The latest e-mail to emerge from Wikileaks’ purloined John Podesta files looks bad — but might only look that way. In an e-mail to Cheryl Mills at 10:57 pm on March 2, 2015, Podesta apparently discussed the breaking Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal with Hillary’s counsel and aide. The note to Mills suggests either total transparency … or total obfuscation:
“We are going to have to dump all those e-mails,” Podesta wrote, “so better to do so sooner than later.” Does this amount to an obstruction of justice, or a ripping of the Band-Aid to get past the scandal as quickly as possible? Tyler at ZeroHedge leans toward the former:
It is also unclear for now which emails Podesta is referring to in the thread, but Podesta adds: “better to do so sooner than later.” We can hope that a subsequent response, yet to be leaked by Wikileaks, will provide more color.
If the exchange is shown to disclose intent to mislead, it will negate the entire narrative prepared by Clinton that she merely deleted “personal” emails and will reveal a strategic plan to hinder the State Department and FBI “investigation.”
Could be, could very well be, but … this sounds different to me, especially when viewed in context. This exchange took place within the first hour or two of Michael Schmidt’s exposé at the New York Times, just 71 minutes after our first post on the story. We know from previously published private e-mails from Podesta that he got blindsided on the scandal. Podesta had to ask campaign manager Robby Mook about the “depth” to the story on that same night, and in parallel expressed amazement to Neera Tanden about the lack of transparency from Hillary and several others:
On March 2, Podesta wrote to current Campaign Manager Robby Mook asking if Mook had “any idea of the depth of this story?”
“Nope. We brought up the existence of emails in research this summer but were told that everything was taken care of,” Mook wrote back at 1:32 a.m. on March 3.
Podesta also wrote to Tanden airing his concerns on March 2, the day the story about Clinton’s private email account broke.
“Speaking of transparency, our friends [attorney David] Kendall, Cheryl and Phillipe [Reines] sure weren’t forthcoming on the facts here,” Podesta wrote.
With that in mind, Podesta’s reaction looks like standard advice on triaging a scandal: get all of the information out immediately and let the story run out quickly. “Dump all the e-mails” sounds much more like get it over with than it does bury it until it stops moving. In March 2015, Hillary would have months to let the story fade into the background if she fully disclosed all of the e-mails and cooperated fully with authorities.
Or … perhaps not. Six days later, Podesta wanted to “zap Lanny [Davis] out of our universe” for suggesting that Hillary commit to an independent review of the whole email database. Podesta told Mook that he “can’t believe [Davis] committed her to a private review of her hard drive on TV.” That sounds more like bury it until it stops moving, perhaps necessitated after getting more of the actual facts on the e-mail server in between the 2nd and the 8th.
Before that, though, it looks like Hillary nominally took his advice. Two days after Podesta told Mills to dump the e-mails, she tweeted this out:
I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 5, 2015
If Podesta intended on using full disclosure for scandal triage, the problem was that Hillary didn’t actually follow through. Part of the reason for this is that she had already short-sheeted State in December, a fact that Podesta may not have known on the evening of March 2nd. She had only turned over half of the e-mails, and only on 55,000 pieces of paper, keeping the rest as “private” and deleting them later in the month — in defiance of a Congressional order to preserve all records. (Learning about that might have changed Podesta’s mind on full disclosure between March 2nd and 8th, too.) Hillary and her legal team then refused to turn over the electronic files or hardware over to State or Congress for months, only finally acquiescing to the FBI when it became clear that they might come with a warrant.
Thanks to these moves, the story kept moving forward drip by drip over the following year as the FBI and State pored over the e-mails. Hampered by Hillary’s actions, State couldn’t clear up the few dozen outstanding FOIA demands in court proceedings, the latest of which came out late yesterday. And thanks to the Clintonian impulse to stonewall first, last, and always, the investigation has come back to life thanks to the discovery of a device not disclosed by Huma Abedin and Team Hillary to the FBI. This is precisely the outcome that Podesta’s suggestion was designed to avoid.
John Podesta offered Hillary and Cheryl Mills some good advice, assuming that’s what he meant. The bigger story here is that they didn’t heed it.