Do latest WikiLeaks emails show an 'authentic' portrait of Clinton?

Hillary Clinton emails revealed by WikiLeaks: Excerpts from speeches at closed-door meetings, flagged by her campaign chairman, are less about intrigue than about exposition on policy – and the reassuring of Wall Street executives.

John Locher/AP
In this May 26, 2016 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks in San Francisco.

WikiLeaks published on Friday over 2,000 of what it describes as emails hacked from an account belonging to John Podesta, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, in the first of a string of file dumps promised by WikiLeaks’ founder in the weeks leading up the Nov. 4 elections.

In a Twitter post following the publications, Mr. Podesta appeared to confirm that at least some of the emails were authentic.

"I'm not happy about being hacked by the Russians in their quest to throw the election to Donald Trump," he wrote. "Don't have time to figure out which docs are real and which are faked."

One leaked email dated January 25 contains excerpts of transcripts from paid speeches given by the Democratic presidential candidate. The existence of those transcripts was seized upon during Democratic primaries by Bernie Sanders’ campaign, which repeatedly called for their release.

In one 2013 speech before the National Multi-Family Housing Council, an apartment-rental industry association, Mrs. Clinton is quoted as telling attendees that in politics, “you need both a public and private position.”

“It is unsavory, and it always has been that way, but we usually end up where we need to be,” she said. “But if everybody’s watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous.”

Such comments will probably do little to change perceptions of the candidate as cagey and untrustworthy. And other excerpts flagged by Podesta as policy points in need of burnishing show Clinton reassuring financial executives that she saw them more as partners than as obstacles to reform, going so far as to point to a “bias against people who have led successful and/or complicated lives."

The idea that the banking system caused the crisis, she told one 2013 Goldman Sachs investment symposium, was an “oversimplification”.

 “You guys help us figure it out,” she said then, “and let's make sure that we do it right this time.”

But the emails surfaced by the leak may be remarkable less because they reveal inconsistency between what Clinton says in private and in public, but because they provide an insider’s view into the rationalizations of a quintessential politician.

“I don’t read these as being a special salvo to supporters and donors,” says Robin Kolodny, a political science professor at Temple University.

Presidential candidates, Dr. Kolodny notes in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor, make campaign promises that inevitably run a gauntlet of reforms as legislation passes through Congress. “The more politicians try to explain the truth of the matter, they can’t go anywhere with it.” But donors, she says, tend to have a sophisticated understanding of how the political process works. 

Other excerpts attest to Clinton's sense of being “kind of far removed” from the struggles of the middle class; lament the US government’s “woeful, woeful” accommodation of new technologies; evaluate the merits and disadvantages of single-payer healthcare systems in Canada and European countries; and perhaps most unexpectedly, gesture at an ideal of a pan-American regional trade bloc, during a meeting with Brazilian bank executives.

“My dream is a hemispheric common market,” she said in 2013, “with open trade and open borders, some time in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity for every person in the hemisphere.”

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