One reason — perhaps the reason — that WikiLeaks's stolen Clinton campaign emails have been so damaging is that people in a running email conversation don't talk the way they do in public. A mention of whether to “use” Eric Garner in an ad — i.e., whether to mention him — is interpreted by Garner's daughter as proof Clinton wanted to “use” him — i.e., exploit his death. WikiLeaks itself, which has never pretended to be clued in to American domestic politics, has tweeted several stories that seemed nefarious to anyone who didn't know; for example, that “first draft” was the title of a newsletter and not a pre-publication column offered to Clinton for her approval.
The 41,841st hacked email might be our best example of the problem. On the evening of March 2, 2015, incoming Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta jumped into a thread about legal hiring to float a suggestion about what to do with the revelation that the future Democratic nominee had used a private server at the State Department.
“On another matter....and not to sound like Lanny, but we are going to have to dump all those emails so better to do so sooner than later,” Podesta wrote.
“Think you just got your new nick name :)" replied Cheryl Mills.
At 10:46 a.m. today, the finance news site ZeroHedge, which has gone to town on the hacked emails, spun this into a story of how Podesta might have revealed “intent” to obstruct any probe into the emails.
“If the exchange is shown to disclose intent to mislead,” writes Tyler Durden (the “Fight Club"-inspired byline for all ZeroHedge stories, “it will negate the entire narrative prepared by Clinton that she merely deleted 'personal' emails and will reveal a strategic plan to hinder the State Department and FBI 'investigation.'”
In short order, the Drudge Report linked to ZeroHedge's story, and it's circled around the Internet at the usual megaviral rate. When CNN anchor Jake Tapper tweeted the "dump" quote, with no endorsement whatsoever of ZeroHedge's read, the first comments on his tweet speculated on whether Podesta had just revealed criminal behavior.
But from context, it's clear that Podesta was talking about whether to make the emails public — not to delete them. His usage of “dump” resembled the typical D.C. usage of “Friday news dump,” a release of troves of documents that dares reporters to spend precious weekend hedonism time hunting through them.
ZeroHedge's own analysis actually builds the case for this. As the site notes, Podesta was emailing on the day that the New York Times released its blockbuster story on Clinton's use of a private email server and address while serving as secretary of state:
“It was only two months ago, in response to a new State Department effort to comply with federal record-keeping practices, that Mrs. Clinton’s advisers reviewed tens of thousands of pages of her personal emails and decided which ones to turn over to the State Department,” Michael S. Schmidt reported in the Times. “All told, 55,000 pages of emails were given to the department. Mrs. Clinton stepped down from the secretary’s post in early 2013.”
On that day, Podesta was reacting to the news that 55,000 pages were turned over. According to the FBI, 31,830 emails that Clinton had deemed to be personal were deleted “sometime between March 25-31, 2015.” If every problem looks like a smoking hole, you're going to see smoking guns everywhere, including here.
But read Podesta again. He did not want to “sound like Lanny,” yet he was suggesting that the emails needed to be “dumped.” While ZeroHedge considers this an open question, context suggests that Podesta was referring to Lanny Davis, a freelance Clinton defender whom Clintonworld had barely-concealed contempt for. A self-styled crisis management specialist, Davis's first advice for anyone ensnared by scandal is to “get the facts out.”
That was his advice in this scandal, too. On TV, Davis quickly advised that the Clinton campaign turn over everything it had. On March 8, Davis went further and told Fox News that Clinton should hand over the server.
“We gotta zap Lanny out of our universe,” incoming Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook wrote to Podesta. “Can't believe he committed her to a private review of her hard drive on TV.”
Clinton's campaign has opted to answer no questions about the substance of WikiLeaks emails, but people familiar with the March 2 exchange say that Podesta was debating whether the campaign should release everything or grit its teeth. At the time he wrote the email, the Select Committee on Benghazi had not yet issued a subpoena for Clinton's email; that would come two days later. There was no FBI investigation into the server; that would not be recommended for months.
In the meantime, Clinton herself — or, more accurately, the village of staffers who man her Twitter account — basically called for a document dump.
I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 5, 2015
Podesta, having lived through umpteen fishing expeditions through subpoena'd documents, was asking whether the email trove revealed by the Times could be released, and it turned out that classification issues — ones that continue to dog Clinton — prevented that.
For the alternate theory to work, the theory that Podesta advocated a mass email deletion, you have to overlook all of this and more. First: Podesta knew that 55,000 pages of emails had been turned over months earlier. Second: Podesta made no distinction between those emails and the personal ones that Clinton had already thought she'd deleted. (Not to slog through the weeds, but Clinton had asked for personal emails to be deleted every 60 days, and the FBI found that a staffer only got around to deleting those emails on her server in late March 2015.) Third: How many “Lannys” does Clintonworld have strong opinions about?
Tuesday was hyped as a (nother) day that WikiLeaks would release information that could put Clinton in jail. This email definitely has grist for a headline that could hurt Clinton. Read beyond the headline, though, and you've got another case of a shorthand conversation being blown up into a phony scandal.