Advisers to Hillary Clinton coordinated with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe‘s office about jokes McAuliffe would tell at the 2015 Gridiron Club’s annual dinner, according to emails published on Wikileaks. In a string of messages, McAuliffe’s communications director, Brian Coy, goes back-and-forth with the campaign’s media team, a former White House speechwriter, and top Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
The emails were obtained by Wikileaks in a hack of the personal account of Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.
While absent of bombshells about Clinton’s supposed Wall Street dealings or foreign-policy agendas, the thread does offer illumination into the cautious planning that goes into something as seemingly innocuous as McAuliffe’s speech to a hoary Washington society event. Campaign staffers flagged several jokes the governor, who is one of Clinton’s most vocal supporters, could have made at the dinner, including zingers about President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
On the afternoon of March 13, 2015—one day before the Gridiron event and about a month before Clinton publicly launched her White House run—Jennifer Palmieri, the campaign’s communications director, wrote to Jon Lovett, a former White House speechwriter who was drafting McAuliffe’s remarks with a suggestion that the governor include a visual gag riffing on Clinton’s private server, the existence of which had only been revealed 11 days before. Palmieri’s suggestion would have had McAuliffe showing off slides of his and other dignitaries’ supposed private emails.
“This would be for a Macker bit—not POTUS,” Palmieri wrote. “He would have photos of printed out emails from HRC to others. Thinking like….one from HRC to [House Oversight Chairman] Jason Chaffetz who took over from [Darrell] Issa, wants to subpoena HRC’s server, and literally has his gmail address printed on his official business card. Maybe a chain between HRC and the Republican 2016ers that have personal email addresses like Jeb, Walker, Christie, etc.”
Lovett forwarded Palmieri’s note to Coy a few hours late, but added that “it’s probably too late to do this kind of visual.”
“Thanks – we’re trying to work with them to get something in that indicates that she’s in on the joke here, we’ll see what they come up with,” Coy responded.
Lovett appears to have been a little stumped by the late request for email jokes: “Let me know if I can help—I am struggling with how to make this work,” he wrote back to Coy.
A few hours later, Lovett had come up with a new routine for McAuliffe, which he shared with Coy, though it may not have been Lovett’s strongest material. “OK, take or leave but if here is some fodder if you want,” he prefaced.
The bit would have had McAuliffe conceding Clinton’s then-new email scandal, followed by the visuals.
“Everybody knows Hillary got in trouble for using her personal email. But it was truly personal,” McAuliffe would have said, before presenting these fake messages:
- “FROM: HRod16@clintonemail.com
We still on for yoga? Want to get my shavasana on.”
- “From: JerseyBoyChrisC@yahoo.com
I miss you. I miss talking to you. Forget it, I’m just kidding. I shouldn’t have sent this. Unless you agree. Call me?”
- “From: GWBush43@altavista.com
Miss u, bro. By the way I asked dad’s lawyer friend (Clarence Thomas) and you’re wrong: nothing in the constitoosh says I can’t be VICE president.”
- “FROM: JoeyBiden@geocities.com
OK, I cann barely type this but my hand i sstuck insdie the vendign machine aand if I let go I lose the snickers, tell me what to do boss.”
Coy forwarded Lovett’s draft to Clinton spokesman Josh Schwerin, who then shared it with Palmieri and the rest of the campaign’s communications team. Palmieri then forwarded it to Clinton’s closest aides, including Podesta, Abedin, campaign manager Robby Mook, and adviser Philippe Reines. She had what those in the entertainment industry would call “notes.”
“Jon Lovett wrote Terry’s speech and came up with a these new tweets,” Palimeri wrote. “See if HRC one seems okay. For our and Terry’s politics I would not do Biden one.” (At the time, Biden was still reported to be weighing his own presidential bid.)
Abedin also chimed in on the faux message between McAuliffe and Clinton. “I like the ‘we still on for yoga part’,” she wrote. “I.m not sure you need the second line.”
Palmieri agreed to dump it, depriving the Gridiron club of hearing McAuliffe pronounce the Sanskrit word for “corpse pose.”
US intelligence agencies released a statement last Friday blaming the Russian government for hacks of the Democratic National Committee and other political targets which resulted in large batches of emails from multiple individuals appearing on Wikileaks and a similar website, DC Leaks. Podesta’s emails first appeared on Wikileaks that day. In subsequent television interviews, Podesta has refused to confirm their authenticity, though in an email to Washingtonian, Coy writes that these email jokes were considered, but ultimately discarded.
“Long time ago but I think we decided it was [too] visual for that setup, and his material was pretty good by then anyway,” Coy writes.
Ultimately, McAuliffe’s jokes focused on public misbehavior by Secret Service agents, Clinton’s ambitions, and his Republican counterpart at the dinner, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who later embarked on his own abortive presidential campaign. The email jokes were left to Walker, Obama, and the Gridiron Club’s infamously corny parody songs.