Hoping for Unity, Democrats Face New Tensions Over Embarrassing Leaks
Policy + Politics

Hoping for Unity, Democrats Face New Tensions Over Embarrassing Leaks

Lucy Nicholson

The Democratic gathering in Philadelphia this week to nominate Hillary Clinton for the fall presidential campaign is threatening to become as fractious as last week’s stormy GOP convention in Cleveland.

Liberal activists who had supported Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont for their party’s nomination are visibly disappointed with Clinton’s choice of centrist Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia as her running mate, and they may try to offer an alternative candidate on the convention floor.

Related: Hacked Emails Expose DNC Plan to Undermine Bernie Sanders

They are also seething over leaked Democratic National Committee emails showing efforts within the party to undermine Sanders’ challenge from the left – one that galvanized millions of young and progressive voters and nearly toppled Clinton.

The controversies over the emails and the choice of Kaine are likely to reverberate throughout the four-day convention during a sweltering heat wave in the Northeast. The convention comes at a critical moment when an unpopular Clinton troubled by email controversies of her own tries to stitch together her party against what is certain to be a formidable challenge from Republican Donald Trump.

Obama’s camp sought to tamp down the major flap over the DNC emails, to the point that campaign manager Robby Mook blamed the Russians for hacking and leaking the DNC email in a bid to embarrass Clinton and help Trump’s campaign.

Mook said Sunday on CNN's State of the Union that unidentified “experts” were telling him that “Russian state actors" broke into the DNC's emails "in order to help Trump.” He said that other experts say these Russians are now selectively releasing the emails.

Related: Clinton Makes ‘Safe’ Choice of Tim Kaine as Her Running Mate

Noting that Trump has repeatedly expressed admiration for Russian president Vladimir Putin, Mook said that Trump “made changes to be more pro-Russian, and when you put all this together [it] is disturbing."

Sanders, the self-styled democratic socialist, bitterly complained throughout the campaign that DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was attempting to “rig” the system to help Clinton, the party’s favorite, lock up the nomination.

Schultz did that, he claimed, by scheduling Democratic presidential debates on weekends or odd times to limit viewership just as Sanders’s campaign was taking off, and by opposing rule changes that might have enabled more independents to vote for him in Democratic primaries.

Sanders on Sunday renewed his call for Schultz to step down and echoed the sentiment of many other Sanders supporters that she should not be allowed to speak during the four-day Democratic convention.

“I told you a long time ago that the DNC was not running a fair operation, that they were supporting Secretary Clinton,” Sanders said on ABC News’s This Week. “So what I suggested could be true six months ago turns out in fact to be true. I’m not shocked, but I am disappointed, and that’s the way it is.”

Related: Are Clinton and Trump Really in a Dead Heat?

However, he strongly signaled that he would not allow the DNC email flap to reopen old wounds between him and Clinton or prompt him to renege on his recent endorsement of Clinton.

Sanders is scheduled to deliver the first major “unity” address of the convention Monday evening. The Clinton campaign is counting on him to help persuade many of the 13 million Americans who supported him during the primaries to set aside their festering grievances and rally round Clinton to defeat Trump.

Sanders was dismissive of a question from ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos concerning whether he was tempted to break away and mount a third party challenge, noting that the stakes for the country were too high with Trump threatening to seize the White House.

“This is a very momentous moment in American history,” Sanders said. “To my mind, what’s most important now is defeating the worst candidate for president that I have seen in my lifetime.”

Asked later this morning on NBC’s Meet the Press whether he was tempted to take up an offer by Jill Stein of the Green Party to join forces with her to seek the presidency – a move that would invariably take support away from Clinton — Sanders replied: “No, no, no. We are going to do everything we can to protect working families in this country.”

Negotiations that finally brought Sanders and Clinton together were difficult and time consuming.  Sanders, his campaign manager Jeff Weaver and other advisers continued to fume until recently about what they considered to be the DNC’s unfair backroom dealings to frustrate their campaign. It was a charge that Trump, happily picked up on in his acceptance speech last Thursday night, denouncing the “rigged” political system of both parties.

Trump told Chuck Todd of Meet the Press that Sanders had been “gamed” by the DNC and that Clinton had delivered another “slap in the face” by choosing Kaine as her running mate over other more liberal possibilities.

Sanders was dismissive of Trump’s feigned sympathy, but acknowledged that he would have preferred a more liberal vice presidential candidate than Kaine, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Sanders and Kaine have sharp disagreements over trade policy and banking issues, among others.

Related: Sanders: It doesn't appear that I'm going to be the nominee

“Tim is a very, very smart guy,” Sanders said of his Senate colleague. “He’s a nice guy. His political views are not my views.”

The anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks dropped a bombshell on the Democrats Friday afternoon by releasing nearly 20,000 hacked DNC emails that revealed an embarrassing and unflattering view of the inner workings of the party.

In one of the emails, a DNC press secretary posed the idea of feeding a storyline to reporters that Sanders’s campaign organization was “a mess.” Another message from Brad Marshall, the DNC’s chief financial officer, suggested somehow raising questions about Sanders’s Jewish faith – and whether he wasn’t really an atheist. Marshall said that hinting that Sanders was an atheist might help Clinton among Southern Baptist voters in Kentucky and West Virginia, where she was badly trailing Sanders.

Marshall apologized in a Facebook post Saturday,  saying his emails were written in the heat of the moment.

Relatated: Clinton Should Brace for a Post-Convention Trump ‘Bump’ in the Polls

Mook, the Clinton campaign manager, said that the DNC needed to investigate the emails and take “appropriate action” at some point – preferably long past the convention.  But he dwelled on his theory that the Russians had orchestrated the leaks to help Trump win the White House.

The highly embarrassing email dump on Friday came on the heels of a Washington Post report last month that Russian hackers “had penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee” and obtained access to the party’s database of opposition research.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, told ABC News Sunday that Mook’s allegation of some kind of ties between Trump’s campaign and the Russians is “absurd” and had “no basis to it.”

“It’s pure obfuscation on the part of the Clinton campaign” because “they don’t want to talk about what the email showed” about the “rigged system,” Manafort said.