WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign fretted over Elizabeth Warren’s powerful influence with the left wing of the Democratic Party, trying to open lines of communication with the Massachusetts senator months before Clinton announced her bid and later worrying that Warren might endorse Bernie Sanders, according to leaked campaign e-mails released Monday.
The e-mails are from a massive hack into Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s private account. The first group of e-mails was published by WikiLeaks last week and this latest batch, like the earlier release, reveals some of the inner machinations of a modern political campaign.
The e-mails also shed light on one of the most important relationships in Democratic politics — the connection between Clinton and Warren, which will only grow in importance should Clinton win the White House.
Clinton’s staff sought to soothe Warren and draw her close, even as they resisted some of her key policy positions, the latest e-mails show.
Because of her enormous popularity with liberals and prodigious fund-raising abilities, Warren’s presence loomed large over the Democratic primary, even though she publicly stayed out of the nomination process.
One e-mail revealed that last year — as Sanders, the Vermont senator, was attracting huge crowds in his primary challenge to Clinton — Clinton’s top advisers debated whether she should modify her views on banking regulation to keep Warren happy.
“I am still worried that we will antagonize and activate Elizabeth Warren by opposing a new Glass-Steagall,” wrote Clinton consultant Mandy Grunwald in October 2015. “I worry about defending the banks in the debate.”
Glass-Steagall was a banking regulatory law that was repealed in the last year of Bill Clinton’s presidency, a move that many people contend contributed to the excessive risk-taking on Wall Street and subsequent 2008 economic collapse.
Grunwald reminded Clinton’s brain trust that the campaign wasn’t addressing a key part of Warren’s message.
“We are not including Elizabeth’s core point about this — that the five biggest banks are now 30 percent bigger than they were five years ago,” Grunwald wrote.
Grunwald also suggested that Clinton was actually open to taking a tougher position on re-regulating the banks.
“My understand from HRC is that she left her call kind of leaning toward endorsing Glass-Steagall,” Grunwald wrote. “Jake says this is a political decision,” Grunwald added, referring to Clinton’s top campaign policy advisor Jake Sullivan.
And Grunwald included a warning. “I understand that we face phoniness charges if we ‘change’ our position now — but we face political risks this way too,” she wrote. “I worry about Elizabeth deciding to endorse Bernie.”
Clinton never adopted any plan for reinstating a version of Glass-Steagall. And Warren stayed on the sidelines during the presidential primaries, endorsing Clinton only after the voting was done.
The e-mails also provide a window into the hand-wringing of Clinton’s staff as its members prepared for a December 2014 meeting between Clinton and Warren. At the time Warren was still being discussed as a potential candidate herself.
Clinton aide Huma Abedin wrote in a November 2014 e-mail that Warren’s team wanted “a direct conversation about economic policy.”
The Clinton staff was also aware the meeting would be reported in the press.
“Will definitely get leaked!” warned Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager in the e-mail chain.
Indeed, the meeting was reported by The New York Times about two months after it occurred.
Mook cautioned the others not to overprepare Clinton with too many talking points.
“We want her to be candid and frank,” Mook wrote.
He also revealed that Clinton’s team was hoping to use the meeting to forge an ongoing relationship with Warren, and suggested that Clinton could ask Warren for advice and input on policy.
“I think she should be armed with next steps, since it’s a way to keep the dialogue going,” Mook suggested in November 2014.
The Clinton team seemed to be paying close attention to press reports of Warren’s comments about Clinton or her policies. The monitoring of Warren was evidently becoming irritating to the senator’s staff.
“I think every time EW says something interpreted as not being effusive enough or critical, she hears from a Neera, Gillibrand, Mandy,” wrote Abedin, referring to a trio of Clinton allies including Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and Grunwald, the Clinton consultant who has also worked for Warren.
“Basically her people are saying enough already, lets just talk direct,” Abedin wrote.
Before the meeting Clinton’s team also sought nuggets about Warren’s thinking from her top allies, such as Mindy Myers, then Warren’s chief of staff, and Grunwald.
“Has Mindy given any intel on what EW wants/needs/hopes for?” asked Mook. “Or could Mandy provide some intel? It would just be such a big deal for this meeting to go well and have EW walk out feeling positive and on board.”
The e-mails show Warren kept a cordial relationship with the Clinton campaign during the 2016 primaries. Using her personal gmail address, Warren sent a warm note to Podesta on March 17 — two days after Clinton had obliterated Sanders in five primaries, including Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio.
“Good to see you Tuesday,” Warren said. “I see it turned out to be a very good day for Secretary Clinton. Congratulations. I know a lot of hard work went into that.”
Warren appeared to reference their conversation.
“Your comment that a shorter, simpler platform seemed desirable is borne our [sic] statistically,” she said, and added a link to an opinion piece published in The New York Times that extolled the benefits of a snappier and shorter Democratic Party platform.
The e-mails contained some lighter moments about their internal policy differences and views on the base of the party that Warren represents.
Clinton’s top staff bantered about their candidate’s position on the minimum wage, with her policy director Jake Sullivan saying that Podesta supports the liberal view that it should be set to $15 an hour.
“John Podesta [and the Red Army] want to support $15!” wrote Sullivan.
In response, Tanden, the Center for American Progress leader, responded: “When you say Red Army, you mean the base of the Democratic party, right? Just want to be clear here.”Annie Linskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @annielinskey.