POLITICS

Clinton Aide Suggested 'Hollywood Friends' Go After Elizabeth Warren Boosters

MoveOn led the campaign to draft Warren into the 2016 race.
Hillary Clinton has a thorny history with MoveOn.
Hillary Clinton has a thorny history with MoveOn.

WASHINGTON ― A top aide to Hillary Clinton was incensed by MoveOn.org’s campaign to draft Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) into the presidential race.

The aide, Philippe Reines, suggested using Clinton’s “Hollywood friends” to force the group to “cool it” with the whole “Run Warren Run” thing.

“This is more than a little annoying. Making noise is one thing. Spending seven figures is another. She voted for the war, you punished her already, get over it,” Reines’ email reads. “I don’t know who funds them, but don’t we have Hollywood friends with ties to MoveOn who can tell them to cool it?”

There is no evidence that the Clinton campaign took Reines’ advice. Reines had been a key figure in the bungled 2008 presidential run and remained a member of Clintonworld in the years after, but the notoriously sharp-elbowed aide hasn’t had a significant role in the 2016 campaign. (He did emerge from the wilderness to play Donald Trump in mock debates.)

Had the Clinton camp tried to go after MoveOn’s donors, moreover, they would have had a difficult time doing so. MoveOn is funded almost exclusively by small donors who give a few bucks in response to a variety of emails. There is no “Hollywood friend” capable of even kinking that hose. 

But the suggestion offers a window into a particular brand of thinking within a faction of the Clinton machine, namely that fear and revenge are effective organizing tools ― the better to keep stray Democrats and progressives in line ― and that politics should be managed as a top-down, big-dollar affair, rather than driven by a dynamic, grassroots movement.

She voted for the war, you punished her already, get over it. Philippe Reines, on MoveOn's support for an alternative to Hillary Clinton

In any event, the organizing effort Reines wanted to nix, the “Run Warren Run” campaign, failed to entice Warren to run. When she made clear her determination not to launch a presidential bid, the group largely turned over its infrastructure to the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). 

Reines’ remark is contained in hacked emails from now-Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, which were published by WikiLeaks earlier this week. MoveOn declined to comment on Reines’ suggestion.

The progressive advocacy group, best known for that large network of grassroots donors, has a thorny history with Clinton. Its members voted to endorse then-Sen. Barack Obama over her in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, in part because of her vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq and her base of wealthy donors.

She later criticized the group at a closed-door fundraiser, calling it “a gusher of money that never seems to slow down” and claiming that its members “flood into these caucuses and dominate them and really intimidate people who actually show up to support me.”

Last year, Clinton declined to participate in a town hall event that the group hosted with her Democratic primary opponents Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Although Warren is now solidly on Team Clinton and proving to be an effective attack dog against Donald Trump, many progressives critical of Clinton had urged the Massachusetts senator to run for president in the run-up to the 2016 race. MoveOn and other progressive organizations invested more than $1 million in “Run Warren Run.”

I understand that we face phoniness charges if we ‘change’ our position now ― but we face political risks this way too. I worry about Elizabeth deciding to endorse Bernie. Mandy Grunwald, on Hillary Clinton's support for Wall Street reform

Throughout the campaign, concern about whether Warren would endorse Sanders, or otherwise undermine Clinton, proved to be a theme in Podesta’s hacked emails.

A December 2014 meeting between the two women was highly anticipated by Clinton’s aides, who hoped she would emerge with Warren’s backing. “I think everytime EW says something interpreted as not being effusive enough or critical, she hears from a Neera, Gillibrand, Mandy or we suggest that Dan talk to her policy person. Basically her people are saying say enough already, lets just talk direct,” Huma Abedin explained to other senior aides in a November 2014 email.

In October 2015, as the campaign debated edits to a Wall Street Journal column by Clinton on financial reform, Mandy Grunwald, who is close to both the Democratic nominee and Warren, wrote that if Clinton went too soft on the banks, she might pay.

“We are not including Elizabeth’s core point about this ― that the 5 biggest banks are now 30% bigger than they were five years ago,” Grunwald warned. “And, of course, by not embracing a new Glass Steagall, we are not separating ‘everyday’ banking from ‘risky’ banking ― her core belief about whats needed. Jake says this is a political decision. My understand from HRC is that she left her call kind of leaning toward endorsing Glass Steagall. I understand that we face phoniness charges if we ‘change’ our position now ― but we face political risks this way too. I worry about Elizabeth deciding to endorse Bernie.”

Grunwald’s email reflects precisely the kind of result Warren wanted to elicit by staying neutral during the primary. According to people close to Warren at the time, she hoped the implicit threat of her endorsing Sanders would pull Clinton to the left, particularly on banking issues. 

The Clinton campaign’s internal polling, meanwhile, found that Sanders largely inherited Warren’s voter support. 

“While Hillary Clinton’s popularity and vote share are slightly lower than they were at the beginning of the year, they’re nearly identical to where they were in March,” wrote pollster John Anzalone to senior aides in June 2015. “And while Bernie Sanders has added popularity and vote share, there isn’t a big difference between what he’s getting now, and Elizabeth Warren’s vote share in our previous poll; while it looks like Sanders absorbed the Warren vote very quickly, Clinton still leads by over 30 points.”

Clinton won the Iowa caucus by just a handful of delegates.

The Clinton campaign would not confirm the authenticity of the hacked emails on Wednesday, and any reply that was made to Reines wasn’t included in the WikiLeaks dump.

“By dribbling these out every day, WikiLeaks is proving they are nothing but a propaganda arm of the Kremlin with a political agenda doing Putin’s dirty work to help elect Donald Trump,” said campaign spokesman Glen Caplin. “The FBI is now investigating this crime. The unanswered questions are why Donald Trump strangely won’t condemn it and whether any of his associates are involved.”

That question is not actually unanswered, even if Trump hasn’t answered it. Longtime Trump confidant and dirty-trickster Roger Stone has confirmed that he met with Julian Assange, the head of WikiLeaks, and appears to have known what was coming.

“The Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security confirmed last Friday that [the hack] is an active program of the Russian intelligence agencies and confirmed that DC Leaks and WikiLeaks are coordinating their efforts with those individuals,” Podesta told reporters on Tuesday. “Around the same time, Stone pointed his finger at me and said that I could expect some treatment that would expose me and ultimately sent out a tweet that said it would be ‘my time in the barrel,’ if you want to go back and check that. That was in August.”

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