What the WikiLeaks emails say about the Clintons

The emails reveal bureaucratic infighting, organizational dysfunction, and activity that falls short of illegal trading of government favors for foundation donations. But not all the emails have been released, opponents say.

Andrew Harnik/AP/File
Hillary Clinton's campaign manager John Podesta speaks to members of the media outside the Clinton home in Washington Oct. 5, 2016. WikiLeaks has been releasing emails hacked from his computer.

Chelsea Clinton was worried about her father. Specifically, she was concerned that some of his closest aides were using their connections to him and the Clinton Foundation to attract rich clients to their private consulting firm.

In return, those aides weren’t happy about what they saw as Chelsea’s meddling in affairs that benefited all concerned. One of them – Doug Band, an ex-Clinton White House staffer now paid by the foundation as well as his own clients, got so angry he called up and vented his displeasure.

Not to Chelsea. To Bill Clinton himself, an ex-president and former leader of the free world suddenly reduced to hearing a longtime assistant rip him up.

“Doug called and yelled and screamed at my Dad about how could he do this to . . . him, he would be nothing without him, etc.,” wrote Chelsea in an anguished email circulated to top Clinton team officials on Nov. 1, 2011, and revealed publicly in recent days by WikiLeaks.

After some two weeks of drip by drip WikiLeaks revelations from communications stolen from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, at least one thing seems clear: Clinton world is full of angry infighting, snide remarks, buck passing, and lots of other organizational dysfunction.

In that it may not be too different from any other large organization staffed by smart and ambitious people. Whose office would look good if all its laundry, dirty and otherwise, were spread out on the Web for all to see, possibly by Russian state-sponsored hackers?

A day of leafing though thousands of the released emails produces a picture of John Podesta as the top of a managerial pyramid beset on all sides by crazy schemes, furious staffers, wheedling media, and lots of people asking about availability for lunch.

Endorsement from Jack?

There is the former Senate Democratic staffer who is always passing along “genius” ideas about how to make Hillary Clinton president, such as enlisting Jack Nicholson for a live televised Hillary endorsement. Suggested line: “They can’t handle the truth”, speaking of Clinton’s opponents.

There is the top Washington Post reporter who asks about a rumor that The New York Times is about to “pop something” about Bill Clinton. Does the Clinton team know what this is about? (Why would they say if they did?)

There are the people continually asking for access to the principals. Everybody wants to interview Hillary or chat with Bill. Film executive Jeffrey Katzenberg was pressing for a private meeting with “WJC” (William Jefferson Clinton) in New York last spring, for instance.

“Would be preferable if meeting didn’t happen!” replied Hilary Clinton aide Huma Abedin.

Chelsea weighs in

Then there is the Chelsea situation. The Clinton daughter has seemed genuinely concerned about the possible conflicts of interest involved in the nexus of Bill Clinton’s speechmaking, the Clinton Foundation’s attempts to raise money, and the private business activities of assorted employees and hangers-on.

Teneo, the consulting firm formed by Mr. Band and communications and business consulting professionals, is perhaps the biggest case in point. At the time she sent her memo, Chelsea was concerned that Band and his colleagues were using the meetings of the high-profile Clinton Global Initiative to troll for clients for their strategic business advice.

Her complaints to other Clinton world officials set the Teneo group on the defensive. In 2011 that came to a head in November, just as the Clinton family was mourning the death of Dorothy Howell Rodham, Chelsea’s grandmother and Hillary Clinton’s mom.

Chelsea’s blast email of Nov. 1 was a request for a number of top staffers to call Bill Clinton at home on Whitehaven Street in Washington to figure out how to sort out the conflict-of-interest business going forward. Among other things, this produced bureaucratic moves to separate Bill Clinton’s office from that of the other family endeavors, and it led to an extraordinary 12-page memo from Band defending Teneo as a business that prodded many of its clients to donate large sums to the Clinton Foundation.

In fact, Teneo client donations paid for the majority of the foundation’s operational budget, wrote Band in the Nov. 16, 2011, memo. And in a thinly-veiled return shot at his accuser, Band added that “in support of the President’s for-profit activity” Teneo had brokered paid speeches, personal travel, and free vacations for “the President and his family,” all without asking for any kind of agent or representational fees in return.

In other words, Chelsea was benefiting from this, too. Don’t chomp on the hand that’s feeding you private airplane rides. Privately, Band derided the younger Clinton in an email as a youngster who needed to “justify her existence.”

Was the Teneo arrangement illegal? The answer to that may depend on how you feel about Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy. If you’re on her side, it’s something that does appear unseemly, but is just short of an illegal trading of government favors for foundation donations. If you’re against her, it’s an indication that where there’s smoke, there may be a smoking gun. All the WikiLeaks have not yet appeared, after all.

One last point: As to the leaks themselves, it’s possible they weren’t Podesta’s fault. One of the recently revealed emails appears to be a phishing attack, in which an email purports to say the addressee’s password has been hacked, and they need to click on the (bogus) included link to reset it.

Lots of people fall for that, if it looks official. Podesta asked his support team whether this particular attempt was real. They said it was – despite an iffy looking link to the “reset” site.

One click, and Podesta may have been compromised.

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