Earlier today, the Erik Wemple Blog spoke with someone wishing to bat down the implications of an email that then-CNN contributor Donna Brazile sent to the Clinton campaign back in March. “From time to time I get the questions in advance,” read the subject line of the email, which was sent on March 12. In the email was a question about the death penalty.
The next evening, Clinton faced a question about the death penalty at a CNN-TVOne town hall event at Ohio State University. TVOne host Roland Martin introduced Ricky Jackson, who had been wrongly convicted of murder back in the 1970s, when he was a teenager. He asked Clinton about the death penalty.
Did Brazile — who left her contributorship at CNN over the summer to take over as interim Democratic National Committee chair — help the Clinton campaign to anticipate a topic in the heat of the primary battle against Bernie Sanders? No, says Brazile, in a statement released today: “As a longtime political activist with deep ties to our party, I supported all of our candidates for president. I often shared my thoughts with each and every campaign, and any suggestions that indicate otherwise are simply untrue. 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.”
Earlier today, a Democratic official who refused to go on the record told the Erik Wemple Blog that Brazile was sending the question to the Clinton campaign in preparation for an upcoming panel on CNN that would address the death penalty. That’s possible — as this blog noted in a previous post, Brazile appears interested in getting the Clinton camp to explain the candidate’s position on the death penalty. The relevant text:
Here’s one that worries me about HRC.
DEATH PENALTY 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?
Based on input from an anonymous Democratic official, Business Insider roared earlier today with this headline: “FACT CHECK: DNC chair Donna Brazile did not leak questions to Hillary Clinton before debate.”
FACT CHECK: DNC chair Donna Brazile did not leak questions to Hillary Clinton before debatehttps://t.co/2YqVHx6n2V pic.twitter.com/HG9CjRCKTa
— Business Insider (@businessinsider) October 11, 2016
That was more like a “Spin Check.” The site later removed this betrayal of the fact-checking ethos in favor of a much more appropriate headline: “Democratic official throws cold water on reports DNC chair leaked town-hall questions to Hillary Clinton.” An earlier version of the article even alleged that any suggestion that Brazile shared a town-hall question was a “false” report.
When officials refuse to go on record, there’s generally a very good reason. In this case, that reason may well relate to the flimsiness of supporting evidence. If Brazile was indeed seeking guidance from the Clinton campaign for an upcoming panel discussion, where’s the transcript of that panel discussion? We have spent a moment or two checking Nexis and the CNN transcripts module for this panel discussion and haven’t found it. We’ve asked CNN and the DNC to identify this panel discussion, and we’re awaiting a response.
As the search for the discussion continues into the evening hours, it’s worth noting that Brazile herself has issued a statement that doesn’t mention anything related to a panel:
“As a longtime political activist with deep ties to our party, I supported all of our candidates for president. I often shared my thoughts with each and every campaign, and any suggestions that indicate otherwise are simply untrue. 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.
“But let’s get one thing straight. Our Intelligence Community has made it clear that the Russian government is responsible for the cyberattacks aimed at interfering with our election, and that WikiLeaks is part of that effort. This revelation should deeply trouble all Americans in both parties. And yet, Donald Trump continues to deny that Russia is behind these attempts to meddle with our electoral process and cheer on these efforts to undermine our democracy.
“This is the same man who called for more Russian cyber-espionage against us, who has extensive business ties to Russia, and who regularly coddles Vladimir Putin by praising his leadership and refusing to call him out. I am deeply disappointed that the Republican leaders of the party of Reagan are publicly using information illegally obtained by the Russians, because the national security of our country should not be a partisan issue.
“We are in the process of verifying the authenticity of these documents because it is common for Russia to spread misinformation and forge documents, but we cannot bow down to Putin’s wishes and allow foreign actors to try and divide our country with the hope of affecting the outcome on Election Day. There is too much at stake.” – DNC Interim Chair Donna Brazile
The record states, then, that in March, Brazile sent an email to the Clinton campaign saying, “From time to time I get the questions in advance.” In October, she says, “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.” Could it be that Brazile is just lawyering everyone to death? After all, the forwarded question in this case doesn’t pertain to any “debate”; it was a “town hall” event. There is a difference. And: Whereas a “Democratic official” says that Brazile was sharing a question for panel discussion, Brazile herself makes no mention of any panel in her on-the-record statement.
There’s even more of this statement to pick apart. Observe the expertise with which Brazile attempts to raise questions about the “authenticity of these documents” without specifically declaring the email to be bogus.
@ErikWemple If she wants to say an email is doctored or fake, she should point to them and say it. She won't, for obvious reasons.
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) October 11, 2016
CNN needs to address this credibility crisis. From where did Brazile get this text? From someone at CNN? Are there really other instances in which she got advance questions, or was she just exaggerating her worth as an insider to her friends in the Clinton campaign? What does TVOne, CNN’s partner in the debate, have to say? (We’ve asked).