From left: Robby Mook, Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton, John Podesta, Donna Brazile

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00

A stream of leaked campaign emails and a new FBI probe into Hillary Clinton’s private server have brought the 2016 presidential campaign to a virtual tie in some polls just one week before the election.

Those emails, released by WikiLeaks, expose a cast of acolytes scrambling to head off damaging political fallout for the Democratic candidate while vying for influence inside the sprawling Clinton world.

So who are these Clinton courtiers and what role would they play in any Democratic White House?

Huma Abedin: the protector

For years, political observers have wondered what role Huma Abedin, Mrs Clinton’s longtime aide, actually plays in her world, and whether she could be a candidate for chief-of-staff should Mrs Clinton be elected.

Now, thanks to the hacked emails, as well as emails released from Mrs Clinton’s private email server, they have their answer.

A near constant fixture by Mrs Clinton’s side, Ms Abedin plays the role of the Democratic nominee’s back-office, managing requests and acting as her first protector while staying out of the way of policy decisions. The renewed scrutiny of Ms Abedin and her estranged husband that has come on the back of the new FBI probe does not help her chances of becoming chief of staff though.

Huma Abedin © AFP

While some aides are at times willing to criticise Mrs Clinton, Ms Abedin appears not to be one of them. When others advised that Bill Clinton should cancel a paid speech scheduled around the time that Mrs Clinton was to announce her presidential bid, Ms Abedin said she would tell Mrs Clinton that it was her husband’s decision to pull out, shielding her from the fact her former aides were going behind her back.

“HRC very strongly did not want him to cancel that particular speech,” Ms Abedin, wrote, using Mrs Clinton’s initials. “I will have to tell her that [former president Clinton] chose to cancel it, not that we asked.”

John Podesta: the realist

John Podesta © AP

The unwitting star of his own hacked emails, Mrs Clinton’s campaign chairman comes off much the way he does in the political arena: a dry-witted and no-drama political veteran with little motive to climb any higher in the Clinton world — or grab any more of the spotlight.

In a universe dominated equally by sycophants and back-stabbers, Mr Podesta appears frank and realistic about Mrs Clinton’s flaws as a candidate, while remaining loyal to her.

When there was talk of Mrs Clinton not taking any questions from the press during the summer of 2015 — the time when news of her private email server broke — Mr Podesta pushed back. “If she thinks we can get to Labor Day without taking press questions, I think that’s suicidal. We have to find some mechanism to let the steam out of the pressure cooker,” he wrote.

Donald Trump has said he would dismiss Mr Podesta for the content of the emails if he were his own chief of staff. “I would say: John, you’re fired!’” Mr Trump told a rally on Tuesday night.

Mrs Clinton, meanwhile, is reportedly looking to keep Mr Podesta on as White House chief of staff if elected, a job Mr Podesta also performed for her husband.

Neera Tanden: the truth teller

Neera Tanden © AFP

One of Mrs Clinton’s longtime policy advisers, Neera Tanden has long been a public surrogate and defender of Mrs Clinton on panels and television programmes.

In the hacked emails, however, a starkly different profile of Ms Tanden emerges, as one of the few people in the Clinton world calling the candidate and her campaign the way she sees it, in the most blunt and biting terms.

In one email, Ms Tanden suggested that the person who had come up with the idea for Mrs Clinton’s private email server should be “drawn and quartered”. In another, she declared that Mrs Clinton’s inability to apologise was “her Achilles heel”. When Mr Podesta suggested that it might have been Cheryl Mills, Mrs Clinton’s former chief of staff, who had greenlighted the private server idea, Ms Tanden responded: “I’m reading [Hilary Mantel’s] Wolf Hall. There is something to be said for the power of torture,” she deadpanned.

While her emails make for fun reading, they may hurt Ms Tanden’s chances at securing a senior position in a Clinton White House.

Robby Mook: the rising star

Robby Mook © Reuters

Mrs Clinton’s campaign manager, Mr Mook, 36, is one of the youngest players in the Clinton world — but is also largely seen as one of its best additions and a reason that Mrs Clinton has fared better in the 2016 race than she did in the 2008 primary.

Like Mr Podesta, Mr Mook is seen as low-drama and a voice of reason, something that comes out in Mr Podesta’s hacked emails.

It was Mr Mook who pushed for Mr Clinton to cancel a paid Wall Street speech right before the campaign’s roll out and who initially argued that Mrs Clinton should not take any donations from people who worked as lobbyists for foreign governments. (He eventually relented when others on the campaign pushed back.)

Like Ms Tanden, Mr Mook also had issues with Ms Mills, particularly when Ms Mills launched a cryptic internal investigation of the Clinton campaign. “What she is doing isn’t improving anything. It is secretly going around a transparent system we all agreed upon,” he complained to Mr Podesta. “…The secret shit has to stop.” 

Philippe Reines: the backroom guy

Philippe Reines © Getty

A former senior adviser to Mrs Clinton while she was at the state department, Philippe Reines has not taken on an official position during her 2016 campaign. However, he continues to play an important role behind the scenes.

In Mrs Clinton’s debate preparations, Mr Reines has played the role of Mr Trump and in recent days he has travelled with Mrs Clinton while Ms Abedin has stayed behind in the wake of the new FBI investigation.

It was Mr Reines’ idea that Mrs Clinton’s team launch something called “Transparency Day”, one email shows. Yet in another email, Ms Tanden warned that Mr Reines was “going off the rails”, pointing to a drawn-out exchange he had entered into with Gawker, the now defunct media outlet.

Donna Brazile: the casualty

Donna Brazile © AP

The former campaign manager for Al Gore in 2000, Donna Brazile has been one of the hardest hit by the release of the hacked Podesta emails. In October, Ms Brazile resigned from CNN, where she had served as one of the network’s political commentators, after it emerged that she had shared information with the Clinton campaign ahead of a CNN Democratic primary debate.

“One of the questions directed to HRC tomorrow is from a woman with a rash,” Ms Brazile wrote to Clinton aides in March. “Her family has lead poison and she will ask what, if anything, will Hillary do as president to help the [people] of Flint.”

CNN has severed ties with Ms Brazile, but she remains the interim head of the Democratic National Committee after former chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz resigned because she too was perceived as being too close to the Clinton campaign, something that emerged in a different set of hacked emails.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
myFT

Follow the topics mentioned in this article

Follow the authors of this article