At 10:33 p.m. on Aug. 21, 2015, Hillary Clinton’s lead speechwriter sent around an email with the subject line “Script.” In it is a draft of a video address to supporters where Clinton would try to explain the private email system she used while secretary of state “directly, in one place, at one time, as best as I can.”
This came just three days after an explosive exchange at a press conference between Clinton and a Fox News correspondent, where Clinton was asked whether she had ordered her server wiped clean. She shrugged and said, “What, like, with a cloth or something?”
The campaign knew it had a problem. In trying to find a way out, it considered a short video, less than 10 minutes, to supporters. But apologizing did not come easy.
The remarks — part of a large and growing Wikileaks release of emails hacked from Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta’s personal Gmail account — propose Clinton go to lengths, arguably unseen in the campaign from the candidate, to try and explain why she used the private server. She would do so in clearer, more complete and more personal terms than other statements she had made. She would have been apologetic, at times, taking responsibility.
“I can’t do it all again,” she was to say. “I can only tell you it was a mistake, regret it, explain it, and help State and others fix any challenges it caused.”
But she would have also been defensive, at points, noting unapologetically that she wanted her privacy: “I knew no matter what I decided to do with them, I was in for criticism. So I chose to keep a modicum of privacy. I hope you can understand that.”
She never made the speech.
Instead, five days later, Clinton held a news conference, where she addressed the controversy — in a more abbreviated way — but picked up some of the same tone of the prepared video address that never was to be:
“I know people have raised questions about my email use as secretary of state, and I understand why,” Clinton said. “As secretary of state, I get it. Here is what I wan the American people to know — my use of personal email was allowed by the State Department. It clearly wasn’t the best choice. I should have used two emails — one personal, one for work. I take responsibility for that decision. I want to be as transparent as possible, which is why I turned over 55,000 pages, why I turned over my server, why I have agreed to — and been asking to testify in October. I’m confident this process will prove I never sent nor received any email that was marked classified. I’m going to keep talking about what the American people talk to me about and to lay out my plans for what I would do as president to make the economy work, to make college affordable, to get the cost of drugs down and get equal pay for women and the issues that are at the core of the presidential campaign.”
The campaign is not confirming nor denying the authenticity of any of the hacked emails.
When asked to comment for this story, campaign spokesman Glen Caplin responded, “We now know the FBI believes the Russians are behind this hack and that a Trump campaign associate was back-channeling with Julian Assange. On Day 5 of the WikiLeaks propaganda campaign, the question is what did the Trump campaign know, and when did they know it?”
These “stolen documents” as Caplan describes them, give rare insights into the inner workings and strategy of a campaign that has been remarkably disciplined and largely leak free. But it doesn’t take hacked emails to know the Clinton campaign and Clinton herself have struggled with how to explain her use of a private email server while secretary of state. That’s what makes these draft remarks so interesting.
Think back to that time, mid-August 2015. Clinton was dogged by questions about her email server. At times, she was dismissive. At other times, she was overly legalistic. She still hadn’t formally apologized and aside from her initial press conference about the emails, Clinton hadn’t voluntarily addressed them at length. It’s with this backdrop that her top advisers drafted these remarks, which would seem were meant to be put into a video for supporters:
“Hello. I thought you might find it useful to have some answers to share with your friends if they ask about all these news stories out there about my email habits when I was Secretary of State. So I want to take some time to try and explain it to you directly, in one place, at one time, as best as I can.
“Please bear with me because parts are confusing, and like many of you, I don’t understand all of the technological aspects. [But when you hear all the facts, I think you’ll agree that all the political noise over this issue is just that — political noise.]
“In 2007, when I was a U.S. Senator, I got my first Blackberry. I used it to keep up with the news, with friends & family — and yes, I also got my fair share of unsolicited forwards that sometimes made me laugh and sometimes made me want to throw it away. In short, I used email like most people.
“Fast forward to 2009. One of my husband’s staff members bought the domain name clintonemail.com so his team could switch from the various email providers they were relying on to one consolidated system. I joined them.
“This was all before I started my new job as Secretary of State. Had President Obama not asked me to join his team, if I had stayed in the U.S. Senate, I still would have switched to this new email.
“And when I did get to State, it seemed simpler to have just the one address. After all, my predecessors at State had not relied on Department email. In hindsight, though, this has proven anything but simple.
“But I can’t do it all again. I can only tell you it was a mistake, regret it, explain it, and help State and others fix any challenges it caused.
“That’s what I did. Now I want to explain what I didn’t do.
“I didn’t keep my email secret. Whenever I emailed, it was from my address. Whenever people emailed me, it was to my account. Work, personal, whatever. And yes, I continued to get my fair share of unsolicited forwards.
“I also didn’t do this to skirt rules. And I didn’t do it to avoid having my records preserved. When State asked former Secretaries of State who served in the era of electronic communications to help fill out the archival record, I did so, printing 55,000 pages of email including anything related to my work at the State Department. To get a sense of how outdated some of the government’s archiving practices are, we had to print all 55,000 pages because that’s what the rules demand. Believe me, printing more than 30,000 email instead of handing them over electronically isn’t something anyone does by choice.
“That’s 30,000 more emails than every other former Secretary produced combined.
“And yes, there were 30,000 more messages that were completely personal and had nothing to do with official business.
“I do believe transparency in government is important. And by this point, there isn’t much you don’t know about me. My finances are out there. My medical history is out there. You know how much I’ve made, where I’ve gone, what I’m allergic to.
“But what wasn’t work wasn’t the government’s business. So I didn’t keep those emails. I didn’t print them. I knew no matter what I decided to do with them, I was in for criticism. So I chose to keep a modicum of privacy. I hope you can understand that.
“Now I want to address the most serious aspect.
“When it came to classified information, I certainly never used my Blackberry. And that had nothing to do with using a personal email address. If I had been email@example.com I could not have used it for classified information either. At the State Department, mobile devices aren’t used to communicate secrets. Almost everything of a classified nature was presented to me via paper or in person. When I traveled, elaborate steps were taken. Secure phones were set up, secure tents were constructed. More than once when a tent was set up in some far-away hotel, I was told to read the classified material with the blanket over my head. No, that’s not a joke. I took my responsibilities in safeguarding our nation’s secrets seriously. So did my team did. Everyone at the State Department did.
“This process of looking backwards to see if something should have been classified at the time is fine. I don’t want anything released to the public that puts us at risk. And we’re all learning that different agencies have very different views and procedures about what should be classified and what shouldn’t. What’s not fine is to criticize people — especially career officials who have devoted their lives to serving our country — for handling what they didn’t know might be deemed classified years later by another part of the government. That’s an impossible standard to meet. Members of Congress and their staff also handled some of these messages.
“Some articles being written about this issue today contain classified information. Should someone sending that article to a colleague be told in 2020 that they broke the rules? I hope not.
“As for the security of my email, in more than a little bit of irony, every day we learn of a new hack by the Chinese, by the Russians. That millions of Americans’ personal information has been stolen.
“As Secretary I was proud of what we accomplished. I was proud of the thousands of people who’ve dedicated themselves to public service — including those who came into State with me and left with me. I was proud of them then, I’m proud of them now.
“I wish that a video was enough to address this. I know it isn’t though. But I wanted to try to put everything in one place.
“Along those lines, after nearly a year of offering to come up at any time anyplace, in October I’ll be on Capitol Hill before the committee looking at the tragic events of September 2012 in Benghazi, Libya. They wanted to talk to me behind closed doors, but I insisted on all of you being able to see what I was asked and how I answered.
“I’m sure this issue will come up. It’s unclear to me how it will help us understand what happened in Benghazi or how to help prevent future tragedies — but I’m going to do my best to answer whatever they ask.
“And while I can’t predict the future, let me finish by taking a stab:
”• There will be many more email to pour through.
“• Some will be serious, some will be embarrassing.
”• You know I’m not great with a fax, but you’re also going to learn my secret salad dressing recipe and who sent me LinkedIn requests. (And whose I didn’t accept!)
“• There will be more dramatic leaks and assertions that prove to be untrue.
“But at some point, you’re going to have them all. And if you suffer through all 55,000 pages, you’ll be able to judge for yourself.
“Which is how it’s supposed to work.
“If you’ve made it this far, thank you for watching.”
This version of the remarks was emailed to a tight circle of advisers by the campaign’s chief speechwriter Dan Schwerin. The next email in the chain released by Wikileaks, has feedback from campaign Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri.
“Still think it is way too long and has too many tangents that are distracting and press will chase,” Palmieri writes. “Also, I don’t think it has our core argument that nothing she sent or rec’d was classified at the time. I will make more edits and send back around.”
At 11:29 p.m. that same night, Campaign Manager Robby Mook sent around his own draft that didn’t say anything about “unsolicited forwards.” Then, at what appears to be 2 a.m., Press Secretary Brian Fallon adds his own feedback on the messaging in the draft remarks:
“1. I also dislike the current reference to her 2007 Blackberry. As written, it seems like a strained attempt to make her seem relatable. If the point of it is to say that she was used to having only one email when she was a senator, and simply wanted to continue that arrangement when she became Secretary, then the Blackberry reference would make sense bc it would help explain how she made this decision in the first place. But it needs to be rewritten to be understood that way.
“2. This line – ‘This process of looking backwards to see if something should have been classified at the time is fine’ – is problematic. We should not think it is fine to find something that ‘should have been classified at the time.’ Our position is that no such material exists, else it could be said she mishandled classified info. We need to clarify to make clear we mean that it is fine to perform redactions today, but in doing so it doesnt mean that the material was classified at the time it was sent.
“3. In this line — ‘Some will be serious, some will be personal or mundane’ — the word ‘serious’ reads ominously/ suggestive of wrongdoing. I would say something like ‘some will give a real window into the day-to-day workings of the State Department…'”
These newly leaked draft remarks are clearer, more comprehensive and more personal than anything Clinton was saying at the time.
On Sept. 7th, 2015, Neera Tanden, a former Clinton aide who heads the Center For American Progress emailed Podesta apparently concerned about how Clinton was talking about the email server.
“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? I know if I just email her she will dismiss it out of hand. Are there people she can hear from that will have some impact?”
Podesta responded the following day.
“You should email her,” Podesta wrote. “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.”
But before Podesta’s email had even been sent, Clinton had given an apology of sorts in an ABC interview.
“I do think I could have and should have done a better job answering questions earlier,” Clinton said. “I really didn’t perhaps appreciate the need to do that. What I had done was allowed; it was above board. But in retrospect, as I look back at it now, even though it was allowed, I should have used two accounts. One for personal, one for work-related emails. That was a mistake. I’m sorry about that. I take responsibility.”
Clinton never did deliver the remarks her campaign aides drafted. It’s not clear why. And when asked about the draft, the campaign is only responding by pointing the finger at Russia for the hack.
In the end, it will never be known if these remarks would have put Clinton’s email troubles to rest sooner. Probably not. Even just this week, Clinton had to answer questions in writing under penalty of perjury in an ongoing lawsuit about her email server from a conservative watchdog group.