Update: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who comes from the Sanders wing of the party, just told CNN in response to Brazile's op-ed that the she believes the 2016 Democratic primary was "rigged."
The elevation of this issue by Warren, a possible 2020 contender, will certainly turn heads.
The former interim head of the Democratic Party just accused Hillary Clinton's campaign of “unethical” conduct that “compromised the party's integrity.” The Clinton campaign's alleged sin: A hostile takeover of the Democratic National Committee before her primary with Sen. Bernie Sanders had concluded.
Donna Brazile's op-ed in Politico is the equivalent of taking the smoldering embers of the 2016 primary and throwing some gasoline on them. Just about everything she says in the piece will inflame Sanders's passionate supporters who were already suspicious of the Democratic establishment and already had reason to believe — based on leaked DNC emails — that the committee wasn't as neutral in the primary as it was supposed to be.
But the op-ed doesn't break too much new provable, factual ground, relying more upon Brazile's own perception of the situation and hearsay.
In the op-ed, Brazile says:
- Clinton's campaign took care of the party's debt and “put it on a starvation diet. It had become dependent on her campaign for survival, for which [Clinton] expected to wield control of its operations.” She described Clinton's control of the DNC as a “cancer.”
- Gary Gensler, the chief financial officer of Clinton's campaign, told her the DNC was (these are Brazile's words) “fully under the control of Hillary’s campaign, which seemed to confirm the suspicions of the Bernie camp.”
- She “couldn’t write a news release without passing it by Brooklyn.”
- Then-Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose pressured resignation after the leaked emails left Brazile in charge as interim chairwoman, “let Clinton’s headquarters in Brooklyn do as it desired” because she didn't want to tell the party's leaders how dire the DNC's financial situation was. Brazile says Wasserman Schultz arranged a $2 million loan from the Clinton campaign without the consent of party officers like herself, contrary to party rules.
Brazile sums it up near the end: “If the fight had been fair, one campaign would not have control of the party before the voters had decided which one they wanted to lead. This was not a criminal act, but as I saw it, it compromised the party’s integrity.”
None of this is truly shocking. In fact, Brazile is largely writing about things we already knew about. The joint fundraising agreement between the Clinton campaign and the DNC was already known about and the subject of derision among Sanders's supporters. But it's worth noting that Sanders was given a similar opportunity and passed on using it, as Brazile notes.
There were also those emails from the DNC hack released by WikiLeaks that showed some at the DNC were hardly studiously neutral. One email chain discussed bringing Sanders's Jewish religion into the campaign, others spoke of him derisively, and in one a lawyer who worked for both Clinton and the DNC advised the committee on how to respond to questions about the Clinton joint fundraising committee. The emails even cast plenty of doubt on Brazile's neutrality, given she shared with the Clinton campaign details of questions to be asked at a pair of CNN forums for the Democratic candidates in March 2016, before she was interim chair but when she was still a DNC official. Brazile, who was a CNN pundit at the time, lost her CNN job over that.
The timeline here is also important. Many of those emails described above came after it was abundantly clear that Clinton would be the nominee, barring a massive and almost impossible shift in primary votes. It may have been in poor taste and contrary to protocol, but the outcome was largely decided long before Sanders ended his campaign. Brazile doesn't dwell too much on the timeline, so it's not clear exactly how in-the-bag Clinton had the nomination when the alleged takeover began. It's also not clear exactly what Clinton got for her alleged control.
This is also somewhat self-serving for Brazile, given the DNC continued to struggle during and after her tenure, especially financially. The op-ed is excerpted from her forthcoming book, “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.” Losses like the one in 2016 will certainly lead to plenty of finger-pointing, and Brazile's book title and description allude to it containing plenty of that.
But taking on the Clintons is definitely something that most in the party wouldn't take lightly. And Brazile's allegation that Clinton was effectively controlling the DNC is the kind of thing that could lead to some further soul-searching and even bloodletting in the Democratic Party. It's largely been able to paper over its internal divisions since the primary season in 2016, given the great unifier for Democrats that is President Trump.
Sanders himself has somewhat toned down his criticism of the DNC during that span, but what he says — especially given he seems to want to run again in 2020 — will go a long way in determining how the party moves forward.