Aide Ch­eryl Mills a tar­get of crit­i­cism, Wik­iLeaks shows

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Ros­alind S. Hel­der­man

Don­ald Trump has claimed that mil­lions of vot­ers in the U.S. il­le­gally will taint elec­tion re­sults. But no ev­i­dence ex­ists of thou­sands of non-cit­i­zen vot­ers — and no ev­i­dence has emerged to in­di­cate a co­or­di­nated ef­fort to throw an elec­tion by stuff­ing the vot­ing rolls with in­el­i­gi­ble im­mi­grants.

On the day the news broke that Hil­lary Clin­ton had used a pri­vate email ac­count as sec­re­tary of state, the man who would soon be named to chair her pres­i­den­tial cam­paign fired off a note of dis­tress, vent­ing frus­tra­tion about some of Clin­ton’s clos­est aides.

“Speak­ing of trans­parency, our friends Ken­dall, Ch­eryl and Phillipe sure weren’t forth­com­ing on the facts here,” John Podesta com­plained in the March 2015 note, re­fer­ring to Clin­ton’s per­sonal lawyer, David Ken­dall, as well as for­mer State Depart­ment staffers Ch­eryl Mills and Philippe Reines.

“Why didn’t they get this stuff out like 18 months ago? So crazy,” replied Neera Tan­den, a long­time Podesta friend who also has worked for Clin­ton. Then, an­swer­ing her own ques­tion, Tan­den wrote again: “I guess I know the an­swer. They wanted to get away with it.”

The ex­change, found in hacked emails from Podesta’s ac­count and re­leased Tues­day by the anti-se­crecy group Wik­iLeaks, pro­vides a strik­ing win­dow into how the rev­e­la­tion of Clin­ton’s email setup roiled her nascent cam­paign team in the weeks be­fore its of­fi­cial April 2015 kick­off.

The emails show that aides ex­pressed ex­as­per­a­tion at each other and, at times, at Clin­ton — both for her de­ci­sion to use the server and for the way she han­dled ques­tions about it. Sev­eral ex­changes il­lus­trate fears among some top ad­vis­ers that Clin­ton and other aides were demon­strat­ing the traits that polls sug­gested made her vul­ner­a­ble: a pen­chant for se­crecy and a hes­i­tancy to ad­mit fault or er­ror.

“We’ve taken on a lot of wa­ter that won’t be easy to pump out of the boat,” Podesta wrote to Tan­den in Septem­ber 2015, at a time when Clin­ton’s cam­paign feared that Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den was about to en­ter the race for the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion. “Most of that has to do with ter­ri­ble de­ci­sions made pre-cam­paign, but a lot has to do with her in­stincts.”

Tan­den re­sponded, “Al­most no one knows bet­ter (than) me that her in­stincts can be ter­ri­ble.”

Tan­den and Ken­dall de­clined to com­ment. Nei­ther Reines nor a lawyer for Mills re­sponded to re­quests for com­ment.

Clin­ton’s cam­paign has largely de­clined to com­ment on the Wik­iLeaks emails, which U.S. of­fi­cials say were stolen through hacks of Demo­cratic groups and lead­ers or­ches­trated by the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment. Clin­ton aides have de­clined to au­then­ti­cate the emails, not­ing that the Rus­sians have been known to doc­tor doc­u­ments, but they have not dis­puted any spe­cific rev­e­la­tion from Podesta’s email trove.

In­stead, Clin­ton spokesman Glen Caplin on Tues­day re­sponded to ques­tions about the in­ter­nal cam­paign strug­gles re­vealed in the emails by at­tack­ing GOP nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump for his re­cent com­ments dis­put­ing U.S. gov­ern­ment find­ings that the Krem­lin was be­hind the hacks and for “cheer­ing on Wik­iLeaks’ Rus­sian-directed pro­pa­ganda.”

Some of the emails in­clude pri­vate and con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous as­sess­ments of the can­di­date’s strengths and weak­nesses by ad­vis­ers widely seen as likely to hold top posts in Clin­ton’s White House should she win.

They show that in Au­gust 2015, months af­ter the New York Times re­vealed Clin­ton’s use of a pri­vate ac­count and af­ter the As­so­ci­ated Press iden­ti­fied her pri­vate server, Clin­ton’s aides were still strug­gling to per­suade the can­di­date that she should show re­morse for her email prac­tices.

By that time, the FBI had opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether clas­si­fied ma­te­rial had been mis­han­dled through Clin­ton’s use of the server.

Some of the most frank com­men­tary can be seen in ex­changes between two friends and fre­quent cor­re­spon­dents: Podesta, a long­time Clin­ton hand who founded the pow­er­house lib­eral think tank Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress, and Tan­den, a for­mer top aide to Clin­ton’s 2008 pres­i­den­tial run who now heads the cen­ter. In an­other email re­leased by Wik­iLeaks, Tan- den re­ferred to her­self as a “loyal sol­dier” who would “do what­ever Hil­lary needs al­ways.” Their email ex­changes of­ten ap­pear to have been writ­ten out of con­cern for Clin­ton’s best in­ter­ests.

“I know this email thing isn’t on the level. I’m fully aware of that,” Tan­den wrote in Au­gust 2015 to Podesta. “But her in­abil­ity to just do a na­tional in­ter­view and com­mu­ni­cate gen­uine feel­ings of re­morse and re­gret is now, I fear, be­com­ing a char­ac­ter prob­lem (more so than hon­esty).”

On Sept. 4, Clin­ton gave an in­ter­view to NBC’s An­drea Mitchell, say­ing she was “sorry that this has been con­fus­ing to peo­ple” but oth­er­wise dodg­ing ques­tions about whether she apol­o­gized for her ac­tions.

“Ev­ery­one wants her to apol­o­gize. And she should. Apolo­gies are like her Achilles heel,” Tan­den wrote later that day.

Three days later, Clin­ton had still not apol­o­gized, even as the is­sue dom­i­nated cam­paign news cov­er­age. “This apol­ogy thing has be­come like a pathol­ogy,” Tan­den wrote. “I can only imag­ine what’s hap­pen­ing in the cam­paign. Is there some way I can be help­ful here?”

“You should email her,” Podesta replied. “She can say she’s sorry with­out apol­o­giz­ing to the Amer­i­can peo­ple. Tell her to say it and move on, why get hung on this.”

The next day, Clin­ton told ABC News that her use of the server had been a “mis­take.” “I’m sorry about that. I take re­spon­si­bil­ity,” she said.

The Wik­iLeaks dis­clo­sures re­veal how, from the ear­li­est days of the cam­paign, some ad­vis­ers and staffers feared that Mills — who had served in the White House coun­sel’s of­fice dur­ing the Repub­li­can in­ves­ti­ga­tions of the 1990s and then was Clin­ton’s chief of staff at the State Depart­ment — en­abled Clin­ton’s ten­den­cies to bunker down.

"This is a ch­eryl spe­cial,” Tan­den wrote Podesta in March 2015 about the email con­tro­versy. “Knowyou love her, but this stuff is like her Achilles heal. Or kryp­tonite. she just can’t say no to this s---.”

Mills has no for­mal re­la­tion­ship with the cam­paign but, the emails show, con­sults fre­quently about all ma­jor de­ci­sions.

The emails show, at one point, sim­i­lar skep­ti­cism of Mills from cam­paign man­ager Robby Mook, the young op­er­a­tive Clin­ton ap­pointed to build an op­er­a­tion that would avoid the per­son­al­ity clashes and in­ter­nal dra­mas that plagued her 2008 bid.

In Fe­bru­ary 2015, Mook com­plained to Podesta that Mills was go­ing around him to vet cam­paign con­trac­tors. “It is se­cretly go­ing around a trans­par­ent sys­tem we all agreed upon,” he wrote. “The se­cret s--- has got to step. It’s a gi­ant time suck.”


Email ex­changes il­lus­trate ad­vis­ers’ fears that Hil­lary Clin­ton and aides demon­strated traits that made her vul­ner­a­ble.

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