One of Hillary Clinton’s top aides urged colleagues to “clean this up” after President Obama claimed in March 2015 he only learned of Clinton’s private email system from news reports -- a statement the aide pointedly challenged by noting the president "has emails" from her non-department address.
The directive from Cheryl Mills, one of the Democratic presidential nominee’s most trusted aides, was revealed Tuesday in the newest batch of Campaign Chairman John Podesta’s emails posted by anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks. It is one of several showing how Clinton's inner circle scrambled to correct the record after Obama's initial remarks.
The hacked Mills message stems from a discussion on March 7, 2015, the night Obama told CBS News he found out about Clinton’s email system "the same time everybody else learned it through news reports."
“We need to clean this up – he has emails from her – they do not say state.gov,” Mills wrote to Podesta just before midnight.
The next day, Clinton Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri also confirmed that Obama was aware of Clinton’s personal account, during a discussion with senior Clinton adviser Philippe Reines on how to handle the president’s remarks.
“One of us should connect with the [White House] just so they know that the email will show his statement to not make sense,” Reines wrote to Palmieri at 12:40 a.m.
Several hours later, Palmieri answered, suggesting Reines talk with White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest or someone else in the communications department.
“They know POTUS and HRC emailed,” Palmieri wrote, using acronyms for president of the United States and Hillary Rodham Clinton. “Josh has been asked about that. Standard practice is not to confirm anything about his email, so his answer to press was that he would not comment/confirm. I recollect that Josh was also asked if POTUS ever noticed her personal email account and he said something like POTUS likely had better things to do than focus on his Cabinet’s email addresses.”
Earnest, during his March 9 briefing, sought to clear up the seeming disconnect between Obama’s statement and his past practice of emailing with Clinton.
“The point that the president was making is not that he didn’t know Secretary Clinton’s email address, he did,” Earnest said. “But he was not aware of the details of how that email address and that server had been set up or how Secretary Clinton and her team were planning to comply with the Federal Records Act.”
The WikiLeaks disclosures also show how early aides began planning to shield the Obama emails from being released.
Podesta emailed Mills on March 4, the same day the House Benghazi Committee subpoenaed Clinton’s emails, to ask if her communications with Obama should be claimed as executive privilege.
“Think we should hold emails to and from potus?” Podesta wrote. “That’s the heart of his exec privilege. We could get them to ask for that. They may not care, but I [sic] seems like they will.”
Whether Mills answered isn’t yet known – WikiLeaks has released just over 30,000 of a purported 50,000 Podesta emails. But by October 2015, the White House was using the executive privilege claim to stop the release of the Obama-Clinton emails.