Explosive revelations by a top Democratic operative that the 2016 primaries were tipped in Hillary Clinton’s favour have convulsed the party as it struggles to rebuild, and whipped up accusations of cheating from President Donald Trump.
Donna Brazile, the Democratic National Committee’s interim chairwoman during key months of the presidential campaign, said Clinton’s team essentially took over day-to-day operations of the DNC, in essence rigging the system against Senator Bernie Sanders, who was challenging Clinton for the party’s nomination.
In a book excerpt published Thursday by Politico, Brazile said her DNC chair predecessor, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, had “let Clinton’s headquarters in Brooklyn do as it desired” when it came to controlling party strategy and staffing.
She also said that an agreement reached between the DNC and Clinton’s campaign to bring the party out of debt allowed Clinton to “control” party finances, strategy, and the money raised.
“This was not a criminal act, but as I saw it, it compromised the party’s integrity,” Brazile said.
Political Washington shuddered with the revelations, with members of the Sanders camp crying foul and demanding changes to the DNC framework.
As of Friday, Neither Sanders nor Clinton had responded publicly to Brazile’s remarks.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Sanders ally who campaigned with Clinton after she won the nomination, expressed exasperation over what happened.
“This is a real problem,” Warren, seen as a potential 2020 presidential candidate, told CNN. “We’ve got to hold this party accountable.”
Asked whether she believes the system was rigged, Warren said “yes.”
Trump seized on the crisis Friday, telling reporters that Brazile’s book shows that Clinton “bought the DNC and stole the election from Bernie.”
He also took the unusual step of suggesting that US justice officials investigate one of his political rivals.
“Everybody is asking why the Justice Department (and FBI) isn’t looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary & the Dems,” Trump said at the start of a series of tweets about the scandal.
“Pocahontas just stated that the Democrats, lead by the legendary Crooked Hillary Clinton, rigged the Primaries! Lets go FBI & Justice Dept,” he said.
Pocahontas is a nickname — some call it a slur — that Trump has repeatedly used to refer to Warren, in reference to her self-proclaimed Native American ancestry.
Minutes later, as he departed for an extended trip to Asia, Trump tweeted from Air Force One that Sanders supporters “have every right to be apoplectic.”
“I always felt I would be running and winning against Bernie Sanders, not Crooked H, without cheating, I was right.”
Brazile, 57, is a longtime Democratic strategist, having worked on several political campaigns.
She became a Democratic analyst for CNN. Although she was on leave since July 2016 to serve as interim DNC chair, she resigned from the network that October after hacked emails released by WikiLeaks showed that she had shared questions with Clinton’s campaign ahead of a debate sponsored by the network.
The new DNC chairman Tom Perez, who served in president Barack Obama’s cabinet, did not respond directly to the Brazile allegations.
“We’re moving forward,” Perez insisted to CNBC.
“One of my goals here as DNC chair is to make sure that the nominating process for 2020 is a process that’s totally fair and transparent for everybody,” he said, adding that the Democratic primary debate schedule will be set “well in advance” of knowing who the candidates will be.
Sanders had complained last year that the debate schedule was set to favor Clinton, because they were held during off-hours so that fewer people saw Clinton’s challengers.