The release of nearly 20,000 internal e-mails from high-ranking Democratic National Committee (DNC) officials confirmed what many Sanders supporters long believed: Over the course of the primary, members of the DNC became hostile toward the Vermont senator’s candidacy. In one late April e-mail, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chair who announced her resignation on Sunday, called Sanders’ campaign manager Jeff Weaver an “ass” and a “liar” and discussed strategies for shaping the media’s coverage of the campaign. The e-mails show that by May, DNC staffers wanted Sanders out of the race.
But the bigger question—did the DNC meddle with the primary?—remains unanswered. So far, nobody’s unearthed a “smoking gun” proving that the DNC actively intervened in the process.
There’s a fundamental problem for those spinning the leak as proof that the primaries were rigged: The e-mails that have caused so much outrage were all written after late April, by which time an enormous amount of bad blood had developed between the DNC and the Sanders campaign—mutual antipathy for which both sides bear some blame.
Lots of people have been sifting through the cache for the better part of a week, and the DNC’s internal correspondence prior to late April hasn’t produced any headlines. That suggests the committee members’ disdain for the Sanders camp didn’t reflect their baseline attitude toward a long-shot, anti-establishment challenger from the left. Rather, it appears to have developed over the course of the long race.
A search of the WikiLeaks database returns only a handful of e-mails, all benign, mentioning Bernie Sanders before the relationship between the two organizations began to sour in mid-January. The Sanders campaign had been suspicious of the DNC’s neutrality from the start; among Sanders supporters, it was widely believed that the committee had established a debate schedule that would limit Clinton’s exposure and make it difficult for a rival to gain ground. (The DNC claimed that it had only facilitated negotiations between the campaigns and the networks and didn’t dictate the schedule by fiat.) But a turning point came in December when several Sanders campaign staffers took advantage of a software glitch to access the Clinton campaign’s proprietary data, and the DNC responded by suspending the campaign’s access to the database for 24 hours. The organization said that the suspension was required to review the security breach, but Jeff Weaver issued a blistering press release accusing the DNC of “actively attempting to undermine” the campaign. “Individual leaders of the DNC can support Hillary Clinton in any way they want,” he wrote, “but they are not going to sabotage our campaign.”
As we know, the relationship went downhill from there, and the leaks reveal the degree of contempt that developed between the DNC and the Sanders camp by the end of the campaign. One can certainly argue that DNC officials should have acted more professionally, and handled the controversies that emerged more judiciously. An obvious example came after the brouhaha at the Nevada State Convention, when Wasserman Schultz attacked the Sanders campaign for not condemning his followers “violence.” She compared them to the kind of goons who might attend a Trump rally. But while there was plenty of angry invective at the convention, and some online harassment afterwards, the reports of actual violence proved to be false. The DNC’s characterization infuriated Sanders supporters—it would prove to be one of several unforced errors by the DNC.