Investigator: DNC Was “Directly Involved” in Iowa Caucus App Development, Countering DNC Denial

In a closed-session Iowa State Democrats meeting, members pushed for answers on the DNC’s role in the caucus debacle.

A precinct captain from Des Moines, Iowa, holds his iPhone that shows the Iowa Democratic Party's caucus reporting app on Nov. 15, 2019.
A precinct captain from Des Moines, Iowa, holds his iPhone showing the Iowa Democratic Party’s caucus reporting app on Nov. 15, 2019. Photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP

The Democratic National Committee refused to cooperate with investigators and was “directly involved in the development process” of the infamous Shadow app ahead of the 2020 Iowa caucuses. That’s the conclusion of the former U.S. attorney leading the investigation into what went wrong during the first-in-the-nation caucuses, as relayed to the Iowa State Democratic Party in a closed-session meeting last week, according to a transcript of the meeting obtained by The Intercept.


The Iowa Democratic Party Did the Opposite of What It Should Have Done to Secure Its Disastrous App

“The DNC was directly involved in the development process,” Nicholas Klinefeldt, a former federal attorney appointed by President Barack Obama, told the Iowa Democratic Party state steering committee in the December 12 meeting about the findings of an investigation he led alongside former Iowa Attorney General Bonnie Campbell.

Klinefeldt’s revelation about the committee’s involvement counters the DNC’s claim it made immediately after the Iowa caucuses. Back then, the DNC claimed it had “absolutely no involvement” in the development or coding of the Shadow app, which was supposed to record and report caucus results.

When Third District state party member Kim Callahan asked investigators to expand on the DNC’s involvement, they failed to elaborate, simply confirming that the DNC wouldn’t cooperate with its investigation.

Without the DNC’s cooperation in the probe, investigators were hamstrung. “There seemed to be a great deal of culpability by the DNC,” Jim Bunton, a Third District Iowa state party member, said to Klinefeldt in the meeting. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of cooperation from the DNC from what you’re saying. … How can we hope to have a better outcome next time around? Because the actor we can’t control is the DNC.”

In the closed-session state party meeting, Third District state party member Gabriel De La Cerda asked the attorneys leading the investigation if it was correct that the state party, and Shadow app, had the correct results on caucus night for the delegates won — 26.2 percent for Pete Buttigieg, and 26.1 percent for Bernie Sanders — and could have reported it if not for the DNC’s demand not to. Part of the delay was related to the party’s promise to, for the first time, release popular vote totals, which proved more difficult than tabulating delegates.

“On election night, we knew it was going to be a one-tenth percentage difference” between pledged delegates won, De La Cerda said. Klinefeldt conceded: “They were in fact the same as the results that were finally reported.”

In a statement to Politico, DNC spokesperson David Bergstein said, “Evaluating the nominating process always happens following the election so that DNC staff can remain focused on winning the general election, and this cycle that work helped contribute to President-Elect Biden’s historic victory.”

The DNC-mandated several-day delay in reporting results led Buttigieg to infamously declare victory without any actual results released, with the Sanders campaign claiming its internal results showed it had won the popular vote. The mainstream media elevated the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor’s victory narrative, boosting him in polls for the New Hampshire primary, set eight days after the Iowa caucuses.

“The whole thing didn’t feel right, the whole [DNC] intrusion into the Iowa process didn’t feel right,” James Zogby, a 28-year DNC member who supported Bernie Sanders’s candidacy, told The Intercept.

The DNC’s meddling, which included a last-minute demand that developers of the Shadow app create a special software that would allow the DNC real-time access to the raw numbers before they went public, didn’t sit well with Zogby.

“Why would [the DNC] need to see that?” Zogby said about the DNC’s insistence on access to the raw caucus results before they went public. “Why wouldn’t you trust the state party to make the determination?”

In the transcript from the closed-session meeting held by the state party, members suggested that the DNC’s goal was to strip Iowa of its prestigious first-in-the-nation status.

“I think we’re all aware that the DNC wants us to no longer have first-in-nation status specifically with caucuses,” De La Cerda said, before asking the attorney in charge of the investigation a question about the legality of potentially changing the Iowa caucuses to a ranked-choice voting system in the future.


In Iowa, as in Other Red States, Hopeful Democrats Failed to Make Gains

In the meeting, attorneys Klinefeldt and Campbell stressed their review didn’t “use any sort of legal compulsory process” to obtain documents or other information in this case. When Second District state party member Wesley Clemens asked if the attorneys had looked into any financial records as part of their inquiry, the attorneys said they looked at contracts between the Shadow app and others. The Shadow app was developed by veterans of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Buttigieg’s campaign used the firm Shadow Inc. as a vendor, paying the developer $42,500 for text messaging software.

State party members received the caucus report at the beginning of the closed-session meeting; soon after, before they could read it, details of it were published by Politico.

“We’re already getting information from the press that the report, as I feared, would be [leaked] as soon as it was released to the State Central Committee,” state party Chair Mark Smith said. First District state party member Lindsey Ellickson later added, “It’s been two minutes since we got the report, so I feel like the report had to have been leaked honestly even before this.”

A state party source told The Intercept that the refusal of high-ranking DNC executives, including Chair Tom Perez, to cooperate undermined the credibility of the caucus investigation. State members also suspect that DNC members leaked details of the report to Politico before state party members received it.

“Without knowing exactly who at the DNC, or how that went, I think the DNC has to work with the state party in Iowa to figure out what didn’t work in terms of that app and also what’s a good process for 2024 so that small states have representation and not just large states like California,” Larry Cohen, board chair of progressive group Our Revolution, told The Intercept.

On January 23, the Iowa State Democratic Party will hold elections for a new chair; Smith, who took over after Chair Troy Price resigned a week after the caucuses, said he will not seek reelection. Perez also has announced plans to step down as DNC chair.

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