Clinton team tells supporters to dismiss email questions as ‘more bark than bite’

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent
Hillary Clinton gives a speech on the economy after touring Futuramic Tool & Engineering in Warren, Mich., Thursday. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

Surrogates and allies of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign were given talking points on Thursday to defend against criticism based on newly released emails from Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.

Some of the emails led Clinton’s critics, including GOP rival Donald Trump, to question the relationship between her family’s charitable foundation and the State Department. In its daily “Thursday at a Glance” bulletin for surrogates and allies, the Clinton campaign provided suggested answers for questions about whether the new emails “suggest pay-to-play between the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s State Department.”

“To claim these emails are nefarious in some way just doesn’t hold up. The stakes in this election are higher than ever before, let’s stop with the distractions and get back to the issues that voters care about,” the campaign said in its talking points, obtained by Yahoo News.

The emails were obtained via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the conservative group Judicial Watch. In its talking points, the Clinton campaign repeatedly urged surrogates and allies to focus on Judicial Watch’s political leanings.

“Let’s put this into context, Judicial Watch is a right wing partisan group that has been going after Hillary Clinton for many years to damage her politically. So this is more of the same,” the campaign said.

Judicial Watch sued the State Department for emails from Clinton’s longtime aide Huma Abedin. In particular, two of the emails that were released by Judicial Watch on Tuesday have made headlines this week.

In an April 2009 message, top Clinton Foundation official Doug Band asked Abedin and other Clinton aides to help an unnamed person get a job at the State Department. The person’s name was redacted, but Band said it was “important to take care of” him or her. In its talking points, the campaign twice directed surrogates and allies to stress that Band was seeking employment for a low level staffer. The talking points characterized the exchange as a “routine referral for a job opening for a young advance staffer — NOT a donor or Clinton Foundation official.”

“The recommendation was for one of the Secretary’s former staffers who was not employed by the Foundation,” the campaign said.

The second controversial email obtained by Judicial Watch was also sent by Band in April 2009. In that message, Band asked Abedin and another Clinton aide to connect Gilbert Chagoury — a Nigerian-Lebanese billionaire and Clinton Foundation donor — with State Department officials. Band wrote that Chagoury needed to speak to the “substance person” about Lebanon and suggested that the billionaire is a “key guy” in that country. Band was directed to Jeff Feltman, who was the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.

A spokesman for Chagoury told the New York Times that the businessman “was simply passing along his observations and insights about the dire political situation in Lebanon at the time.” Chagoury’s spokesman also said no conversation between the billionaire and State Department officials ever ended up taking place.

In its talking points, the campaign suggested Clinton’s surrogates and allies should note Chagoury wanted to pass information along and that the conversation apparently didn’t occur.

“The facts are that Judicial Watch is trying to gin up two emails. In one, we simply have someone who wants to GIVE and NOT receive information to the State Department to ensure that a career official has relevant information that could have been useful in effectively carrying out US policy. I understand that call never happened by the way,” the campaign’s talking points said.

Hillary Clinton is welcomed to the stage after touring Futuramic Tool & Engineering, in Warren, Mich. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

The Clinton family’s foundation has previously weathered criticism for accepting donations from foreign governments. Trump has attacked Clinton because of the foundation’s donations from Saudi Arabia. At a rally on Wednesday, Trump said the emails released by Judicial Watch showed potentially illegal “pay for play.”

Clinton has also faced scrutiny and an FBI probe for her use of a private email server for official communications during her time as secretary of state. Though the FBI declined to charge Clinton or her team, her campaign’s talking points addressed whether the public should “still be concerned” about the email investigation and whether the public can trust the Democratic nominee.

The campaign suggested noting “the people who know her best — and the people who best know the job — trust Hillary to get the job done.” Specifically, the campaign pointed to Clinton’s support from her husband, former President Bill Clinton, former CIA Director Michael Morell, and President Obama.

“Hillary knows that trust is something that can’t be earned overnight — and she will keep working to earn the trust of voters and ensure them that no one will fight harder for them than her,” the campaign said.