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The Democratic Party establishment is rapidly consolidating around the candidacy of Joe Biden as its best chance to stop Bernie Sanders’ drive to the Democratic nomination. This week on Intercepted: It’s Super Tuesday, and the battle lines are drawn in a campaign that will not only determine who will face Donald Trump in the general election, but also the future of the Democratic Party. The Intercept’s Lee Fang discusses who is funding and running the Biden campaign, the role of dark money in the attack against Sanders, and the looming influence of superdelegates. As the Democratic establishment intensifies its battle to ward off a Sanders insurgency, former Hillary Clinton adviser Peter Daou describes why he is now backing Sanders. Daou also discusses the opposition files compiled on Sanders and rejects the claims he has not been “vetted.”
Newscaster: We want to take you now to the White House where moments ago President Trump addressed the coronavirus. Let’s listen in.
Donald J. Trump: You know, I’m the President of the United States. This is a list of the best-rated countries in the world and the United States is now, we’re rated number one.
Reporter: CDC said yesterday that they believe it’s inevitable that the virus will spread in the United States. And it’s not a question of if but when. Do you agree with that assessment?
DJT: I have the worst fever and the worst flu. Is this just like the flu? This is not good. Because of all we’ve done the risk to the American people remains very bad. Very bad, I think American people beyond what people would have thought. Worst case scenario, doesn’t matter what I say, really, I can tell you panic. I hope it’s going to be fine. Thank you all. Thank you all. I may leave you behind and you can answer a few more questions.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City. And this is episode 119 of Intercepted.
Bernie Sanders: There is a massive effort trying to stop Bernie Sanders. That’s not a secret to anybody in this room. The corporate establishment is coming together. The political establishment is coming together and they will do everything. They are really getting nervous that working people are standing up.
JS: The Democratic Party establishment is rapidly consolidating around the candidacy of Joe Biden as its best chance to stop Bernie Sanders’s drive to the Democratic nomination. Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is continuing to blast his propaganda ads across the country. And Elizabeth Warren is vowing to stay in the race regardless of how she fares in the 14 states voting on Super Tuesday. There are SuperPACs parading around as unity groups that are basically just anti-Sanders attack operations. The New York Times reports that Democratic Party bosses are “willing to risk intraparty damage to stop Sanders’s nomination at the national convention in July if they get the chance.” And things are certainly going to get even uglier in the days ahead.
James Carville: If you’re voting for him, because you think he’ll win the election, because he’ll galvanize here to for sleepy parts of the electorate, then politically, you’re a fool.
Joe Scarborough: There have been some candidates at times that I’ve seen on the stage in their 70s that just don’t look healthy. Again, I’m not just talking about Bernie Sanders.
Chuck Todd: Is it even possible to stop Bernie Sanders?
Pete Buttigieg: With every passing day I am more and more convinced that the only way we will defeat Trump and Trumpism is with a new politics that gathers people together. We need leadership to heal a divided nation, not drive us further apart.
Joe Biden: It’s going to be much more difficult to win back the Senate and keep the House if Bernie’s at the top of the ticket, but that’s a judgment for them to make and I think that will sort of work itself out in the near term.
JS: With Amy Klobuchar dropping out and tossing her support behind Joe Biden, it will undoubtedly have some impact on the race in the Super Tuesday state of Minnesota. And while conventional analysis would say that it’s to Biden’s advantage, Amy Klobuchar has come under a lot of fire recently on issues of race and her time as a prosecutor and Bernie Sanders was already competitive in Minnesota, even with Klobuchar still in the race. The reality is that Klobuchar’s minuscule support in both primaries and polls was always just akin to basically some crumbs on the Democratic establishment table. It’s also going to be interesting to see what impact Pete Buttigieg endorsing Biden will have. Buttigieg achieved an almost total absence of votes from African Americans and Latinx voters during his four-state run, but he definitely was making aggressive appeals to become the centrist or establishment choice and he was competitive in overwhelmingly white states like Iowa and New Hampshire. He also had a lot of billionaires supporting him, so I guess there’s that.
And then there is Elizabeth Warren. Her campaign sent out a memo over the weekend, saying that Warren was committed to staying in the race past Super Tuesday, and the memo stated that the campaign expects Warren “to have a strong delegate performance on Super Tuesday.” They argued, “Our grassroots campaign is built to compete in every state and territory and ultimately prevail at the national convention in Milwaukee.” Now, while Warren has frequently praised Bernie Sanders’s record and positions, she has been attacking him more sharply, particularly over the past few weeks, including the night of the South Carolina primary.
Elizabeth Warren: Demands more than a senator who has good ideas but whose 30-year track record shows he consistently calls for things that fail to get done and consistently opposing things that nevertheless, he fails to stop.
JS: Now, if Elizabeth Warren believes — and her internal campaign polling shows — that she is going to pull off a series of stunning upsets today, on Super Tuesday, then this strategy makes sense. Warren is making an argument that she is the better progressive candidate and that she would do a better job of implementing progressive policies than Bernie Sanders. Whether you agree with that or not, it is a reasonable argument for Warren to make. But if the public polls hold up, then her only path to the presidential nomination would be in a contested convention where she likely has substantially fewer delegates than either Sanders or as it seems now Biden. So, it is a bit perplexing what exactly is at the core of this strategy to attack Bernie Sanders.
EW: We want to gain as many delegates to the convention as we can from California to right here in Texas.
JS: Are these attacks against Sanders because Warren believes she can win over his voters? Because that has not happened in the four states that already voted. Is it a campaign to be vice president on a Biden-led or establishment ticket? Or is it to gather enough delegates to be a player in a contested convention where she could tip the balance to the establishment or the insurgents? With the entirety of the Democratic Party establishment, Never Trumper Republicans, media outlets, Mike Bloomberg coalescing around the Anybody but Bernie and probably Biden effort, it is interesting that Warren is going out of her way to attack Bernie Sanders, particularly because she says she agrees with him on so much.
Now, it’s worth noting that there are a lot — a lot — of Warren supporters who do not view Bernie Sanders as their second choice. In fact, a majority of her supporters according to polls do not see Sanders as their number two choice. So, I suppose there is also a scenario where Warren garners enough delegates to ultimately unite with Sanders in a brokered convention in battling against an effort to crush Sanders and the possibility of a progressive electoral movement to take on Donald Trump. We shall see what happens.
Nicole Wallace: The last 48 hours have catapulted Joe Biden to the top of the Bernie alternative lane. Essentially transforming the once crowded Democratic contest into a two-man race.
JB: My name’s Joe Biden. I’m a Democratic candidate for the United States Senate.
Look, tomorrow’s Super Thurs— Tuesday and I want to thank you all — I’ll tell you what I’m rushing ahead, aren’t I?
All right, Chuck, thank you very much.
Chris Wallace: All right, it’s Chris. But anyway —
JB: We hold these truths to be self-evident. All men and women created by — you know, you know the thing.
JS: But what we are witnessing right now is the picture coming into clear focus: It is Bernie Sanders’s campaign and movements versus the most powerful political, media and economic forces in the United States.
BS: Don’t tell anybody because these folks get very, very agitated and nervous. We’re gonna win here in Texas. We’re gonna bring our people together, black and white and Latino, Native American, Asian American, gay and straight.
JS: Fourteen states and American Samoa are holding primaries today. More than 1,300 pledged delegates are at stake. That’s about a third of all Democratic primary pledged delegates. Compare that to the 155 delegates that made up the four primaries that have already been held. At this point so far, Bernie Sanders still remains in the lead with 60 delegates. Joe Biden close behind him with 53. So, Super Tuesday can and will be decisive for the next phase of the Democratic primary.
Joining me now to discuss all of this is Intercept investigative reporter Lee Fang. Lee, welcome back to Intercepted.
Lee Fang on The Biden Campaign, Dark Money, Attacks Against Sanders, and Super Delegates
Lee Fang: Hey, thanks for having me.
JS: Let’s talk about Joe Biden and South Carolina. What can we learn from the outcome of that Democratic primary over the weekend and what it signals for Super Tuesday?
LF: Well, Joe Biden needed a victory. He has never won a primary caucus. He’s running for president multiple times and for him to focus his efforts on South Carolina and deliver a huge win really resuscitates his campaign. It was a commanding victory. Won every county in the state, you know, in terms of fundraising and telling his donors and telling his supporters that he still has a chance, this was very important. Does this give Biden a direct path to a plurality or a majority of delegates? Who knows? You know, there were a lot of folks on MSNBC and other cable news programs, who made, I think a lot of generalizations that kind of extrapolated too much from this race. On MSNBC, for example, because Joe Biden won a majority of African American voters in the state that means he has a command of those voters, or, you know, a majority supported those voters nationwide.
JC: The single most important demographic in the Democratic Party spoke up tonight, and that’s African Americans. And they spoke loudly and they spoke clearly.
LF: But polls show that, you know, no racial group is a monolith, right? And, you know, just generally, it’s hard to extrapolate too much from a single state. South Carolina voters, a majority of the folks who voted for Biden told exit polls that they self identify as moderate or conservative. That’s not like the rest of the country or at least most other Democratic voters. They’re much more likely to attend church. They’re much more religiously conservative. Again, that’s not like a lot of other states. So this, South Carolina’s particular in many ways, so it’s hard to say how this reflects how folks will perform or vote in other states.
JS: Now on Sunday, Joe Biden was interviewed on Fox News by Chris Wallace, whose name he botched, but that’s, you know, that’s Biden these days. But when Chris Wallace asked Joe Biden about his strategy going into Super Tuesday, he noted that Biden hadn’t held a single rally in a Super Tuesday state in over a month. And in the state of California, where I’m speaking to you from, Biden has only one office in the entire state compared to Bernie Sanders who has 23 or Mike Bloomberg, who’s been spending a lot of money hiring up campaign staff. And here’s what Biden said on Fox News.
JB: I think it’s about the message and I think that people know who I am, although I’ve been outspent forty-one to one, I think it was, or forty to one in South Carolina and other places, I think we’ve now begun to raise money. Nothing like they’ve raised, we’ve raised about $18 million this month as $5 million overnight. And so I think things are picking up but we’ll see.
JS: So, Lee we have Joe Biden suggesting that he won South Carolina because of his name recognition. Who is financing Biden’s campaign right now? And what do you make of Biden’s declared strategy going into these Super Tuesday primaries?
LF: You know, the problem for Biden is that he has not built a small donor base like Trump has, like Bernie has, like Elizabeth Warren has. He’s mostly relying on donors giving the maximum amount. He’s kind of tapped out of these more establishment connected fundraising circuits. These are folks in Wall Street people affiliated with lobbying in DC. A lot of the big donors in Hollywood are backing Biden. He’s kind of tapped out these donors. He’s relied more on a new super PAC set up by his supporters. Larry Rasky, a longtime lobbyist, someone who’s lobbied for a range of corporate interests, also some foreign clients has set up a super PAC that has made up the gap in the lack of fundraising for the Biden campaign.
I mean, that’s the other kind of side of South Carolina, is that Biden was running out of money. And now he might get a second wind, donors might open their pocketbooks. They might see him as a way to stop Bernie. He’s trying to coalesce the anti-Bernie forces within the party. But we’ll see, you know, this argument that you need organizers as the only path to the nomination, that’s hard to say. We live in a media climate, you know, we live in a world where there isn’t a lot of social interaction. Everyone’s staring at their phones, staring at cable news. And so if you do have these moments where you’re generating lots and lots of positive press and momentum, sometimes you don’t need organizing, you do need kind of that press narrative to lift up a campaign. But is it enough? Biden has focused so much of his resources into South Carolina, he hasn’t focused on the Super Tuesday states.
One of the other kind of dynamics here with the Democratic nomination is that to receive delegates statewide in a state, you have to be viable, you have to receive at least 15 percent of the support. For a lot of states, including crucial states like California, Biden has consistently polled in the last few months below viability, below that 15 percent. Perhaps he doesn’t have the time or the organizing resources to capture a large share of the vote in these states. But now because of his South Carolina bump, if he does receive a bump, he might reach at least viability. So, that’s kind of a minimum standard. He won’t receive a ton of votes, but just enough to hit that 15 percent could mean a lot of delegates moving forward.
JS: Lee, let’s talk about Mike Bloomberg for a moment. He hasn’t yet been on the ballot, but he will be on the ballot for Super Tuesday and he has just been absolutely dumping money into ads in Super Tuesday states and really across the country. Explain a little bit about the infrastructure that Bloomberg has paid for and set up around the country and also what is the tenor of the ads that Bloomberg is buying and airing in all of these states?
LF: Michael Bloomberg has kind of stitch together a campaign overnight. You know, he got into the race in November incredibly late. So he’s had to go on a hiring spree, hiring a lot of political strategists, campaign consultants to set up campaign offices primarily focused on the Super Tuesday states, but really all over the country. And he’s just carpet-bombing the entire country with ads of every type. He’s already spent over $550 million in broadcast ads. He spent well over $100 million in online ads targeted to Facebook and Google. But he’s spending a lot of other ways that we just don’t know because he’s being very innovative in the way he’s spending his money. Really, wherever you look, if you’re looking on a paid platform or any kind of digital news or media platform, you’re going to end up seeing a Bloomberg ad. Now, most of these ads are positive ads. Many of them imply that Obama endorsed or supports Bloomberg.
Barack Obama: He’s been a leader throughout the country for the past 12 years, Mr. Michael Bloomberg is here.
Announcer: Leadership in action.
LF: Of course, Bloomberg threatened to run against Obama in 2008 did not endorse him in 2008, barely endorsed him in 2012. Did it in a kind of a backhanded way. And then later in leaked audio that came out earlier in February, we heard from a Goldman Sachs event that he didn’t even really sincerely endorse Obama in 2012.
Michael Bloomberg: The second Obama election, I wrote a very backhanded endorsement of Obama saying I thought he hadn’t done the right thing, hadn’t done, hadn’t been good at things that I think are important and Romney would be a better person at doing that. But Romney did not stick with the values that he had when he was governor of Massachusetts.
LF: But you know, the average viewer does not know that. His campaign surrogates and campaign advisors have gone on cable TV and have threatened to unleash a torrent of ads against Bernie Sanders. They’ve released a few online videos that kind of appear like an ad and they attack Bernie and they kind of lifted up random Twitter users to say that, you know, Bernie supporters are violent or angry or toxic, but they haven’t really done the paid advertising to go after Bernie or Elizabeth Warren for that matter.
JS: You know, Lee, I also want to ask you about Elizabeth Warren. Her campaign sent out a memo over the weekend that stated that they’re in it to win it still, that they are going to remain in past Super Tuesday, that they believe she’s going to perform solidly and pick up delegates and continue on to the convention later in the summer in Milwaukee. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it does seem also like over the past several weeks, Elizabeth Warren has more often gone out of her way to criticize or attack Bernie Sanders.
EW: Bernie and I agree on a lot of things, but I think I would make a better president than Bernie.
JS: I’m wondering given that Warren has stated that she’s in sync with Sanders on so many policies and given that you have very powerful wealthy sources from the Democratic Party to Mike Bloomberg and beyond organizing around anybody but Bernie, what is the strategy or potential strategies that Warren is engaging in right now? Like, what’s her endgame here as far as you can tell?
LF: The proportional design of the Democratic, DNC delegate selection process means that if you have the resources to keep competing, as long as no single candidate reaches the 1,991 pledge delegate threshold going into Milwaukee — going into the convention — that means that the nomination is decided on a second or third ballot which means superdelegates can get involved. And some of these minor candidates that you know, might not have even close to a plurality, they might have a sizable chunk of delegates going into the convention, they can wheel and deal and cut an agreement with another candidate to select the nominee. What appears to be happening with Warren is that she’s trying to gather as many delegates as possible going into the convention. So, she has a strong set of cards essentially.
So, she can negotiate for a strong position in the next nomination whether that’s a nominee like Joe Biden, or a more centrist candidate, or perhaps Bernie. She’s really going after all the candidates. She’s sharply criticizing Bernie on the stump on a regular basis. But perhaps she’s just trying to maximize her hand — get enough delegates so she can go in and then negotiate with whoever the final nominee will be.
JS: Last week, the New York Times reported a story titled “Democratic leaders willing to risk party damage to stop Bernie Sanders” and in that piece, they spoke to 93 superdelegates who were opposed to Sanders getting the nomination, even if he ends up with the most delegates but doesn’t have the 1,991 that you were referencing. Jay Jacobs The New York State Democratic party chairman, who is also a superdelegate, was quoted in the article saying that if Bernie “doesn’t have a majority, it stands to reason that he may not become the nominee.” Meanwhile, Representative Veronica Escobar of Texas said, “If 60 percent is not with Bernie Sanders, I think that says something, I really do.” The way they’re doing the math is basically let’s add up everybody that got votes other than Bernie Sanders, and therefore Sanders shouldn’t be the nominee. But what’s your analysis of this reporting and this trend that is now seeping much more into the public space?
LF: Well, this is all kind of murky, because we really don’t know how the majority of delegates, how the majority of lawmakers feel about this. We know that there’s a lot of anti-Bernie sentiment, that’s not shocking. The New York Times only looked at a slice of these folks, as you mentioned about 100 or so. But I went to a DNC meeting last summer to do some reporting on this very prospect of a brokered convention. And all the state party chairman, all these party officials promised me that no, the candidate with a plurality of delegates going into the convention is going to be the nominee. They didn’t see it as a big problem. Back then Bernie Sanders wasn’t performing as well in the polls as he is now, back then Biden was.
And now look, we’re in March of 2020. And you’re seeing superdelegates and party officials come out of the woodworks making the argument that the candidate with a plurality of votes shouldn’t be the nominee. So they’re all reversing course. I think because of the power politics at play. They don’t want an anti-establishment populist Democrat to take the nomination. It’s not the first time. It just hasn’t happened in many years. You know, Hubert Humphrey in 1968, didn’t even run in the primaries and he became the party nominee. In this case, it’s possible that something similar happens again where there’s just so much contentious infighting, so much kind of ugly backroom dealing, potentially maybe some kind of scandal surrounding these backroom deals that delegates will call for a unity candidate, maybe someone who didn’t even run in the primaries to be the party’s nominee. Someone you know, the Times article looked at some potential nominees apparently, party insiders have talked to Senator Mark Warner, a more moderate conservative democrat from Virginia, or even Sherrod Brown, a more progressive senator from Ohio as the unity candidate.
JS: On that issue, Lee, you had Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee suggesting that Sherrod Brown, as you just mentioned, of Ohio, could emerge as the nominee at a brokered convention. Representative Don Beyer of Virginia saying, “At some point, you could imagine saying, ‘Let’s go get Mark Warner, Chris Coons, Nancy Pelosi. Somebody that could win and we could all get behind and celebrate.” Wouldn’t this ultimately just completely shatter the Democratic Party as it currently exists entirely given the kind of support that Bernie Sanders has? I mean, what are your thoughts about these suggestions that some yet unnamed individual could emerge as the nominee through this kind of chaotic brokering and backroom dealing?
LF: Look all across elections in the West and industrialized countries in the world, there is anger at the establishment that powerful elites in the political establishment and the business community, they’re making deals that benefit themselves and they don’t care what the consumers think. They don’t care what patients think. They don’t care what voters think. And this caused a lot of anger. This is the reason that populist candidates have done very well on both the left and the right. It’s very dangerous I think for a party elites in the DNC to say, “Look, we don’t care about voter sentiment, we don’t care how people voted. We know best, and we’re going to select one of our friends to be the nominee, even though you know, you just went through this election process that took six months and this campaign process that’s been going on forever, over the last year and a half.” It’s possible that they disregard everything and just select some caretaker candidate, some unity candidate who didn’t even run in the primaries, and I think that would foster a lot of anger, a lot of resentment. And it could be dangerous because that could potentially help Trump in his reelection.
JS: After that New York Times piece, you did a deeper dive on a superdelegate named William Owen, a DNC member from Tennessee. Tell us what you learned as you dug into this superdelegate, William Owen.
LF: William Owen is a Biden supporter. He’s also a lobbyist. He’s someone who represents a variety of clients, including a medical device product company. You know, as someone with multiple job titles, he has multiple interests in politics. At one point he’s arguing as a DNC delegate, that we need a brokered convention. We need the delegates to get together and decide the nominee, potentially overriding voter intent, but he’s also a lobbyist, and that means he needs access to politicians. Even though he’s arguing that he knows best for the Democratic Party, campaign finance disclosures show that he’s given a lot of money to Republicans. Actually, in this election cycle, he’s given only to Republicans. He’s given to a Republican senators from different states, also to a super PAC that benefits the leadership of the Republican Party, including Mitch McConnell.
We interviewed him and he said, look — he was very candid and forthright. He said, I, as a lobbyist need access to both parties. I need to advance my clients’ interest. And that means paying campaign contributions so I get access, and that means even to the Republican Party. But he’s not unique here. I mean, he’s unique in the sense that he’s been so outspoken in his belief that that a brokered convention could give superdelegates additional voting power, and, you know, influence over the ultimate nominee. But there are many different corporate influence peddlers, people who work in lobbying. If you look at our story from last summer, we went through a number of the delegates, the superdelegates, and many of them are like, Mr. Owen, employed by special interests, and these special interests, you know, regardless of what folks say about who would be the best nominee for the party, if you’re a lobbyist and you’re serving your clients interest, you’ve got to wonder if those motivations come into play when they’re selecting the nominee.
JS: Lee, back in October you also reported on a super PAC that was set up to support Joe Biden organized by corporate lobbyists on health care, weapons manufacturers, finance. Who was that super PAC organized by and where is it these days?
LF: Biden’s super PAC Unite the Country is backed by a longtime Biden supporter named Larry Rasky. Rasky is a lobbyist. He runs his own lobbying firm Rasky Partners. His firm is registered to lobby on behalf of Raytheon, hospital interests, even the Republic of Azerbaijan but the super PAC has a number of other folks who are helping organize it. Another individual is Steve Schale. This is a former Obama strategist, someone who works at another lobbying firm at Cardenas Partners. This is a Florida lobbying firm and they have a long list of corporate clients, folks in the insurance industry, Walt Disney, AT&T, the Florida Hospital Association. So you know, Biden has co-opted kind of Obama’s promise also kind of running on the implied support of Obama, although Obama has not endorsed, but he’s surrounding himself and relying on the support of well-heeled corporate interests of political insiders. This is not really, at least, the message of Obama 2008 where he was promising to get rid of lobbyists’ influence. Biden is at least projecting that image, but in practice surrounding himself with special interest.
JS: Now, Lee, last Thursday, a super PAC called Persist PAC announced that it was going to buy $9 million in TV and digital ads for Elizabeth Warren, according to a New York Times report, and the ads are supposed to have been running in California, Texas, Massachusetts, Super Tuesday states. What do we know about the super PAC that is supporting Elizabeth Warren?
LF: We know very little. And I think this is interesting because Elizabeth Warren ran in 2012 for the Massachusetts Senate seat by promising to disavow super PACs support. She had the kind of famous super PAC challenge with her competitor, Scott Brown, the Republican in that race, pressuring him at every debate to disavow his own super PACs. Elizabeth Warren has run in this campaign, again, attacking super PACs, you know, criticizing the support of Super PACs for other candidates.
EW: So if you really want to live where you say, then put your money where your mouth is, and say no to the PACs.
LF: And now we’re in the last kind of final phase before Super Tuesday, and she’s receiving millions of dollars in this super PACs support. And this super PAC was created in such a late stage that it has not disclosed any donor information. It’s spending millions of dollars in paid advertising. Not only does it have, you know, no caps in terms of how much money it can receive or spend, but we don’t even know who’s backing it. It kind of belies the Elizabeth Warren message of clean government, of no special interest influence. But her campaign is essentially being resuscitated by the super PAC.
JS: Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota has dropped out of the race along with Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer. Amy Klobuchar is from the state of Minnesota and of course, Minnesota is a Super Tuesday state. Klobuchar is endorsing Joe Biden. What is your initial assessment of what this means? Because I was under the impression and I saw a lot of Sanders supporters making the argument that Klobuchar staying in the race was a good thing for Joe Biden in an effort to try to ensure that Bernie Sanders would not win the state of Minnesota but what’s your just well, hot take, I guess, on the impact that Amy Klobuchar leaving the race and endorsing Biden will have?
LF: The 2016 Republican race for the presidential nomination was deeply divided and because of those divides, so many candidates staying in the race for so long, often with super PAC support, you had the Republican establishment struggling to coalesce behind a single candidate. They couldn’t choose if they wanted to get behind Chris Christie or Marco Rubio or finally Ted Cruz as the anti-Trump candidate. Partially because of this divided field, Trump could run away with it.
Here we are in 2020. And we have a very similarly divided field. The Democratic establishment is perhaps more coherent. You know, they’ve worked together to run negative ads on Bernie. Bernie’s really the only candidate that’s received a sustained attack by televised paid advertising. For Amy to drop out and now Pete to drop out, that simply reduces the number of candidates in the field and increases the chance for Biden not only to hit the viability threshold of 15 percent, but to do very well on Super Tuesday.
JS: One of the races, the so-called down-ballot races that’s happening on Super Tuesday that you’ve been reporting on is in Texas. The congressional district 28 where Jessica Cisneros is battling against Henry Cuellar. Cuellar is the incumbent and one of the most conservative Democrats in the Congress. Tell us about Jessica Cisneros and her campaign against Henry Cuellar and why this is a particularly important race to keep an eye on.
LF: There are a lot of interesting primaries on Super Tuesday. But this House race — this South Texas House race — crystallizes the power structure, the struggle between entrenched moneyed interest and this new insurgent, progressive populist movement. It’s just clearly on display here in South Texas, where Cuellar is a very conservative Democrat. You know, he served in Rick Perry’s administration. So, you know, very Republican-friendly, he’s voted with Trump, over 70 percent of the time. Cuellar has received a lot of support from the business community. He’s the number one recipient of private prison campaign contributions. He’s the number two recipient of payday lender donations.
This campaign is really incredible because this is the very first time that the Koch Brothers super PAC — Americans for Prosperity Action — has gotten involved to help a Democrat. They’re spending money in this South Texas race to help Cuellar. Nancy Pelosi has sided with Cuellar. A lot of the big business community is pouring money into the South Texas district. In terms of Democrats and Republicans, you know, you don’t see this partisan divide here.
You see even Republican interest groups coming in to interfere with the Democratic Party and to keep Cuellar in office. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, AOC, they’ve gotten involved to endorse Cisneros, who’s you know, a very young immigration attorney, a very progressive activist who supports the Green New Deal, Medicare for all, union reform that would make it easier for workers to join a labor union if they choose. The last time we saw kind of an epic fight between established corporate interest and this progressive populist movement was the AOC primary against Joe Crowley and AOC prevailed. But I think now the establishment has its guard up. That’s why they’re spending so much money in South Texas to prevent another progressive upset.
It’s a terrible cliche, but this is a battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. There’s so much at stake at the presidential level. But I think for this one little House race, you just look at the level of spending. It’s much nastier and I think it will forecast whether other progressive populist candidates have a chance later this year.
JS: Lee Fang, thank you so much for your great reporting. I encourage people to follow it and to check out all of your work and thanks for being with us again on Intercepted.
LF: Thanks, Jeremy.
JS: Lee Fang is an investigative reporter for The Intercept with a long-standing interest and how public policy is influenced by organized interest groups and money. You can find him on twitter @lhfang.
JS: As we watch the most powerful figures in the Democratic Party establishment line up behind Joe Biden, it is worth noting that this dynamic of the insurgent versus the establishment has permeated the history of electoral politics in this country. It was at the center of the famed, some would say notorious Democratic National Convention in 1968 in Chicago when Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy entered the convention with the most votes.
Walter Cronkite: Chicago Illinois, the convention of the Democratic Party, nominating tonight its candidate for the presidency. That man will be vice president Hubert Horatio Humphrey.
JS: Eugene McCarthy had run a fiercely anti-war campaign against the Democratic Party’s support for the Vietnam War. And as police attacked protesters in the streets outside the convention, the party bosses stole the nomination from McCarthy inside the hall.
Unidentified Person: What are you trying to strong-arm? He’s an enlisted delegate.
Unidentified Person: Police are now in the aisles here with billy clubs clearing people out.
Newscaster: This surely is the first time that policemen have ever entered the floor of a convention.
Newscaster: In the United States.
Unidentified Person: Police swirling all around us, people screaming being dragged to the paddy wagons, a scene of wild disorder.
Announcer: Twenty-one and one-half votes for Senator McCarthy.
WC: This is going to do it.
Announcer: And 103 and three-quarters —
WC: Vice President Hubert Humphrey is the nominee of the Democratic Party for the presidency of the United States.
JS: Now, in more recent years, we certainly saw Donald Trump destroy the establishment Republicans in the primary in 2016. Hillary Clinton failed to stop the challenge from Barack Obama in 2008. He could’ve been considered an insurgent in that scenario but she did succeed against Bernie Sanders in 2016. And while Clinton did win the popular vote by 3 million votes, Donald Trump won the electoral college quite definitively. Right now, the Democratic Party is preparing to intensify its effort to force Joe Biden through as the party’s nominee and to crush Bernie Sanders’ insurgency by any means necessary. We have not even seen a fraction of the dirty business that is about to go down in this primary.
So what can we expect to see in the weeks and months ahead in this battle from the establishment Democrats going against Bernie Sanders. Joining me now is a longtime Democratic Party activist and organizer, Peter Daou. Those of you active on Twitter may know him as one of the most vocal online supporters of Hillary Clinton’s campaign back in 2016, certainly on social media and as someone who frequently clashed with Sanders supporters or Clinton opponents. I had my own slew of arguments with him on Twitter over the years.
He worked for John Kerry’s presidential campaign in 2004 against George Bush and Dick Cheney. He worked for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2008 against Barack Obama and he worked on an independent initiative to support Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race. But this time? Peter Daou is all in for Bernie Sanders. He has seen the so-called opposition research files on Bernie Sanders that were compiled by the Clinton campaign universe and its supporters.
Peter Daou, welcome to Intercepted.
Former Hillary Clinton Adviser Peter Daou Rejects The Claims Bernie Sanders Has Not Been “Vetted”
Peter Daou: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
JS: What I find fascinating about watching your journey and the candor and honesty that you’re clearly showing is the story of how you ultimately have decided in this particular field in this year to support Bernie Sanders. What is it about his campaign that has put you front and center particularly on social media in trying to defend and promote the ideas of the Sanders campaign?
PD: The simplest answer to the question and I’ll elaborate on it is that he’s the only candidate in this race and really one of the only people in national politics calling for an overhaul of the entire system, questioning capitalism, questioning the entire establishment. He’s calling for political revolution, Jeremy, that’s quite an audacious thing, a bold and courageous thing. The word revolution is not that commonly used.
BS: I do believe we need a political revolution where millions of people stand up and say loudly and clearly that our government belongs to all of us, and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors.
PD: He has also sparked a massive grassroots movement that wants the same thing and that’s willing to back him up. That’s powerful, and that’s essential. I find myself at a point and over the past year or two, there’s been a very as you noted, a very open reexamination of my priorities. When I see kids in cages, when I see half the country can barely afford $400 while billionaires are buying $60 million condos on billionaires row in my hometown of New York and just leaving them empty, just bartering them for fun. When I see kids being shot in classrooms, when I see the torture of migrants. And these kids were in cages, now, of course, the family separation was really the Trump/Miller policy, but the cages existed under Obama and Pelosi.
So, I’m seeing these travesties, moral travesties, injustices that just don’t change. They just don’t get fixed. They don’t end and I finally reached a point, I thought, OK, I’m in my 50s now. I’ve got a family. Am I going to look back and keep accepting incrementalism, keep accepting sort of this mid, mushy midpoint between justice and injustice that the Democratic Party keeps going to? You know, well, we gotta appease some Republicans but some of these policies are not good, but we’ll keep others. You have to reach a point where you need moral clarity and Bernie Sanders and his campaign are providing moral clarity. He’s not afraid to say the things that need to be said to change this entire system. So that’s the long version of the answer.
JS: Peter, you recently tweeted “As a staunch Hillary advocate and Bernie critic in 2016, I was privy to the Bernie oppo book meaning opposition research book. I also did my own extensive research.” Talk about what opposition research you saw against Bernie Sanders and your response to the refrain that Bernie hasn’t been vetted.
PD: This really gets me quite infuriated. I keep getting people coming at me online and I see these constant comments from a lot of mainstream figures. You know, Bernie hasn’t been vetted just wait till he gets vetted.
JC: I think it’s obvious that he’s never been vetted into press. I’m not seeing the four-part series in The New York Times, Washington Post, NBC News or anything else. So we’re in a whole new ball game here. And this game could end a little after mid-March.
PD: And then you’ll hear people saying there’s this massive trove of opposition research that the Republican, the RNC is holding, just waiting to unleash it on him. I can tell you categorically from everything I saw, and I’ll describe in more detail what I saw, that that’s a complete fabrication. There is no big treasure trove of Bernie Sanders oppo waiting to drop. That’s a tactic that’s being used, similarly, the way Bernie bros being used to tarnish the whole movement, the idea that he hasn’t been vetted is being used to tarnish his whole campaign. It’s really fear-mongering.
So, here’s the reality back in 2015, 2016, I was obviously very publicly pro-Hillary Clinton. And by as I said, by 2016, I went from being very favorable to Bernie Sanders to being quite critical of his campaign and his surrogates. I, at the time, became the CEO, early 2016, of a media company called Blue Nation Review, which I renamed Share Blue, and I have full editorial control, but the business was owned by David Brock, who clearly is another very, very pro-Clinton operative. What I did at the time was I tried to stay fact-based in my critiques of Bernie Sanders. So what I did was I had an entire research team. I had writers, journalists, you know, people all working for me at this company. I said, “OK, we’re going to dig into every policy difference between Bernie and Hillary. We’re going to find all this stuff that may be negative.” You know, stuff like the early NRA stuff, and other things that I thought would show that he wasn’t everything that he was saying that he was.
I was also given, I can’t share the source just because of confidentiality, a comprehensive oppo book — opposition research book on Bernie Sanders — and I’m talking not five pages, ten pages, I’m talking 70, 80 100 pages long, digging into comments from the 70s and 60s and just about everything you would want to know about Bernie Sanders. And I’ve seen oppo books before because I’ve worked at two presidential campaigns, it was clearly a professional work. It was shared among very few people. And it was thorough, thoroughly done and professionally put together by, clearly by expert researchers. So here’s the thing, Jeremy, nothing I’ve seen today or to date, since then shows that there’s anything left that hasn’t already really been aired. Now, maybe there could be something that was not in there, maybe a comment that he made in 1973 that just the researchers didn’t find. But overall, the bulk of it is really the communism, socialism stuff. It’s some policy issues. It’s, you know, the essay that he wrote, I don’t know 40, 50 years ago. It’s all this stuff has been aired publicly in one form or the other since then.
So again, categorically, after seeing a massive amount of research on Bernie Sanders in 2016, a lot of it confidential. There just is no big treasure trove waiting to drop on him. It’s a lie. The one thing that I’m confident of is there are going to be no surprises. And I can’t say that for any of the other candidates in the race. I certainly can’t say that about Joe Biden. I can’t say it about anybody else who is still among the frontrunners. Bernie is really the safest bet as far as I’m concerned and from my experience.
JS: You know, Peter, because you are our guest today, I feel like we can have an intelligent discussion about the dynamic I want to present to you which is that what goes unstated because corporate media outlets are not actually embedded in any way whatsoever in social, racial, economic, gender justice movements, is that for many people on the left in this country, Bernie is not hardline enough on certain war positions. His comments on Obama’s drone strikes, some of Bernie Sanders’ past positions and votes.
You know, I know just from talking to many, many people who have been involved with organizing on justice issues, that there are a lot of leftists in this country who are essentially holding their nose to support Bernie Sanders because they don’t view him as a revolutionary socialist and that actually Sanders is expanding the tent. And he’s getting people that would possibly vote third party or would sit out the election or would vote libertarian.
He’s getting so many people who are militants in this country to consider in the case of New York State registering as Democrats, and yet we never talked about that. We talk about Bernie’s dividing. Bernie’s going to hand the election to Trump. Bernie Sanders is probably the best chance Democrats have had in decades to encourage people who are outside the mainstream of the Democratic Party to contemplate voting the Democratic Party ticket in November.
PD: 100 percent and look, I’m actually one of those people who’s more to the left of Bernie on certain issues. I think a lot of people would not believe that considering what I did in 2016. But in 2016, I made what I thought was a moral judgment of electing the first woman president and that representation being so critically important for the country, was I wrong about the moral judgment? People will say, many people say yes, some people will say no, but I was coming from a place of “OK, I think I’m doing the right thing here.” Now, of course, I’ve reconsidered, reassessed and looked back and looked in my soul and bared my soul to people saying, Look, I’m taking a look at what this Democratic Party’s leadership in the 20 years I’ve been in politics, the moral injustices around us are, yes, the fault of the Republican Party and the far-right to a large extent, but they’re also the blame and the fault of those who will not stand up to them for whatever their motives, and that includes the entire Democratic Party leadership.
Let’s just talk about drones for a second. When Obama was elected, I felt hopeful like the rest of the country. Then he goes ahead and expands these programs. He expands the drone program. He then conducts extrajudicial assassination which is something that I don’t believe Bush, he had contemplated but hadn’t done. So they actually killed somebody without due process.
BO: When a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens and when neither the United States nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot, his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a SWAT team.
PD: Indefinite detention continued. Now these are profound human rights abuses, right? And this was being done by Democrats who control every branch. So from my perspective, you’re right, Bernie Sanders is really not calling in many ways for enough of a revolution. I’ve said the Democratic party should be calling for a national strike. Now whenever I ask for stuff like that, I say should be certainly nonviolent. I’m a big believer in absolute nonviolence. I grew up in a war so I would never advocate violence.
But to your point, Bernie Sanders is actually one of the few politicians in this country, he’s seen extremely favorably because he sticks by his principles. I’ve said this a billion times since 2000 when I started. People want political leaders who believe in what they believe in. Democrats keep thinking “Oh, if we just pander to appease to some Republican voters and be wishy-washy. They’re going to like us.” No, they’re going to hate you because they’re going to see that you’re pandering and you have no principles. The way you win is with somebody like Bernie who just is unapologetic about his values.
JS: Give people a sense of how the Democratic Party’s establishment or the elite wing of the Democratic Party responds, what is their playbook look like when facing an insurgent campaign like that of Bernie Sanders?
PD: Let me give it a little bit of of color to the whole thing. So when I worked for Kerry’s campaign, and for Clinton’s campaign, I actually lived in the Beltway. I lived in Washington. I lived in Arlington for Clinton’s campaign and literally near K Street for the Kerry campaign because that’s where its headquarters were. So here I am a house music producer turned Democratic progressive activist, online guy sitting here among the absolute elites of the media, and Democratic and Republican politics because it’s, you know, it’s quite incestuous. Everybody knows everybody in Washington. Everybody goes to the same parties. Everybody goes to the same few hotspots, and you see them all being, you know, buddy, buddy with one another. So, there I was really an outsider, but inside the system and I have to say it was just illuminating to see how the machine protects itself.
From the outside the Democratic Party leadership, OK, there are some amazing Democrats. I’m not trying to paint the whole party with a broad brush, but there are certainly Democratic leaders who still consider people like Trump and McConnell and others, you know, they say they’re adversaries but behind the scenes, they’re all part of the same system. And that system enriches everybody inside. It enriches Democrats. It enriches Republicans.
So to your question the way the establishment works, it will fight fiercely like as fiercely as possible and it’ll fight dirty too. Like this whole you know, Bernie bro thing trying to taint a massive diverse coalition as a bunch of raging young white males, trying to go from a few trolls on Twitter to taint a whole movement. They will fight dirty, Jeremy and they will fight hard. The party’s going to fight hard and do everything they can to have either Biden or somebody like that take it, take the nomination.
JS: Peter Daou, thank you very much for being with us on Intercepted.
PD: My pleasure. Thank you.
JS: Peter Daou has advised major political figures, including John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, and was described by the New York Times as “one of the most prominent political bloggers in the nation.” He is now supporting Senator Bernie Sanders’s campaign for the Democratic nomination. Peter Daou is the author of “Digital Civil War: Confronting the Far-Right Menace.”
JS: And that does it for this week’s show. Tonight we will be doing special coverage of Super Tuesday along with our friends at Democracy Now. That will be from 7 PM to midnight Eastern. You can watch the live stream of that five-hour program at theintercept.com or democracynow.org. You can follow us on Twitter @intercepted and Instagram @InterceptedPodcast. If you like what we do on this program, you can support our show by going to TheIntercept.com/join to become a sustaining member.
Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our lead producer is Jack D’Isidoro. Our producer is Laura Flynn. Elise Swain is our associate producer and graphic designer. Betsy Reed is editor in chief of The Intercept. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Transcription for this program is done by Nuria Marquez Martinez. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.