Donald Trump has been arguing for weeks that Hillary Clinton was unfairly provided debate questions in advance during the Democratic primary campaign, even as the evidence was limited.
It's no longer so limited.
In newly released Clinton campaign emails disseminated by WikiLeaks, then-CNN contributor and DNC official Donna Brazile — who is now the DNC's interim chair — shares more detail about a forthcoming question at a Democratic debate and promises more information before a separate town hall.
The emails don't indicate where the information came from — CNN has denied supplying her with questions, and there is no evidence it did — but it now seems clear that Brazile was getting information beforehand from somewhere and sharing it with the Clinton campaign.
In response to the revelations, CNN said Monday that Brazile, who had been on a suspended contract since she assumed the leadership of the DNC earlier this year, had resigned on Oct. 14, after a previously released email raised similar questions. CNN also said it was “completely uncomfortable with what we have learned about her interactions with the Clinton campaign while she was a CNN contributor."
Brazile tweeted late Monday morning:
Thank you @CNN. Honored to be a Democratic Strategist and commentator on the network. Godspeed to all my former colleagues.
— Donna Brazile (@donnabrazile) October 31, 2016
In an email released Monday morning by WikiLeaks, Brazile provides details to top Clinton aides about what Clinton would be asked at a CNN debate March 6 in Flint, Mich., by a woman whose family had lead poisoning.
“One of the questions directed to HRC tomorrow is from a woman with a rash,” Brazile writes in the subject line of an email to Jennifer Palmieri and John Podesta. In the body of the email, she adds: “Her family has lead poison and she will ask what, if anything, will Hillary do as president to help the ppl of Flint.”
Her question was different, though. She asked if Clinton would "make it a requirement that all public water systems must remove all lead service lines throughout the entire United States."
In another new email to Palmieri, on March 12 -- the day before a CNN town hall -- Brazile promises to “send a few more," apparently referring to questions or subjects that would be covered.
The latter comment came in a newly released reply to a previously released email that Brazile had sent with the subject line, “From time to time I get the questions in advance.” In that email, Brazile seemed to warn of a death penalty question that could be forthcoming:
Here's one that worries me about HRC.
19 states and the District of Columbia have banned the death penalty. 31 states, including Ohio, still have the death penalty. According to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, since 1973, 156 people have been on death row and later set free. Since 1976, 1,414 people have been executed in the U.S. That’s 11% of Americans who were sentenced to die, but later exonerated and freed. Should Ohio and the 30 other states join the current list and abolish the death penalty?
This last email has been the basis for Trump's claims that Clinton was given debate questions in advance. But it wasn't entirely clear that Brazile was referring to the town hall. Clinton did get a question at the town hall about the death penalty, but again, it didn't look much like the description Brazile had provided. It was actually from a former death-row inmate who simply asked for Clinton's position on the issue.
Brazile declined to comment further to The Washington Post.
“There's no way I can engage in this cyberwar without placing the content in context. John's emails were hacked from a cyber intrusion,” Brazile said. She referred to her statement from Oct. 11: “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.”
Trump has taken the single example above and used it to argue repeatedly that Clinton was given debate questions beforehand and that the system was rigged in her favor in the Democratic primary campaign. He has also argued that, if he were the one who had received such information in advance, it would be a much bigger deal.
Now that we have a fuller picture that suggests the original Brazile email about the death penalty question wasn't an aberration, it's probably time to recognize that Clinton appeared to benefit from prior knowledge in at least two — and possibly more — instances, at least one of them a debate.
It's worth noting that the previews Clinton got didn't directly match the questions, so she didn't get hugely valuable information, but there was at least an effort.
As usual, Trump went further than the evidence on hand supported; this time, his underlying premise had some merit.
This post has been updated with more details on Lee-Anne Walters.