Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile has denied providing Hillary Clinton with questions from a CNN town hall debate ahead of the event, despite WikiLeaks documents that suggest the former adviser to President Bill Clinton did provide a question to Clinton’s aides.
“I never had access to questions and would never have shared them with the candidates if I did,” Brazile wrote in an statement issued several hours after WikiLeaks broke the news of the alleged collaboration.
However, on March 12 — just one day before a Democratic presidential town hall debate between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Hillary Clinton — Brazile allegedly sent an email titled “From time to time I get the questions in advance,” to Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s campaign communications director. The email provided a question about the death penalty that she said “worries me about HRC.”
The question asked:
19 states and the District of Columbia have banned the death penalty. 31 states, including Ohio, still have the death penalty. According to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, since 1973, 156 people have been on death row and later set free. Since 1976, 1,414 people have been executed in the U.S. That’s 11% of Americans who were sentenced to die, but later exonerated and freed. Should Ohio and the 30 other states join the current list and abolish the death penalty?
Palmieri responded to Brazile’s email with, “Yes, it is one she gets asked about. Not everyone likes her answer but can share it.” She then signaled Betsaida Alcantara, who is Clinton’s director of media planning, asking her to send Brazile Clinton’s answer on the death penalty.
In her statement on Tuesday, Brazile did not directly assert that the email was fake but suggested that Russia might have “forged” the emails in the WikiLeaks documents:
We are in the process of verifying the authenticity of these documents because it is common for Russia to spread misinformation and forge documents, but we cannot bow down to Putin’s wish and allow foreign actors to try and divid or country wight he hope of affecting the outcome on Election Day. There is too much at stake.
Barbara Levin, CNN’s vice president of communications, also denied sharing the town hall questions with Brazile in advance. She issued a statement on Tuesday following the WikiLeaks release, saying, “To be perfectly clear, we have never, ever given a town hall question to anyone beforehand.”
CNN’s Senior Media Correspondent Brian Stelter tried to get ahead of the controversy with a Tuesday column titled: “Wikileaks mystery: How did town hall question get to Clinton campaign?” Stelter clearly implies that TV One host Roland Martin may have leaked the question to Brazile:
Brazile was both a DNC vice chair and CNN political commentator at the time. But CNN flatly denied any coordination. “We have never, ever given a town hall question to anyone beforehand,” a CNN spokeswoman said.
Martin did not deny sharing information with Brazile. Instead, when asked by CNNMoney, he said “my questions were shared with my executive producer and several members of my TV One team.”
When asked in a followup question if he would explicitly rule out any sharing of questions with Brazile, Martin did not respond.
A similarly-worded question was read by Martin at the town hall the next day [March 13, 2016]. He introduced an exonerated former death row inmate who asked Clinton about her view on the matter.
That questioner was named Ricky Jackson — a man who was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1975 and served 39 years on death row in an Ohio prison but was later exonerated:
Brazile’s statement also took the opportunity to criticize Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump:
Our intelligence community has made it clear that the Russian government is responsible for the cyberattacks aimed at interfering with our election, and that WikiLeaks is part of that effort. This revelation should deeply trouble all Americans in both parties. And yet, Donald Trump continues to deny that Russia is behind these attempts to meddle with our electoral process and cheer on these efforts to undermine our democracy.
This is the same man who called for more Russian cyber-espionage against us, who has extensive business ties to Russia, and who regularly coddles Vladimir Putin by praising his leadership and refusing to call him out. I am deeply disappointed that the Republican leaders of the party of Reagan are publicly using information illegally obtained by the Russians, because the national security of our country should not be a partisan issue.
Trump tweeted a response to the WikiLeaks emails revealing that Brazile had allegedly provided the “worrisome” death penalty question to Clinton’s camp ahead of time:
Wow, @CNN Town Hall questions were given to Crooked Hillary Clinton in advance of big debates against Bernie Sanders. Hillary & CNN FRAUD!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2016
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