The Clinton campaign allowed political calculations to infuse many of its biggest decisions, according to emails leaked Monday that show her planning her Wall Street reform stance to satisfy liberals, plotting to use Keystone pipeline politics to distract from her secret email server and debating how much outrage to show at congressional hearings on Benghazi.
One email exchange also shows just how divisive things can get inside Clinton-land, with a November 2011 message from Doug Band, a longtime counselor to President Bill Clinton, complaining that Chelsea Clinton was being a “spoiled brat kid.”
The documents are part of a cache obtained by WikiLeaks from the private account of John Podesta, a longtime Clinton confidant and chairman of her presidential campaign.
The emails show a calculating candidate who seldom took a stand on a controversial issue without first considering the effect on her White House bid. The leak comes on the heels of another set of Podesta emails that showed Mrs. Clinton admitted to holding “a public and a private” position on big issues such as banking reform.
That turns out to have been true for Keystone as well. The Clinton campaign plotted how to quietly leak that she was opposed to the pipeline, even as she publicly kept neutral.
“We are trying to find a good way to leak her opposition to the pipeline without her having to actually say it and give up her principled stand about not second-guessing the President in public,” her speechwriter, Dan Schwerin, said in one message to top campaign officials.
He said they were considering announcing the Keystone opposition — expected to excite environmentalists — as a way to surmount ongoing questions in August 2015 about the private email server Mrs. Clinton used during her time in the State Department.
Several months later, her campaign team was trying again to gauge the politics of an important moment — her October 2015 testimony to the House Select Committee on Benghazi — and debating how much “outrage” she should display for lawmakers in her opening statement.
A draft of her opening remarks included a line from her book “Hard Choices” in 2014: “I will not be a part of a political slugfest on the backs of dead Americans.” Campaign adviser Mandy Grunwald liked the line because, she said, “we need a bit of moral outrage.”
But campaign official Jennifer Palmieri balked, saying, “I think that is too graphic and splashes back on her as appearing to exploit their deaths.” She was referring to the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Mrs. Clinton didn’t use the line in her opening statement.
Political calculations were apparent in other areas as well.
On Wall Street reform — a key issue in the Democratic primary fight between Mrs. Clinton and Sen. Bernard Sanders — emails show a Clinton campaign deeply afraid that the wrong move could anger influential progressives such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Even before Mrs. Clinton announced her presidential bid last year, she met with Ms. Warren to discuss economic policy in the hopes of crafting a plan that would satiate progressives.
But fears that Ms. Warren would endorse Mr. Sanders persisted, and an October 2015 discussion between top Clinton aides focused on whether the former secretary of state would follow Ms. Warren’s lead and back a reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act, a 1933 law that separated commercial and investment banking. It was repealed in 1999.
At the time of the conversation, Mr. Sanders was pushing a new form of the law to prevent another financial meltdown, but Mrs. Clinton opposed the idea.
“I am still worried that we will antagonize and activate Elizabeth Warren by opposing a new Glass-Steagall. I worry about defending the banks in the debate” with Mr. Sanders, Ms. Grunwald wrote on Oct. 2, 2015. “I understand that we face phoniness charges if we ‘change’ our position now — but we face political risks this way too. I worry about Elizabeth deciding to endorse Bernie.”
Ms. Warren ultimately withheld an endorsement until the primary race was effectively over and then formally backed Mrs. Clinton.
The leaked emails provide addresses for many of those tight with the Clinton camp, including billionaires who run Fortune 500 companies, staffers at the nonprofit Clinton Global Initiative and advisers to President Obama.
Things weren’t always rosy, and Mr. Podesta, at the center of those webs of interactions, found himself moderating internal disputes.
In one instance, Mrs. Clinton was blindsided when Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz hired a CEO for the presidential nominating convention without consulting the Clinton campaign, which had expected to be involved, and without getting approval from the White House.
Mrs. Clinton seemed to take a swing at President Obama’s political operation, saying it “didn’t care to weigh in.”
In another instance of internal discontent, Mr. Podesta fielded complaints from Mr. Band, who called Chelsea Clinton a “spoiled brat.” Mr. Band was expressing concern about the pending publication of a news story drawing connections between Teneo, the firm co-founded by Mr. Band, and MF Global, a scandal-ridden global commodities company that failed in 2011.
The watchdog group Judicial Watch has described Teneo as a “shadowy” firm stocked with Clinton loyalists, including at one time Huma Abedin, one of Mrs. Clinton’s top aides, who worked for Teneo while she was also employed at the State Department.
“Need get this [memo] asap to them although I’m sure cvc [Chelsea V. Clinton] won’t believe it to be true bc she doesn’t want to. Even though the facts speak for themselves,” Mr. Band wrote.
He complained to Mr. Podesta that “if this story gets out, we are screwed,” and that Chelsea Clinton was causing problems for him as an officer of CGI.
“I realize it is difficult to confront and reason with her but this could go [too] far and then we all will have a real serious set of other problems,” Mr. Band wrote. “I don’t deserve this from her and deserve a tad more respect or at least a direct dialogue for me to explain these things. She is acting like a spoiled brat kid who has nothing else to do but create issues to justify what she’s doing because she, as she has said, hasn’t found her way and has a lack of focus in her life. I realize she will be off of this soon but if it doesn’t come soon enough.”
Mrs. Clinton’s secret emails were also a frequent topic for her campaign team, which took repeated stabs at trying to craft a public explanation for her behavior.
As the scandal broke in March 2015, her team plotted to have Mrs. Clinton sit down with “one or two VERY friendly and [malleable] reporters” to spin a story that the campaign initially mishandled. Longtime Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines proposed the idea, saying he and Cheryl Mills would take a hit, but “I’m happy to take one for the new team, it really is in her best interest which is all that really matters.”
Around the same time, the Clinton operation debated whether it was appropriate to joke about her emails.
Some staffers were clearly worried that they could be blindsided by what was in the then-undisclosed messages.
“I wanted to float idea of HRC making a joke about the email situation at the Emily’s List dinner tonight,” wrote Ms. Palmieri. “What do folks think about that?”
Campaign spokesman Nick Merrill replied, “I don’t think it’s nuts if we can come up with the right thing. But it could also be nuts.”
Another adviser said, “It would be good for her to show some humor.”
But Ms. Grunwald expressed concern. “We don’t know what’s in the emails, so we are nervous about this,” she wrote. “Might get a big laugh tonight and regret it when content of emails is disclosed.”
At the dinner, Mrs. Clinton steered clear of discussing her emails. She joked about her purple pantsuit instead.
The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for comment.