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Emails show debate behind Clinton’s shift on pipeline

Michael Biesecker
Associated Press

Washington — Hacked emails show Hillary Clinton’s campaign wrestled with how to announce her opposition to construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline without losing the support of labor unions that supported to project.

Emails published this week by WikiLeaks show debate and confusion within the Clinton camp as it faced down the unexpectedly strong primary challenge by liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders, who opposed the pipeline.

As Clinton prepared to come out against the pipeline last year, her aides worried about how her shift in position would be perceived.

Clinton press secretary Brian Fallon asked in an email whether the candidate’s “newfound position on Keystone” would be “greeted cynically and perhaps as part of some manufactured attempt to project sincerity?”

The emails were stolen from the accounts of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, the latest in a series of high-profile hacks that U.S. intelligence officials have blamed on Russia. Clinton has condemned the breaches as an attempt by a hostile foreign government to sway the election in favor of her Republican rival, Donald Trump.

For seven years, the administration of President Barack Obama delayed deciding whether to build the pipeline to carry heavy crude oil from the tar sands of western Canada more than 1,700 miles to refineries on the U.S Gulf Coast. The pipeline had long been a flashpoint in the political debate over climate change, with environmentalists opposing its construction and Republicans in Congress voicing strong support.

As secretary of state, Clinton helped oversee the federal government’s yearslong review of the pipeline’s economic and environmental impact. Asked about the issue in 2010, Clinton said: “We’ve not yet signed off on it. But we are inclined to do so.”

But once she left the State Department and began preparing for her presidential run, Clinton studiously avoided taking a hard position on whether the pipeline should be built.

Clinton campaign labor liaison Nikki Budzinski and others warned that opposing the Keystone pipeline might earn the ire of union leaders who supported the pipeline due to the thousands of construction jobs that would be created.

Political director Amanda Renteria offered reassurance in an August 2015 email that even if Obama took that position, the campaign could still keep support of the trade unions.