Donna Brazile is now denying that she shared debate questions with the Hillary Clinton campaign ahead of a CNN-sponsored Democratic primary debate during the 2016 election — even though she admitted doing it after the election.
In her new book, the former interim Democratic National Committee chairwoman says she never found proof in her own records that she forwarded potential questions to the campaign and went further by saying accusations that she took this step “seemed like an election fable.”
Her book, Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House, backs away from her earlier admission, and leaves the issue in a sort of mushy middle. It neither admits nor directly denies sharing debate questions with the Clinton campaign, which at the time was a point of contention, since it led to arguments that the DNC favored Clinton.
In October 2016, emails that had been hacked, reportedly by Russians, from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta were made public by WikiLeaks. Among them was a message apparently from Brazile, then a CNN contributor, to the campaigns communications director Jennifer Palmieri, with the subject line "From time to time I get the questions in advance."
The text of the email said, “Here's one that worries me about HRC.” It offered statistics on the death penalty and asked if Ohio and other states should follow the practice of other states by abolishing the death penalty.
Politico reported in October 2016 that the day after Brazile sent her email to Palmieri, TV One’s Roland Martin, who would co-moderate the debate and who Brazile refers to as her “friend in the book,” sent an email to a CNN producer with the exact same wording about the death penalty.
Brazile initially rejected the idea that she gave Clinton's team any aid.
“As a Christian woman, I understand persecution, but I will not sit here and be persecuted,” Brazile said on Fox News more than a year ago when asked if it was her. “Your information is totally false.”
In an essay for Time magazine in March this year, Brazile reversed course and admitted to having sent emails to the Clinton campaign related to the debate topics.
“[I]n October, a subsequent release of [Podesta] emails revealed that among the many things I did in my role as a Democratic operative and D.N.C. Vice Chair prior to assuming the interim D.N.C. Chair position was to share potential town hall topics with the Clinton campaign,” she wrote at the time. “I had been working behind the scenes to add more town hall events and debates to the primary calendar, and I helped ensure those events included diverse moderators and addressed topics vital to minority communities. My job was to make all our Democratic candidates look good, and I worked closely with both campaigns to make that happen. But sending those emails was a mistake I will forever regret.”
But in her new book, however, Brazile spent considerable time seeming to walk back the admission, without fully denying that it happened. She started by recalling that a CNN producer called her after the Podesta emails leaked to ask if she shared any questions with the Clinton campaign.
“What? That was impossible,” she wrote. “CNN never gave us the questions in advance. Plus that subject line — bragging like that — did not sound like me.” She said she searched all of her email accounts for the message, but could not find it. She added, however, that the IT technicians at the DNC deleted any emails that might not be secure, which means it could have been lost.
Brazile also used the book to refer to the issue, not as something she will "forever regret," as she said in the Time essay, but as her "alleged terrible deed" and her "alleged leaking of the questions to Hillary.”
Another section of the book implied that she might not have done it at all. She recalled then-Republican candidate Donald Trump talking about her at his rallies “for this thing I very well might not have done.”
Asked if she thought she could clear up the issue permanently, Brazile said she couldn't.
“For the record, I could never find those so-called emails released by WikiLeaks or find anything on my laptop, desktop, or server,” she told the Washington Examiner. “So, as I state in the book, just go ahead and say what you know to be true.”
Brazile added that she believed if she had shared anything with the Clinton campaign, she would have also shared it with Clinton's primary competitor, Bernie Sanders.
"I would have given the other campaigns a heads up," she said.
She also stressed again that she was unable to substantiate the leaked emails on her own end because much of her data had been wiped out by the DNC, when it was recovering from the hack.
"What I learned in the course of examining what happened with our emails and data was our files were corrupted," she said. "So, this came up weeks later, after I became chair, I went looking for these emails in my system because the DNC’s system was destroyed."
Nothing came up and so she said she still suspects the leaked emails didn't tell the full story, if they were ever real at all.
CNN has consistently denied Brazile was ever privy to any information regarding the debates or forums during the election cycle and Brazile resigned from the network shortly after the controversy became public.
“CNN never gave Brazile access to any questions, prep material, attendee list, background information, or meetings in advance of a town hall or debate,” spokesperson for CNN said in late October last year. “We are completely uncomfortable with what we have learned about her interactions with the Clinton campaign while she was a CNN contributor.”