If Republican National Committee researchers need any help digging up dirt on Hillary Clinton, they might turn to their Democratic counterparts for help.
On Tuesday, a hacker, or possibly a group, going by the name “Guccifer2” released what he said were hundreds of Democratic National Committee documents that exhaustively catalogue Clinton’s political and policy vulnerabilities on just about every issue that’s touched her career. From Benghazi to her private email server to Monica Lewinsky, it’s all there.
A 113-page Word document, appropriately titled “Hillary Clinton Master Doc,” draws on news articles and attacks levied by her opponents in order to create a kind of point/counterpoint guidebook, showing where the DNC thinks Clinton is likely to get hit by her critics and how she or her surrogates might fight back.
The document begins with foreign policy and specifically Benghazi, arguably the favorite talking point of conservatives who continue to question Clinton’s role in an attack that took the lives of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens. The document cites criticism of her own account of the embassy attack, as well as the Obama administration’s mixed “messaging” in the aftermath.
The document moves on to criticism of Clinton’s policies on Syria, Russia, and other countries. None of the harsh words are likely to come as news to most Republicans, but their inclusion in what purports to be a comprehensive portfolio gives a window into how the DNC thinks Clinton needs to prepare for the general election.
A spokesperson for the DNC didn’t respond to a request for comment about the leaks or the authenticity of the documents, but committee officials had previously acknowledged that their computers were hacked and that research was stolen. The documents were released hours before Bloomberg News reported that the computers of the Clinton Foundation, the charitable organization run by the Clinton family, also were hacked, apparently by Russians.
Guccifer2, who draws his name from an earlier data thief, Guccifer, who broke into the email account of Clinton confidante Sidney Blumenthal, claims to be responsible for the intrusion into the DNC. U.S. security researchers have pinned the DNC breach on the Russian government. The Washington Post reported last week that Russian hackers also stole the DNC’s research on Clinton’s opponent, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.
The master document, along with hundreds of others that the hacker released, reveal a Democratic establishment that’s especially anxious about the amount of money Clinton and her husband have made in private life, earning hundreds of millions of dollars between them in book advances and speaking fees. Many of the files and spreadsheets are focused on the Clinton’s finances and her personal travel expenses aboard private jets.
Several documents leaked by Guccifer2 show that DNC researchers, whose annotated notes can still be seen in the electronic files, looked for the tiniest potential infraction or questionable item in Clinton’s travel expenses, for instance, asking why one trip from New York to Washington, D.C., aboard a Bank of America jet cost just $45.75, an amount that a researcher called “weirdly low.”
A whole section in the “Master Doc” is devoted to questions and criticism about the money Clinton made from her book advance, book tour, and her public speeches, which generally ran around $250,000 per appearance and required the host to provide first-class travel and accommodations. In Clinton’s defense, the DNC cites articles stressing that fees went to the Clinton Foundation, and characterizing the work that the former secretary did in her private life not as an attempt to enrich herself, but to benefit her and her husband’s charitable work.
The document also delves into subtler territory where the DNC seems to think Clinton is vulnerable.
A section titled “Beatability” discusses Clinton’s perceived “lack of authenticity” and whether her nomination seeming “inevitable” might turn off prospective voters.
On hot-button policy issues, that DNC researcher also attempted to poke holes in Clinton’s potential defense, a process known as “red teaming.” For instance, one bullet point stresses that “Secretary Clinton successfully negotiated the 2012 Israel-Gaza ceasefire with the help of Egypt.” The DNC researcher notes, “This is an accomplishment that unraveled a bit in 2014, but was noted frequently during her book tour.”
On Cuba policy, the document argues that clinton “worked to free Alan Gross from Cuba and advocated for his release” after the U.S. government contractor was arrested in 2009 and accused of being a spy. “She clearly didn’t succeed at the time,” the researcher pointed out. “She also opposed swapping Gross in exchange for five [Cuban] spies” the U.S. was holding. (In December 2014, the U.S. and Cuba released their respective prisoners, though each government claimed their actions weren’t coordinated.)
The document also seeks to draw contrasts between Clinton and other Obama administration officials. In a section titled “Defense of China Policy as Secretary of State,” the DNC links to an opinion item in the Wall Street Journal by Brookings Institution scholar Michael O’Hanlon, who wrote that Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, “has not conveyed the sense of focus on the region” that she had while in office. O’Hanlon praised Clinton’s tenure as “arguably the most consequential” with respect to China and wrote that her “firmness,” “clarity,” and “respect for China…bode well for how she would handle Beijing as president.”
The DNC catalogue covers even more obscure terrain and controversies. It recalls Clinton’s position, from 2000, that Elian Gonzalez, the young Cuban boy living in Florida, should be sent back to his native country and reunited with his father. And it links to press coverage of an Ecuadorian woman, Estefania Isaias, who was accused of fraud but allowed to travel to the U.S., where she worked for an Obama fundraiser, after a ban a travel ban was lifted while Clinton was Secretary of State.
The DNC dissects Clinton’s positions on healthcare, the environment, immigration, gun rights, eminent domain, LGBT issues, the financial sector, voting rights, and even her stance on whether to name Washington, D.C.’s, professional football team the Redskins. (She was against it.)
And while the litany of Clinton’s career high and low points list steers clear of some of the wilder conspiracy theories that have continued to animate her most strident critics—such as the accusation that she was involved in the death of White House deputy counsel Vince Foster—several pages of the “Master Doc” are devoted to one of her darkest chapters, the Monica Lewinsky affair.
Drawing entirely from passages in the book The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House, by journalist Kate Andersen Brower, the DNC points to Clinton’s desire for privacy in the midst of the sex and impeachment sagas, as well as reports that she physically assaulted President Bill Clinton with a book. The document doesn’t attempt to debunk any accusations, but nevertheless recalls them in their gory detail, including one passage of the book where White House personal staff found “blood all over the president and first lady’s bed,” apparently after Hillary Clinton threw a book at her husband’s head.
As for books, the hacker Guccifer2 also released a separate DNC document listing the “negative press” that Clinton received for her memoir, Hard Choices.
“Hillary Clinton’s memoir had disappointing sales…” the DNC summary begins. It continues, “…as did the People magazine issue that put Secretary Clinton on the cover.” Reviews slammed the book for its “lack of substance,” the DNC concluded, citing one that argued “Hard Choices is a good example of why publishers don’t disclose advances.” (Various claims have pegged the advance at $14 million.)
Other documents leaked by the hacker include copies of Clinton’s tax returns and her personal financial statements, as well as a breakdown of how much money she paid to travel by private jet. None of that’s news, but it’s another indication of where the DNC thinks Clinton could be assailed.
The document dump isn’t solely focused on Clinton, however. There are at least three papers that list the relative strengths and weaknesses of Vice President Joe Biden, using the same format as those drawn up on Clinton. It’s not clear whether the DNC thought Biden might mount his own presidential run, but he had flirted with the idea and eventually declared publicly that he would not seek the nomination.
And while it’s not clear that the documents Guccifer2 released represent everything the DNC has, if not being included is a sign of how seriously the committee takes a candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders should note: There are no position papers on the candidate who gave Clinton the strongest run for her money.
The DNC devoted more attention to Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, drawing up at least four documents on various policy positions for a candidate who flamed out after less than five months in the race.
—with additional reporting by Alexa Corse