Can we survive not answering press questions? Clinton team's dilemma in #Podesta17 release

© Brian Snyder
Top staff members of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton discussed in May 2015 how the candidate could possibly avoid press questioning “at message events” throughout the summer of that year, according to staff emails published by WikiLeaks.

On Monday, WikiLeaks released a seventeenth collection of emails from the hacked account of John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chair. One email chain, from May 21, 2015, discussed how Clinton could avoid spontaneous press exchanges at campaign events. 

The exchange ‒ between Podesta, campaign vice-chair Huma Abedin, campaign manager Robby Mook, and communications director Jennifer Palmieri ‒ came more than two months after a much-publicized 10-question encounter with members of the press in March 2015 that went awry for Clinton as she was pushed to answer for her use of a private email server as secretary of state. After December 2015, it took about nine months for Clinton to hold another traditional press conference, all as news media and her opponent, Republican Donald Trump, questioned Clinton's perceived lack of press availability.

Abedin began the email chain by saying that Clinton wanted “to re-think events” at that point in her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. “Can we survive not answering questions from press at message events," Abedin wrote, pointing to pointed questions about the email scandal and Clinton Foundation's dealings that Hillary had been confronted with at prior campaign events.

Abedin went on to propose what seems to be a summer of dodging press conferences, including town halls. "In the fall, starting to do avails at message events, interviews, and q and a with press but having had a series of policy proposals already announced and reported on that she could point to," she concluded.

Mook and Palmieri answered with perfunctory replies about discussing the proposals, before Podesta challenged the idea.

"If she thinks we can get to Labor Day without taking press questions, I think that's suicidal," he wrote. "We have to find some mechanism to let the stream out of the pressure cooker."

In August 2016, when the press-conference controversy was at its height, the Clinton campaign pointed out that the Democratic nominee had done hundreds of one-on-one press interviews in 2016 alone, favoring national television and local radio to speak with members of the press.