Hillary Clinton’s campaign staffers knew that her paid speeches to Wall Street could be a political liability for her 2016 run, according to private emails disclosed by WikiLeaks. But even as she prepared to formally announce her presidential bid, she resisted entreaties from several staffers to have her husband, former President Bill Clinton, cancel one last speech to Morgan Stanley.
The Clinton campaign did not directly respond to a request for comment on the internal communications, but pointed to a conference call in which campaign advisors said that the WikiLeaks emails had been hacked by the Russian government, which is believed to be trying to tilt the U.S. election in favor of GOP nominee Donald Trump. The FBI has supported the Clinton campaign’s assertions about Russian involvement in the email hack.
The internal emails reveal Clinton staffers’ attempts to reason with a wealthy political candidate who didn’t appreciate the potential damage that could be done if her husband ― referred to as “WJC” in the communications ― spoke to a prominent Wall Street firm just three days after she formally announced her presidential campaign.
Staffers knew that Clinton didn’t want to hear it, and maneuvered to make their objections understood.
“HRC very strongly did not want him to cancel that particular speech,” wrote Clinton aide Huma Abedin on March 11, 2015. “I think if John [Podesta] is getting involved in this scheduling matter, he must feel strongly. I will have to tell her that WJC chose to cancel it, not that we asked.”
“Yes the issue is that if we’re announcing on the 12th/13th and he’s speaking to a wall street bank on the 15th, that’s begging for a bad rollout,” campaign manager Robby Mook replied.
Six and a half hours later, Abedin delivered the bad news to Mook and Podesta, a longtime Clinton confidante: “John and Robby – HRC is reiterating her original position. She does not want him to cancel.”
Two hours after Abedin delivered the news about her boss’ resistance, Mook put his foot down.
“I know this is not the answer she wants, but I feel very strongly that doing the speech is a mistake ― the data are very clear on the potential consequences. It will be three days after she’s announced and on her first day in Iowa, where caucus [goers] have a sharply more negative view of Wall Street than the rest of the electorate. Wall Street ranks first for Iowans among a list of institutions that “take advantage of every day Americans”, scoring twice as high as the general election electorate. I recognize the sacrifice and [disappointment] that cancelling will create, but it’s a very consequential unforced error and could plague us in stories for months.”
“People would (rightfully) ask how we let it happen,” Mook continued. “I would suggest that if she is determined to keep this speech that she talk with John [because] this is a very big deal in my view.”
By the following afternoon, Clinton was willing to listen to reason.
“Robby – Just raised with her again,” Abedin wrote. “We are good to cancel esp if WJC is ok with it. Just needed a cool down period.”
Stories from Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign are filled with accounts of backbiting nastiness between power-hungry staffers. But this episode portrays a staff unified in political acumen against a stubborn candidate. When the primary season began in earnest, Clinton’s paid speeches to Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank and other major Wall Street firms became a central point of controversy. Had Clinton not drawn a racist, xenophobic general election challenger who has boasted about committing sexual assault, these talks likely would have remained an issue into November.
The Clintons made a combined $6.7 million in speaking fees in 2015. They brought in about $20 million in speaking fees the year before. It’s hard to blame Clinton’s staffers for wondering why they needed one more talk.