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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Hillary Clinton’s Emails Show a Staff Praising Her and Dissing Obama

The searchable messages from Clinton’s time as secretary of state include a lot of praise forwarded from staffers—and some pretty gross emails from her associates.

 Photo: John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune

Bill Clinton claims that in his entire life he has written only two emails, both while he was president: one to John Glenn on his return to space in 1998 and the other to U.S. troops serving in the Adriatic. Hillary must wish she had followed the leader.

Last year, Hillary handed over 55,000 pages of emails that she generated during her four years as Secretary of State (her address: hdr22@clintonemail.com). As anyone who follows the news at all knows, she sent them over a private server which was stored in a bathroom closet in a house in Denver. That server is now in the hands of the FBI.

Released in batches by order of a federal judge, Hillary’s emails are available to anyone with a computer and Wi-fi.

The 7, 000 pages from 2009-2010, released Monday night, are the fourth installment. With this latest dump, a quarter of Clinton’s emails are now just a click away. The final drop of emails is expected in January, dangerously close to the Iowa caucus on February 1—dangerous because if there’s anything in the emails that is damaging or incriminating to Hillary, she won’t have time to explain it away or hope that the public will just give her a pass.

My hunch is she doesn’t have much to worry about.

Sure there are emails recounting grave events and conflicts around the world. Sure, although when the private server story first broke Hillary claimed that she never sent or received classified documents over that server, in this release alone, some 125 have retroactively been upgraded to some level of classification. Sure, many of the emails are lightly to moderately redacted.

But the former secretary of state benefits from the oft-forgotten fact, the gaping caveat in all this: Hillary took it upon herself to destroy some 32,000 emails that she deemed private—mentioning specifically Chelsea’s wedding, her mother’s funeral, her own yoga class schedule. She made the decision and, unless the FBI investigation yields a backup, Americans will never know if the real juice was to found in those deleted messages.

Given what we have to work with, and having spent many hours reading these emails, from past dumps and from this most recent, I kept coming back to a disconcerting thought. The emails don’t sound like the electronic record of the world’s top diplomat. I had to keep reminding myself that Secretary Clinton was first among equals worldwide, that she traveled the globe—as she often reminded us, mentioning precisely how many miles she had traversed—that she took the measure of world leaders, mostly men, that she was charged with handling hotspots, with issuing decrees and decisions, with being tough-minded, even fearless.

And yet “banal” is the best word to describe many of these emails that contain Hillary’s terse but even-tempered and polite responses to the hovering staffers who surrounded, supported, and protected her.

An outsized share of emails were from staffers to Hillary forwarding stories that seemed aimed at boosting her mood or confidence. On December 27, 2010, Cheryl Mills, Hillary’s chief of staff at the state department and Bill’s chief defense lawyer during impeachment, emailed the boss a Gallup survey showing her again the “most admired woman,” out ranking Sarah Palin, Oprah, Michelle, Condi Rice, even Queen Elizabeth. “Clinton approval soars” headlined another forwarded story.

So many of the emails had stories attached showing Hillary’s approval rating higher than Obama’s (75 to 51) that a pattern quickly emerged. Here’s a news story sent to Hillary from Chicago native, Sidney Blumenthal: “A new poll of avid news watchers shows that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a much higher approval rating than the man she once campaigned against and now works for, President Barack Obama.”

Some emails carried stories showing the rookie mistakes of a first-term president who entered the White House with too thin a resume. Chicago native John Podesta, now heading Hillary’s campaign for president, commented on an email with the subject line, “New Poll: Approval Ratings for Administration Officials Drop Across the Board.”

“Break out the Kevlar [bullet proof] vests,” Podesta wrote.

One can’t read too many of these without realizing that a good day for Hillary Clinton and her loyalists was a day when things were going south for Barack Obama, the man who, in 2008, denied Hillary what so many close to her considered to be rightfully hers: the presidency.

Back to Sid Blumenthal. Of the many sycophants and courtiers surrounding Hillary, none is more colorful than Blumenthal, a neighbor of mine growing up in West Rogers Park. He stood out in the 50th Ward for going east to school and climbing the journalism ladder—The New Republic to the Washington Post to the New Yorker—before becoming so enamored of the Clintons that he lost credibility at the New Yorker and went to work in the Clinton White House. He battled for Hillary in 2008, and, when she joined Obama’s cabinet, he expected that she would take him with her to the state department. He was blocked by none other than Rahm Emanuel, then Obama’s chief of staff, who considered Sid a dirty campaigner and unusually nasty gossip. Blumenthal’s consolation prize was a place on the Clinton Foundation’s payroll.

From that perch, he was in constant email contact with Hillary, burying her in magazine and journal stories, in gossip, hearsay, and provocative analysis he heard, mostly from members of Washington foreign policy elite, but Blumenthal also plied Hillary with anti-Israel articles written by his son Max. There were also domestic zingers: an analysis of Republican Speaker John Boehner as “…louche, alcoholic, lazy, and without any commitment to principle.” And then there was a memo he forwarded to Clinton written by a close Clinton ally, David Brock, on the subject of “impeaching Clarence Thomas.”

David Axelrod who moved up from Chicago Tribune reporter to the brilliant strategist/marketer who designed the campaigns that took Obama to the White House, was not a favorite of Sid Blumenthal’s. From an Blumenthal email dated March 17, 2010: “Here’s one small but frank thing: Axelrod should not be a foreign policy spokesman on any issue or area. …..Many people in the press feel he’s out of his lane and resent being lectured by him on foreign policy. …. Axelrod has enough to do fixing the domestic messes he’s made.” An attached article carried the title, “Will David Axelrod Please be Quiet, Please?”

One might feel sorry for Axelrod being taken down by “Sid Vicious,” as some of his detractors called him. But then one comes upon Axelrod’s email to Hillary, the subject line reading “So sorry,” referring to an unnamed injury Hillary sustained, and the text dripping with insincerity: “You are an all-star player,” Axelrod gushed, “and we need you for the long run!”

If President Obama, through his press secretary, seemed last week to issue an endorsement of Joe Biden’s running for president—he said that selecting Biden for the VP spot was the smartest political decision he had ever made as president—perhaps Obama was showing gratitude for Biden’s loyalty. As for Hillary, if Obama didn’t already know it, he likely knows now that she and her gatekeepers seemed to take pleasure in his first-term failures and fumbles.

Bob Barnett, a Waukegan native and the agent to Washington’s most powerful politicians, including Bill and Hillary, also pops up in this batch of emails. Hillary aide Philippe Reines, in an email dated March 6, 2010, issues his boss “a gentle reminder” that she has committed to talk to a Washington Post reporter who is writing a profile of Barnett. Reines writes Hillary that the reporter, in the reporter’s own words, wants to ask Clinton, “her estimation of what makes Barnett good at what he does.”

One fascinating insight into the relationship between Bill and Hillary: Responding to the death of an old friend, Hillary emailed her closest aide, Huma Abedin, “Where is Bill? Can I call his cell or Doug’s?” (Doug, as in Doug Band, who started as Bill’s body boy, before moving way on up. Huma, meanwhile, is married to former congressman Anthony Wiener and started as Hillary’s body girl.)

The award for the most oily, groveling email of the 7,000 goes to Lanny Davis, long a fixture in and defender of the Clinton camp. He writes to Hillary asking her to talk to a reporter writing a profile of him (in his words: “The American Lawyer is doing a Cover Story (ugh!) about my new law firm…"). You can search it and read it for yourself (just search for document number C05771340), but be sure to be near a sink because you’ll want to wash your hands when you finish; you might even feel the need to take a shower.

P.S. - Anyone know what the 22 in Hillary’s now defunct email address signifies? Not her birthday; not Bill’s or Chelsea’s. HDR, of course, is Hillary Diane Rodham.

Carol Felsenthal is a lifelong Chicagoan and self-proclaimed political junkie. She writes occasionally for Politico Magazine and The Hill. Her books include biographies of Bill Clinton, Katharine Graham, and Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Among her many stories for Chicago are memorable profiles of Michelle Obama and Bruce Rauner. Follow her on Twitter at @csfelsenthal.

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