Hillary Clinton campaign chief John Podesta warned staffers that Hillary would be unavailable to personally address a controversy in the campaign.
“She’s down tomorrow and needs (t)o stay down,” he wrote shortly, after a Democratic consultant urged Clinton to call “Chris Geidner at BuzzFeed” to address the situation personally.
The email was part of Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta’s emails released by WikiLeaks.
The controversy featured Clinton’s position on the Defense of Marriage Act signed by former President Bill Clinton while he was in office, stirring a negative reaction from the LGBT community.
During an interview with Rachel Maddow, Clinton argued that her husband signed the bill to stop “political momentum” to amend the Constitution.
“There had to be some way to stop that,” Clinton said. “In a lot of ways, DOMA was a line that was drawn that was to prevent going further.”
That message rang hollow to liberal LGBT activists, who called the Clintons out on the talking point.
Hillary’s rival Bernie Sanders also took up the fight.
“Today, some are trying to rewrite history by saying that they voted for one antigay law to stop something worse,” Sanders said pointedly during his speech at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa. “That’s not the case.”
Richard Socarides, Bill Clinton’s former aide on gay rights issues and a current Democratic strategist, worked with Podesta to stem the damage.
He sent the following advice:
Best if she says something to a reporter herself. She could call Chris Geidner at BuzzFeed. I know that’s hard.
Second best is put out a statement on paper. Either from her or you or Jen. I could help write it.
Third option, possible for somebody to call a reporter on her behalf. Call someone with whom we have a relationship and explain, or I could call and try to explain it but this is definitely not as good as the first two, at least by itself.
In another email chain, the Clinton campaign squabbled back and forth for the best reaction to the controversy apparently before the Huffington Post article was published.
“There is, IMO, deep discontent out there stemming from what she said on Friday,” Dominic Lowell, the LGBT Outreach Director for Clinton’s campaign warned.
Some aides supported the idea of walking back Clinton’s comments; others didn’t.
“Keep in mind: the story will suck regardless,” wrote Clinton spokesperson Brian Fallon. “But I would just say we should use it as the vehicle for giving a statement that reads as a walkback, even as HRC will never approve a true walkback.”
Fallon advised against Clinton herself making a statement, but admitted that the campaign needed to do something to “quell the LGBT backlash.”
By circulating the Huffington Post story, he argued, “our LGBT friends” could see that they successfully humbled the campaign enough to walk it back.
“We are blowing this people. Chains of 40 emails aren’t helping,” a frustrated Podesta replied.
Eventually, Fallon drafted the following statement that was used by the Huffington Post in their article.
Whatever the context that led to the passage of DOMA nearly two decades ago, Hillary Clinton believes the law was discriminatory and both she and President Clinton urged that it be overturned. As President, Hillary Clinton will continue to fight to secure full and equal rights for LGBT Americans who, despite all our progress, can still get married on a Saturday and fired on a Monday just because of who they are and who they love.
The article also included a quote from Socarides:
“(T)here is no question that President Clinton believed that one of the reasons he was willing to sign a bill that he did not like was because he thought he would prevent greater damage.”