Not so fast. CNN probably didn't feed the Flint debate question to Donna Brazile after all

Yesterday the Daily Caller came out with a potentially game changing story about the Democratic primary debate held in Flint, Michigan which could have had serious repercussions for CNN. The original story dealt with another leaked Podesta email which showed that Donna Brazile, then a vice chair for the DNC as well as a paid commentator on CNN, sent another debate question to the Clinton campaign ahead of her match-up with Bernie Sanders in Flint. It dealt with “a woman with a rash” who was planning to ask the candidates what they would do to eliminate lead from drinking water in the large cities and how soon that might happen.

The new revelations from the Daily Caller came from interviews with the two women who went on to ask a very similar question at the debate. While CNN has denied any leaking of questions through Brazile, the women – Mikki Ward and LeeAnne Walters – told the Daily Caller that they only person they had spoken with was CNN producer Danelle Garcia and that they had indeed given her the questions they wanted to ask. CNN went on to say that the women had met Brazile at “a charity event” on March 5th. Both women denied having met Brazile. This clearly seemed to undercut CNN’s story and raised questions about moderator Anderson Cooper’s involvement. This resurrected complaints that Donald Trump had made earlier about Cooper being biased in favor of Clinton, but there’s potentially more to this tale than was revealed in that coverage.

I spoke on background last night and this morning to a source familiar with the charity event referenced above which CNN participated in. It was a group effort to hand out bottled water to residents of the community and, according to this source, Brazile was indeed there. During the event she spoke to a woman with a prominent rash who told her that she would be interested in asking a question on the subject of lead in the water. While it can’t be known without confirmation from Brazile herself, it’s not difficult to posit that Donna was in a position to pass along this woman’s request. After that, she sent the information to the Clinton campaign on the assumption that the woman would be invited, in an effort to help Hillary prepare for the debate.

But here’s the kicker. That woman with the rash wasn’t either of the women who wound up asking questions at the debate. It was an entirely different person. It’s also worth noting that unlike the first leaked question from Roland Martin in the earlier debate where his follow-up question (which went unasked) matched the email word for word, the question about lead in the water was sent to the Clinton campaign in very generic terms which didn’t match the exact wording of the questions eventually asked. With all that in mind it’s quite plausible that what was discovered in the Podesta email was the fact that Donna Brazile attempted to rig the debate in the same fashion as she’d done before, but she failed because other residents were eventually chosen to ask questions. And the subject matter of lead in the water was about as obvious of a choice as it could possibly be. Had that question not been asked during a debate in Flint it would have amounted to journalistic malpractice.

With all of this in mind, it’s quite plausible that neither Anderson Cooper nor his staff leaked the question to Brazile. This was just the interim DNC chair’s failed effort to rig the debate which wound up looking bad for CNN. None of this exonerates Brazile, of course. Even the Washington Post fact checker has wound up awarding her four Pinocchios for her attempts to explain away her involvement. But CNN may well have played this above board. That would tie in with the pattern we observed from the earlier debate, when the leaked question came via Roland Martin while none of the questions asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper (Martin’s co-moderator) showed up in the emails.


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