Hillary Clinton’s paid closed-door speeches to Wall Street banks apparently included her dreams of “open trade and open borders” and a suggestion that bankers are best positioned to know how the industry should be regulated, according to hacked emails made public Friday by WikiLeaks.
The comments are drawn from an email describing speech transcripts that Clinton has refused to release despite months of intense criticism.
The email, apparently hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, shows a staffer in the early stages of Clinton’s primary campaign against Sen. Bernie Sanders this year flagging speech excerpts that could be politically problematic.
Sanders had questioned what Clinton had said to the financial institutions that paid her hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees between the end of her tenure as secretary of state and the start of her run for the White House.
The excerpts highlighted by the aide included comments on two front-burner election issues – Wall Street regulation and trade – on which Clinton has been on the defensive at times. Both Sanders and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump have attacked Clinton for her past support of global free-trade deals, tapping into a growing sentiment among many voters that such agreements have hurt their communities.
Clinton, for instance, described her free-trade ambitions during a 2013 appearance before the U.S. arm of a Brazilian banking group. Records show the group, Itaú BBA USA Securities, paid her $225,000.
“My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders,” she said, according to an email first reported by BuzzFeed.
The Clinton campaign on Friday night refused to authenticate the hacked emails, instead attacking WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been openly critical of Clinton. The site released hacked Democratic National Committee emails over the summer that U.S. intelligence officials on Friday accused Russia of stealing.
“We are not going to confirm the authenticity of stolen documents released by Julian Assange, who has made no secret of his desire to damage Hillary Clinton,” Clinton spokesman Glen Caplin said. He referred to doctored emails that have appeared on websites linked to Russian intelligence recently as proof that “documents can be faked as part of a sophisticated Russian misinformation campaign,” although Caplin did not say that the emails released Friday concerning Clinton’s speeches had been faked.
The FBI did not immediately say if the Russians were behind the alleged hack.
The new revelations about Clinton’s paid appearances before big banks, coming two days before her next debate faceoff against Trump on Sunday, threaten to revive an issue that has dogged the Democratic candidate for months and hampered her ability to energize some Sanders backers and other liberals she needs to mobilize on Election Day.
Sanders aggressively attacked Clinton during their primary battle for the speaking fees she got from major banks, particularly the $675,000 she was paid by Goldman Sachs for three appearances, bolstering his populist challenge and portraying her as cozy with Wall Street. He repeatedly challenged her to release the speech transcripts.
Clinton, who was paid more than $20 million for speeches between 2013 and 2015, had said she would “look into” releasing the transcripts – but she never has indicated any plans to do so. While Clinton has attacked Trump for refusing to release his tax returns, some critics have pointed to the speeches by Clinton as evidence that she, too, has not been fully transparent with voters.
One possible vulnerability identified in the emails was a 2014 speech to Deutsche Bank in which she gave remarks that a Clinton staffer characterized as suggesting, “Wall Street Insiders are what is needed to fix Wall Street.”
“How do you get to the golden key, how do we figure out what works?” the email indicates that Clinton said in the speech, speaking of Wall Street regulation. “And the people that know the industry better than anybody are the people who work in the industry.” Records show Clinton was paid $260,000 to address Deutsche Bank in 2014.
In another speech to Goldman Sachs in Arizona in 2013, Clinton fretted that “part of the problem with the political situation, too, is that there is such a bias against people who have led successful and/or complicated lives.” She was paid $225,000 for the Arizona speech, records show.
The campaign staffer cited other worrisome passages that touted Clinton’s relationship to Wall Street, including an acknowledgment that she needed Wall Street’s financial support.
The emails appear to have been hacked from Podesta’s Gmail account and appear to span almost a decade. According to a WikiLeaks tweet, the release represented the first 2,050 documents of 50,000 it has hacked from Podesta.
Podesta, 67, is a longtime aide to Clinton and a powerhouse in Democratic politics. A former White House chief of staff for Bill Clinton, Podesta was a founder of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress and as campaign chairman has been at the center of every major decision as Clinton has dealt with political struggles over her use of a private email server and fundraising by the Clinton Foundation.
The hacked emails appear to offer insights into the campaign’s handling of some of those controversies.
In one October 2015 exchange, staffers appear to discuss ways to capitalize on Sanders’s comment during a Democratic debate that people were sick of hearing about Clinton’s “damn emails.” Adviser Joel Benenson appears to have suggested that Clinton could make a joke about her testimony before a Republican-led committee investigating the attacks in Benghazi, Libya. “I was kind of expecting around hour #8 Bernie Sanders would burst in and shout–‘enough about your damn emails Hillary!!’ ” But Podesta nixed the idea. “I defer if others think this buys us good will with Sanders people, but email jokes in Iowa usually end up badly and don’t we want to move on?” he wrote back.
The emails include a series of internal conversations in May 2015 about how to respond to a book by conservative author Peter Schweizer called “Clinton Cash,” which tracked donations to the Clinton Foundation and speaking fees paid to former president Bill Clinton while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. In one email, Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri told other Clinton staffers that Clinton had raised the topic of the book with her. “It was a difficult conversation,” Palmieri wrote. “My impression is she wants a much stronger response. Which means engaging more on details that we have to date not found in our interest to do so.”
Friday’s WikiLeaks release underscored a rapidly escalating concern among U.S. intelligence officials – and the Clinton campaign – about information hacked by foreign intelligence operations.
The Podesta emails surfaced on the day that the U.S. intelligence community officially accused the Russian government of attempting to interfere in U.S. elections by deliberately leaking the DNC files and other hacked emails.
Intelligence officials have identified WikiLeaks and other sites as among those receiving or publishing information from Russian intelligence, a claim that Assange has dismissed in the past.
Clinton campaign officials have had their hands full responding to questions about hacked emails.
In the previous 24 hours, the website DCLeaks.com had released a batch of communications from the Gmail account of a lower-level and longtime Clinton aide Capricia Marshall. She served as the State Department’s chief of protocol under Clinton. Intelligence officials think her email account may have been hacked by Russians as well.
Tom Hamburger covers the intersection of money and politics for The Washington Post.