Senior Democratic officials were quick to dismiss recent claims by Donna Brazile that the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign exercised extensive influence over the Democratic National Committee, including an agreement that gave the campaign power to vet communications by the party during the presidential primary.
“Lee, I love you, but this is really, totally irrelevant,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in response to The Intercept’s question about the fairness of the DNC-Clinton agreement. “Let’s focus on what we got to do to win not only in 2018 and 2020 going forward, and it ain’t looking back in 2016 and thinking about some agreement everybody’s done before.”
Minyon Moore, an at-large member of the DNC and senior adviser to Clinton, said the agreement wasn’t unusual “because the DNC is always considered the stepchild, and we want candidates who want to help build the party.”
Maria Echaveste, a former aide in Bill Clinton’s administration who backed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, said she had not read the agreement but asserted that any “notion that the Hillary campaign controlled the DNC and therefore rigged the election, the selection process, is nonsense.” But, she added, that “in terms of the DNC, we have a lot to learn.”
Emanuel, Moore, and Echaveste made these comments in response to questions from The Intercept at a Monday event sponsored by Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service celebrating the 25th anniversary of Bill Clinton’s presidency.
After the question from The Intercept, Lauren Mullins, director of communications at the institute, told us that the question period was reserved for “members of the GPP community” and asked that we move to the back of the room.
Brazile, who served as interim chair of the DNC from July 2016 to February 2017, published an excerpt from her forthcoming memoir in Politico last week, exposing an agreement between the Clinton campaign and the DNC that gave the campaign power to pre-approve committee decisions and communications. (On Sunday, Brazile said she found no evidence the 2016 Democratic primary was rigged, tempering the accusations she made in her memoir.)
Brazile’s revelations led to the release of fundraising agreements between the DNC and Clinton’s campaign, as well as a similar agreement with the Bernie Sanders campaign. Notably, Clinton’s joint fundraising agreement with the DNC differed substantially from that of the Sanders campaign, which did not include provisions giving the campaign approval over DNC messaging or decision-making.
The former Bill Clinton aides further defended the current management of the party, including DNC Chair Tom Perez’s decision to appoint a number of corporate lobbyists to leadership positions at the party.
As The Intercept reported, Perez moved in October to purge longstanding party officials seen as friendly to Sanders and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., while appointing a number of corporate lobbyists, including registered lobbyists for Citigroup, a nuclear power company, and News Corporation (the parent company of Fox News), as at-large members of the DNC. The at-large committee members also serve as so-called “super delegates,” charged with helping to select the party’s presidential nominee.
The Intercept also asked the speakers to opine on lobbyists serving as DNC at-large members.
“As a former lobbyist, I can say there are good lobbyists and there are bad lobbyists,” Echaveste responded. She defended the inclusion of corporate lobbyists by pointing to other groups that employ lobbyists, such as the Sierra Club. “That’s the thing about Americans. We are the most organization-prone people,” Eschaveste said.
Echaveste is the co-founder of NVG LLC, a lobbying shop that serves a variety of clients. Echaveste was previously registered to lobby on behalf a trade group of health insurance companies to influence former President Barack Obama’s health care reform bill, as well as a trade group of payday lenders on a bill designed to provide further regulation of the industry.
Moore, a principal at the lobbying firm Dewey Square Group, was one of the Perez-appointed at-large members of the DNC. She bristled at the notion that her firm engages in lobbying.
“I am happy to tell you publicly that I have never been a lobbyist, and if I was, I would own up to the reason why,” Moore said. “But what I do for a living is I actually help corporations probably get to where your values are.”
Asked after the event to explain how she advises corporate clients and how she defines her role at Dewey Square Group, Moore declined to comment. Witnessing the encounter, Mullins intervened to block any further questions.
She claimed that “reporters on campus are not allowed to ask questions,” even after an event concludes. Mullins further explained that reporters are welcome to silently attend the event, but are barred from interviewing speakers at any time on campus.
Mullins, a former registered lobbyist for the Embassy of Saudi Arabia, said that it is “Georgetown’s policy” to prevent reporters from speaking to any student or speaker during or after a public event.
Moore is not a registered lobbyist, but her firm is well-known as a top Democratic lobbying firm. Dewey Square Group worked on behalf of health insurance companies to shape the Affordable Care Act. The firm touts its ability to win “favorable legislative or policy outcomes” for its business and nonprofit clients. Federal lobbying-disclosure laws are infamously vague and many firms engaged in lobbying activities arbitrarily decide whether or not to register all of their employees.
Dewey Square Group is currently registered in Massachusetts to lobby public officials on behalf of clients, such as Walgreens, Tenet Health, Spectra Energy, Capital One, and Apple. Emails obtained by the House Oversight Committee in 2009 revealed that Moore was part of the Dewey Square Group lobbying team that played a central role in assisting Countrywide, the subprime mortgage lender, to shape legislation on Capitol Hill.
“Doug — Minyon Moore is a former White House Staffer and lead lobbyist for Dewey Square whom we have on retainer. The lobbying company is also one of Angelo’s preferred,” Jimmie Williams, a former mortgage banking lobbyist, wrote to a colleague in 2004, recommending a loan from the “Friends of Angelo” program for discounted mortgages. The VIP loan program was an internal effort by former Countrywide Chief Executive Officer Angelo Mozilo to influence political insiders in Washington, D.C.
Countrywide’s parent company, Bank of America, paid a $335 million settlement over claims that Countrywide, during the height of the housing crisis, systematically discriminated against African-American and Hispanic borrowers with inflated fees.
The recent controversy sparked by Brazile’s book has cast a new spotlight on the influence of lobbyists and establishment political figures over the Democratic Party.
On CNN last Thursday, Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen argued that the tell-all memoir is simply a distraction. “I have to say for Democrats to spend a second re-litigating this primary fight, could not be stupider,” Rosen declared.
Not mentioned during the segment, however, is Rosen’s financial interest in the debate. In Brazile’s book, “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-Ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House,” she complains that the DNC was beset with “hangers-on and sycophants.” From the Washington Post:
In her first few days on the job, Brazile writes that she also discovered the DNC was $2 million in debt and that the payroll was stacked with “hangers-on and sycophants.” For instance, Wasserman Schultz kept two consulting firms — SKDKnickerbocker and Precision Strategies — each on $25,000-a-month retainers, and one of Obama’s pollsters was still being paid $180,000 a year.
Rosen serves as managing director of SKDKnickerbocker.
As for Georgetown’s policy on campus interviews, a spokesperson subsequently provided the campus policy to us, which, it turns out, does not prevent any post-event interviews:
Georgetown University expects that any speaker visiting campus takes questions from members of our community. While many events are open to members of the media, we aim to ensure that the question and answer period allows our students, faculty, and staff to ask questions of the speaker. It is up to individual speakers whether they grant interviews to members of the media outside of the allotted time for the event.
Indeed, members of the press routinely ask questions at Georgetown University events.
Georgetown University has touted itself as a champion of the First Amendment on college campuses. In September, the university hosted Attorney General Jeff Sessions for a major speech on challenges to free speech on university campuses. That month, former Goucher College President Sanford J. Ungar also announced a Georgetown project to “study the condition of free speech in America today, both in higher education and in civil society, in an attempt to create frameworks that promote public discussion about divisive issues in a civil manner.”
The Ungar project will reportedly study challenges to press freedom.
Update: Nov. 6, 2017
This story was updated to include information on Georgetown’s media access policies.