Last Thursday, Donna Brazile dropped a bombshell on a Democratic coalition that’s still nursing open wounds from a bruising 2016 primary fight. But, as more details have emerged about what Brazile described as Hillary Clinton’s “secret takeover” of the party infrastructure, it looks a lot less explosive than it first appeared to be.
Brazile, who is set to release an insider’s view of the 2016 race this week titled Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House, wrote for Politico that shortly after becoming interim chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) last summer she unearthed evidence that Hillary Clinton’s campaign had taken control of the ostensibly neutral institution a year earlier, months before the first primary votes had been cast.
It had been widely reported that both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns had signed identical joint fundraising deals with the DNC, with the eventual nominee being able to use funds that were raised for the general election. But the Clinton campaign had also signed a separate “memorandum of understanding” in July of 2015, according to NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald, who reported on this memo shortly after Brazile’s Politico piece went live. In exchange for an initial payment of $1.2 million to defray some of the debt the DNC had accrued under the leadership of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and with additional payments to follow, the Clinton campaign would enjoy, as Brazile described it,
the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about…budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings.
In Brazile’s telling, this scheme came to light only as a result of her sleuthing. She writes that, shortly after she took over the helm of the DNC from Wasserman Schultz last July, she promised Senator Sanders that she “would get to the bottom of whether Hillary Clinton’s team had rigged the nomination process.” She had already had suspicions based on the leaked DNC e-mails, she wrote, “but who knew if some of them might have been forged? I needed to have solid proof.”
That proof was in the side agreement. According to Brazile, Gary Gensler, Clinton’s chief financial officer, later told her that “the party [was] fully under the control of Hillary’s campaign.”
Coming from a figure like Brazile, who embodies the party establishment, the story was catnip for political reporters. When Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) later told reporters that Brazile’s revelations proved that the primaries were “rigged” against Sanders, many of his supporters saw it as vindication of their claims, despite the fact that Warren didn’t articulate a mechanism by which even a Clinton-controlled DNC could have swung around 3 million primary votes to the eventual nominee.