Hillary Clinton repeatedly struggled to get in a good joke about her deleted emails — in an effort to make light of a situation that continued to plague her on the campaign trail.
Ahead of Clinton’s Jefferson-Jackson speech, it was clear that her team was struggling after Huma Abedin emailed over a dozen staffers to inform them that she wasn’t convinced that their draft was good enough. The email chain was unstoppable.
Campaign chief John Podesta suggested an idea of a joke, pitching one about Donald Trump and Clinton’s Benghazi testimony.
“I used to be obsessed with Donald Trump’s hair, that was until I got to spend 11 hours staring at the top of Trey Gowdy’s head,” Podesta wrote.
“Just wonder if that undercuts our statesmanship point too much,” replied a public relations consultant on the email.
“I don’t think so,” Podesta answered.
“That’s because you love your own joke,” shot back Director of Communications Jennifer Palmieri.
Jake Sullivan, a foreign policy advisor for the campaign, added that he “loved the joke” but was concerned that Clinton should take the high road.
“I think HRC should stay above the committee – and especially above personal insults about it. She’s got every inch of the high ground right now,” he wrote in response.
“Wow. You people are a bunch of ninnies,” Palmieri replied, before clarifying that she was only “kidding” after someone appeared upset.
Another consultant emailed to say he thought the joke would work, but that it gave Bernie Sanders too much credit for helping her get over her email issues.
He pitched a different idea: “I don’t if you all saw it but the hearing went on for 11 hours. Eleven hours. I was kind of expecting around hour #8 Bernie Sanders would burst in and shout – “enough about your damn emails Hillary!!”
Podesta advised them to steer away from email jokes.
“I defer if others think this buys us good will with Sanders people, but email jokes in Iowa usually end up badly and don’t we want to move on?” he wrote. (It’s possible that Podesta was referring to Clinton’s widely criticized Snapchat joke about her emails at the Iowa Wing Ding dinner.)
Hillary Campaign manager Robby Mook also had a suggestion.
“Is there some Apprentice joke to make? I never saw the show,” he said. “I’m also the worst person to generate jokes.”
It appears that Palmieri enjoyed the thought of a good email joke, suggesting another one during a March, 2015 email to discuss a speech to Emily’s List.
“I wanted to float idea of HRC making a joke about the email situation at the Emily’s List dinner tonight. What do folks think about that?” she wrote.
Campaign spokesperson Nick Merrill gave it some tepid support.
“I don’t think it’s nuts if we can come up with the right thing. But it could also be nuts…” he wrote.
Deputy Communications Director Kristina Schake agreed.
“I think it would be good for her to show some humor. This is her crowd so the response would be great,” she wrote.
A political consultant disagreed.
“We don’t know what’s in the emails, so we are nervous about this,” she cautioned. “Might get a big laugh tonight and regret it when content of emails is disclosed.”
Palmieri also pitched the idea of using an email joke in Terry McAuliffe’s Gridiron Speech.
“Anyway what do we think about using gridiron to puncture the email story a little,” she wrote.
“I’m fine w it,” Mook replied, prompting an annoyed response from Palmieri.
“Fine with it” is the kind of answer I used to get from Dan Pfeiffer,” she wrote back, referring to her former White House colleague. “Do you LIKE it??”
(Obama ended up featuring an email joke in his Gridiron speech instead.)