PHILADELPHIA – Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced Sunday she will soon step down as Democratic National Committee chairwoman, amid the fallout over leaked emails indicating an anti-Bernie Sanders bias in her operation -- a stunning development just hours before the start of her party's convention.
In a written statement, the controversial party leader said she was "privileged to serve as the DNC Chair for five and a half years."
She said her first priority is serving the people of her Florida congressional district while stressing the importance of helping elect Hillary Clinton, adding: "Going forward, the best way for me to accomplish those goals is to step down as Party Chair at the end of this convention."
She said she would still "open and close the convention," which begins Monday in Philadelphia, and address delegates "about the stakes involved in this election," in her role as party chair.
She apparently will step down at the end of the convention. Vice Chairwoman Donna Brazile is slated to take over as interim chair during the rest of the general election campaign.
The announcement came just hours after reports first surfaced that Wasserman Schultz may be denied a speaking role at the convention, and that she would not be presiding -- a decision apparently made under pressure from the Clinton campaign and the White House.
Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, the former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, will instead preside over the Democratic proceedings as convention chairwoman. On the sidelines, party officials were already discussing Wasserman Schultz' role as DNC chairwoman.
One Democratic source told Fox News, “Debbie is being forced out sooner than later.”
The rapid-fire set of developments ahead of the convention kick-off raise immediate questions about whether the party can unite its battling factions in Philadelphia this week.
Officials were clearly trying to prevent anger over the email leak controversy and other issues from disrupting proceedings. The emails only bolstered claims from Sanders – and Republican nominee Donald Trump – that the system was rigged against the Vermont senator.
Trump tweeted after the DNC news broke:
Sanders himself blasted the DNC and Wasserman Schultz in interviews earlier Sunday, demanding her resignation as party chairwoman.
“I think [Wasserman Schultz] should resign. Period. And I think we need a new chair who is going the lead us in a very different direction,” Sanders told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, hours before the resignation was announced.
He later issued a statement thanking her for her service, and saying she made "the right decision for the future of the Democratic Party."
President Obama and Clinton both issued statements thanking Wasserman Schultz for her service.
"I am grateful to Debbie for getting the Democratic Party to this year's historic convention in Philadelphia, and I know that this week's events will be a success thanks to her hard work and leadership," Clinton said, adding that she will serve as "honorary chair of my campaign's 50-state program to gain ground and elect Democrats in every part of the country" and act as a surrogate.
The WikiLeaks document dump, which included emails from January 2015 to May 2016, purportedly came from the accounts of seven DNC officials. In a May 5 email, a DNC employee asked a colleague to collect information on his religious beliefs – claiming it might sway voters in West Virginia and Kentucky. In that particular email, Sanders' name was not mentioned, but he was the only other candidate in the race at that time against Clinton.
DNC chief financial officer Brad Marshall wrote, “This would make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”
Others from Wasserman Schultz herself contained very strong language, raising questions about her status as an ostensibly neutral party official.
Responding to Sanders’ complaints the party hasn’t been fair to him, she wrote to a staffer in an April email: “Spoken like someone who has never been a member of the Democratic Party and has no understanding of what we do.”
Responding to the same staffer a month later regarding Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver blaming the Nevada state party for a raucous convention, she wrote, “Damn liar. Particularly scummy that he barely acknowledges the violent and threatening behavior that occurred.”