Clinton Mich. adviser sidesteps WikiLeaks revelations

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

East Lansing — Hillary Clinton’s top adviser in Michigan deflected questions Friday about revelations from the WikiLeaks release of Clinton campaign emails and said the focus should be on suspected Russian attempts to influence the presidential election.

The document-dumping website WikiLeaks.org has been publishing emails hackers stole from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email accounts that have provided Republicans with fresh fodder to question the Democratic nominee’s honesty with voters.

The trove of emails have included partial transcripts of Clinton’s lucrative private speeches, including one address to Brazilian bankers in which Clinton was quoted as saying her “dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders.” Clinton’s comments appear to run counter to her campaign message that she would clamp down on free trade if elected president.

Stephen Neuman, senior adviser to Clinton’s Michigan campaign, said Friday the actual hacking of Podesta’s email account was “the really most important thing to think about.”

“Every American should have a shivver up their spine about the idea of a foreign government trying to commit a cyber crime against America in terms of trying to influence the outcome of a U.S. election,” Neuman said during a taping of WKAR-TV’s “Off The Record.”

The Clinton campaign has not confirmed or disputed the authenticity of the emails released by WikiLeaks. But Podesta has acknowledged he has contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation about his account being hacked.

“I think many of these emails have not yet been authenticated,” Neuman said.

The WikiLeaks emails have revealed, among other things, a Clinton campaign aide and ally mocked Catholics in private discussions and showed how Clinton’s team initially struggled in March 2015 to grasp the political ramifications of revelations that she stored her State Department emails on a private server in her New York home.

A Clinton aide drafted a letter in March 2015 that “assumes that she’s ultimately going to support both TPA and TPP,” the Trade Promotion Authority fast-track powers for the president to forge trade pacts and the proposed 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership. Clinton later opposed TPA and TPP.

“Today’s email release reveals what we already knew, that Hillary Clinton supports TPP and TPA and she lied about it to the American people at the debate,” said Jason Miller, spokesman for Republican rival Donald Trump, in a Thursday statement.

Another email showed Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook sought to get the mid-March Illinois primary moved to a later date to cut off “a lifeline to a moderate Republican candidate after the mostly southern Super Tuesday.” Illinois ultimately kept its primary on March 15, one week after Michigan’s primary. Clinton narrowly lost Michigan to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but barely won Illinois.

The Associated Press reported Friday that Clinton said in a 2013 speech that the United States would “ring China with missile defense” if the Chinese government failed to curb North Korea’s nuclear program.

The WikiLeaks release of purported transcripts of Clinton’s paid speeches between 2013 and 2015 came after Clinton herself has refused calls by Trump and Sanders to release them.

Neuman defended Clinton’s transparency in the Friday public television interview, noting that Trump still refuses to release his tax returns. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have made public nearly four decades of their tax returns.

“This has been an extraordinary transparent campaign for president,” he said. “On the other side, Donald Trump hasn’t released his tax returns, notwithstanding that every presidential candidate since 1976 has released their tax returns.”

Neuman added: “These were speeches she gave as a private citizen and I think she’s given lots of speeches over lots of years, and I think people have a real sense of where Hillary Clinton is.”

U.S. intelligence officials have suspected Russian actors were behind the hack of Podesta’s emails, which WikiLeaks has been releasing in batches.

Podesta has suggested the WikiLeaks email dump was a coordinated attack on Clinton by Trump adviser Roger Stone and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a harsh Clinton critic.

“The other question, I think, that we haven’t gotten to or spent very much time on is, why is it that the Russian government is so interested in electing Donald Trump president of the United States?” Neuman asked. “Maybe that question would be answered if we saw Mr. Trump’s tax returns.”

One email in the WikiLeaks trove has a tie to Michigan Democratic politics and has not been disputed by the individuals involved.

In June 2015, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell sent Clinton’s former chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, a blistering email complaining about being excluded from a “Michigan Women for Hillary” group that featured two fellow Democratic women leaders — U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

“I am pissed,” Dingell wrote in the email to Mills, noting problems with Clinton’s failed 2008 campaign for the White House. “Too many feelings were hurt last time, too much back stabbing, no team building.....looks like same old machinations returning and gives me 0 confidence.”

Mills sought to mend fences with Dingell by getting her included in the group, which was organized by former Michigan First Lady Janet Blanchard and Democratic consultant Jill Alper.

Dingell and Alper declined to comment Wednesday on the email, but neither disputed its authenticity.

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3661

Twitter: @ChadLivengood