clinton event in Denver earlier in the day. The video shows Clinton shaking her head and ignoring Lee's question about House Republicans' newly released report on Benghazi.
The two episodes described by the Smoking Gun — and the footage tweeted by Lee — reinforce the fact that Clinton prefers to campaign in a bubble. She rarely takes questions from the traveling press corps after events and has not held a news conference in more than six months, though she has granted hundreds of one-on-one interviews in that time.
Even before this purported email hack, it was well-known that on the trail, Clinton likes to keep journalists at a distance — and that journalists, denied regular access to the candidate, sometimes try to approach her anyway to ask impromptu questions. One memorable scene involved Clinton aides corralling reporters — including Merica (of course!) — with a rope during a 4th of July parade in New Hampshire last year.
As in previous elections, hackers have been targeting presidential campaigns, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. said last month. Two weeks ago, the cybersecurity firm SecureWorks reported that Russian hackers had launched what is known as a "spearphishing" attack against the Clinton campaign, among other targets. The attack involved fake Gmail login pages, which — if successful in fooling staffers — could expose email messages.
According to the Smoking Gun, that is exactly what happened. And the idea that they would show a hugely protective Clinton press operation isn't exactly hard to believe.