Hillary Clinton’s Team Knew Her Private Server Was Going to Be a Scandal, New Emails Show

Right from the beginning, Clinton aides knew her private email account would put them in a world of hurt.

Lucas Jackson / Reuters

In the week after The New York Times published its front-page story revealing Hillary Clinton used a private email account for public business while secretary of state, aides to Clinton scrambled to find a good way to spin the disaster—and soon realized that there wasn’t one.

One email exchange released by WikiLeaks, as a part of those hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s account, illustrates the agony her aides and allies faced. In it, Anne-Marie Slaughter, director of policy planning at State for two years during Clinton’s tenure there, forwarded on an exchange she had with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in March 2015. She was trying to persuade him to sympathize with Clinton; after all, Slaughter wrote, Friedman of all people should understand that the world is changing rapidly, and technology couldn’t always keep up.

Friedman didn’t buy it.

“I have to say I am troubled by what I have read about what Hillary did,” he wrote to her in the exchange she forwarded. “I am keeping an open until I hear what she has to say, but it doesn’t sit right with me. Just to let you know where I stand.”

Slaughter forwarded Friedman’s note on to several Clinton campaign staffers, as well as Clinton’s longtime counsel, Cheryl Mills.

“Fyi from Tom F — not great, but useful to know,” she wrote. “I’m thinking about writing an op-ed myself from the point of view of a former State Dept official.”

Cheryl Mills then forwarded that exchange to a handful of top Clinton advisers, including Philippe Reines and Podesta.

Reines, who was a top adviser to Clinton when she was secretary of state, didn’t seem optimistic that Slaughter would be able to persuade Americans that Clinton’s use of a private email account was justifiable.

“ThereIsJustNoGoodAnswer,” Reines wrote on March 7, 2015.

“We need to gut through the process phase, get them all out there and let the content do the talking,” he added, referring to the Clinton strategy of releasing some of the emails on her private server to try to quell public outrage about the situation.

For what it’s worth, that wasn’t a particularly successful effort. Clinton faces consistently abysmal trustworthiness numbers, and an Oct. 11 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that just 40 percent of Americans have a positive view of her. The general consensus is that Clinton’s email scandal did substantial and permanent damage to her reputation.

Reines and Slaughter did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Daily Beast. The Clinton campaign is not commenting on the authenticity of the emails, and says it believes Russian government intelligence services hacked Podesta’s email and then gave the contents to WikiLeaks in hopes of swinging the American presidential election for Donald Trump. The Clinton campaign has also even suggested that the Russians gave Trump’s campaign a heads-up about the hacks—an allegation Trump’s campaign says is nonsense.