WHEN HILLARY CLINTON came under attack last February for her 2001 vote in favor of a bankruptcy bill that made it more difficult for poor people to discharge their debts, she defended herself by saying she did it for women and children.
During an appearance on ABC News’s “This Week”, Clinton was confronted with a 2004 Bill Moyers video interview with then-consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren, in which she explained that she had personally briefed Clinton on the bankruptcy bill but that large financial contributions from the credit card industry had helped sway the senator in favor of it.
Clinton responded by saying her vote was part of a process of strengthening the bill for women and children. “I faced a tough decision and I stood up for women and children,”she said.
“I was deluged by women’s groups and children’s advocates groups to do everything I could to make sure that child support and women’s precarious financial situation in case of divorce or not being able to get the kind of funding they needed from a partner or a spouse in bankruptcy would not be endangered,”she said. “So I did go to work on behalf of all these women’s groups and children’s groups because they needed a champion. And I got that bill changed.”
But behind the scenes, her campaign soon discovered they had a problem on their hands: They couldn’t find evidence of pressure from women’s and childrens’ groups in favor of the bill — because there was none. Those groups were in fact ferociously opposed. So the Clinton team went into damage control mode, trying to back the candidate up — without compounding the mistake, but without admitting it, either.
The emails that describe their response are among thousands of emails posted by Wikileaks over the past week from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s Gmail account. U.S. intelligence officials maintain that the emails were hacked on orders of the Russian government, in an attempt to interfere with the U.S. elections. Wikileaks is in the process of publishing all of them, even though some have no legitimate public-interest value.
Shortly after the interview, Clinton public-relations consultant Mandy Grunwald suggested that the campaign enlist women’s advocates to back up Clinton’s story. “Since HRC spent so much time on 2001 bankruptcy bill today, should we get [women’s rights attorneys] Marcia Greenberger and Judy Lichtman and other women’s group advocates to put out statements backing up her story and attacking BS?” she asked.
Other senior Clinton aides concurred with Grunwald’s opinion, and policy advisor Ann O’Leary said she would reach out to women’s groups to get their supporting statements.
Hours later, O’Leary returned with bad news. “We have a problem. HRC overstayed [sic] her case this morning in a pretty big way,” she wrote. The advocates they were thinking of going to had all attacked the bill at the time. “Marcia, Judy and I have been figuring out what we could say that doesn’t contradict their 2001 statement.” In a follow-up email, she explained, “She said women groups were all pressuring her to vote for it. Evidence does not support that statement.”
O’Leary then came up with another approach: “But my other idea is to have women Senators who all voted for it to put out statement.”
Later that day, O’Leary provided an update, explaining that she had enlisted the help of the chiefs of staff to Democratic Sens Patty Murray, Barbara Mikulski, and Barbara Boxer, to come to Clinton’s aid.
With respect to the women’s groups, O’Leary noted that “we cannot put something out proactive here b/c the record just isn’t good” but that “Judy and Marcia are also prepared to say that Hillary fought really hard for changes, was with the other women Senators, and committed to keep working with them to strengthen the bill.”
She then linked to a 2001 statements from the National Women’s Law Center — where Greenberger serves as a co-president — condemning the vote. “This bill puts the interests of credit card companies ahead of the needs of women and children owed child support and other families struggling to cope with family breakup, job loss, or catastrophic medical expenses,” Joan Entmacher a senior NWLC staffer, is quoted as saying.
Late in the day, Grunwald sent a panicked email slamming the brakes on the entire initiative.
“One IMPORTANT caution,” she wrote. “I just spoke with Elizabeth Warren’s [Chief of Staff] COS and he’s worried that statements from Mikulski, Murray et al may be salt in the wound. She is quite angry. I can explain if anyone wants details.”