The documents, discovered in the hacked emails released by WikiLeaks, depict the Vermont senator as an extremist who accomplished little over his long career.
“Can’t work with other people to get things done.”
“Does not work with other lawmakers.”
“Not a good boss.”
These are just a sampling of the most stinging descriptions of Bernie Sanders embedded in the Hillary Clinton campaign’s internal opposition research files from during their bitter primary fight, which were published this week by WikiLeaks. The documents are part of a trove of emails stolen from campaign chairman John Podesta’s account, part of a broader effort that U.S. officials have said is a Russian operation designed to disrupt the upcoming U.S. election.
While such research is a routine part of campaigning — and the Clinton team did not end up publicly using the overwhelming majority of the information — the documents’ publication is still likely to cause Democrats’ political heartburn at a time when Donald Trump is desperate to drive a wedge between the Vermont senator’s fans and the nominee.
In an email dated November 5, 2015, Clinton’s research director Tony Carrk circulated six exhaustive documents compiled by his staff, detailing Sanders’ record and past, to two dozen other Clinton advisers as they girded for a longer-than-expected primary that ultimately stretched seven more months. It is not clear what pieces of the extensive research were intended for eventual public use or even represented the campaign’s views; such in-depth documents typically include a wide range of potential hits and pieces of information that are never used or even considered.
But the timing of the documents’ circulation to a group that included some of the campaign’s top aides — like Podesta, policy advisors Jake Sullivan and Maya Harris, communications director Jennifer Palmieri, chief strategist Joel Benenson, media advisors Jim Margolis and Mandy Grunwald, and debate coaches Ron Klain and Karen Dunn — is also telling.
The wording of Carrk’s email suggests the November exchange is one of the first times the research had been discussed internally. By that point, Sanders was already threatening Clinton’s lead in a number of states, and he had overtaken her in polls of New Hampshire, so the delayed conversation reinforces the public perception at the time that the senator’s candidacy had caught the former secretary of state’s team off-guard.
Sanders’ spokesman did not offer a specific response to the opposition research files, instead pointing to a previous statement made by the Vermont senator declaring that, “the job of the progressive movement now is to look forward, not backward. No matter what Secretary Clinton may have said years ago behind closed doors, what’s important today is that millions of people stand up and demand that the Democratic Party implement the most progressive platform in the history of our country.”
Indeed, even amid the publication of other emails deeply critical of the would-be revolutionary, Sanders has been an energetic campaigner for Clinton, crisscrossing the country to convince his supporters that she is the obvious choice over Trump — regardless of the bitter words spilled in public or in private emails during a tense primary season.
Still, the emails have left some liberals concerned about the likely work of a Clinton White House, given her staff’s critical internal conversations about Sanders during their long primary fight and the long discussions over how Clinton should position herself on issues important to progressives, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
And the files do appear to reveal the origin of some of Clinton’s most frequently used barbs against Sanders: The top issue raised in a document titled “Sanders Thematics” is “Sanders Is Wrong on Guns” — one of the main cases that Clinton and allies pressed against him in the primary. The files also include details on Sanders’ history of avoiding identification with the Democratic Party, his vote for the 1994 crime bill, and his opposition to the Export-Import Bank, which also became major issues. And the hits on Sanders’ scant record of accomplishment in Congress strongly foreshadowed Clinton’s campaign-trail refrain that she is “a progressive who gets things done.”
Clinton’s campaign, meanwhile, has refused to authenticate the emails or comment on their contents, instead pointing out their provenance: a Russian hack likely designed to swing the election to Trump.
“Given a third opportunity on the debate stage to admit and condemn the Kremlin’s actions, Donald Trump refused to do it and instead chose to continue coddling Putin despite being briefed by U.S. intelligence,” Clinton spokesman Glen Caplin said when asked about the Sanders files. “It is bizarre and disqualifying that he continues to cheer on this attack on our democracy.”
Nonetheless, all told, the six documents included in Carrk’s email total a staggering 1,020 pages, and run the gamut from a basic biography of Sanders to a year-by-year analysis of his activity during his 16 years in the House of Representatives. The vast majority of the information contained in the files is not harmful to Sanders, but rather a detailed rundown of his past. At points, however, the analysis is sharply worded.
The 108-page “Sanders Top Hits – Thematics” document lays out potential lines of attack, many of which popped up during the primary, like his history on guns and “Sanders’ Record at Odds with Key Democratic Constiuen[c]ies.” It digs into his record on LGBT rights as the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and includes a 2-page sub-section titled “Using His Position to Benefit Family,” detailing campaign work done by his wife, son and stepdaughter. And it anticipates more of the fights that would end up animating the primary, with detailed summaries of Sanders’ votes and past statements about the Commodities Futures Modernization Act and the 1994 crime bill.
“Sanders campaign planned to highlight Hillary Clinton’s statements in favor of the 1994 crime bill…but Sanders voted for the 1994 crime bill…and spoke out in favor of the bill…and criticized those who opposed it…and touted it on his 2006 Senate election website…the Sanders campaign also highlighted the crime bill to prove he had a strong record fighting crime against women,” reads a collection of sub-section titles.
That file also includes a three-page section titled, “Sanders Past Extreme Positions,” starting with, “Sanders supported a 100 percent tax rate for income above $1 million” and finishing with “Legalizing All Drugs.”
Another document, “Conflicts and Questionable,” ranges over 630 pages to list an enormous compendium of Sanders’ past statements on policy, noting potential, though often tenuous, examples of his supposed hypocrisy on issues from marijuana decriminalization to super PACs to specific tax credits.
Carrk’s team also put together an exhaustive analysis of Sanders’ lengthy voting record, with a particular emphasis on his potential vulnerabilities — albeit many of them tendentious or cherry-picked examples of politically questionable votes he’d taken over his years in the House and Senate.
The documents previewed several Sanders weaknesses the Clinton campaign would go on to exploit during the primary, particularly his record on gun safety. But the files overall also lay out background information on areas both significant and minute that her advisers ultimately concluded were not worth pursuing, such as his refusal “to take a stand on terrorism in Israel” or his alleged siding “with corporate interests over citizens’ privacy.” One potential hit noted his practice of not paying some campaign employees the $15 minimum wage he promoted. Another discussed his wife Jane’s rocky tenure running a college in Burlington. The researchers even flagged his 1993 purchase of an “eco-socialist magazine subscription” with $20 worth of taxpayer funds.
In many cases, the documents’ narratives differ sharply from the glowing words Clinton and Sanders now have for each other on the campaign trail. The nominee now regularly invokes Sanders’ name as a way to energize millennial voters who were skeptical of her candidacy — particularly in battleground states where he defeated her in the primary or where their contest was close, such as Colorado, New Hampshire, Michigan, and Iowa.
In one particularly harsh section of the document titled “Issues,” the research portrays Sanders as soft on protecting children, noting that he had “twice voted against establishing the AMBER Alert system to help find kidnapped children and impose tougher penalties on child abusers, kidnappers and child pornographers.”
It added: “He also opposed a measure that would allow parents to access information through a national hotline to determine in an individual was a registered sex offender.”
Perhaps the harshest potential knocks against Sanders, however, came in a section branding him a lousy manager who failed to make much of a mark in his 25 years on Capitol Hill.
Titled “Can’t Work With People To Get Things Done,” the section in the “Sanders Top Hits – Thematics” document has sub-sections including, “No Accomplishments,” “Sanders Does Not Work Well With Other Lawmakers,” “Not A Good Boss,” and “Abrasive Leadership in Vermont.”
Over six pages, it dives into his history of going it alone on legislation, noting, “Sanders only sponsored one substantive bill that became law.” While Sanders’ supporters often pointed to his work passing amendments, the document points out, “None of Sanders’ House Amendments had Co-Sponsors.”
It recalls that when he was mayor of Burlington, Sanders “and the Board of Aldermen fought so intensely that it attracted crowds from 30 miles away.”
It cites a report labeling him one of the 10 “least cooperative” senators with the other party, quotes a 1983 Burlington Free Press editorial comparing him to “the kid who starts a fight and then screams when he gets hit back,” and even points to a local Vermont report from August 2015 that quoted former staffers trashing him anonymously.
“Anonymous Sources Who Claimed To Have Previously Worked For Sanders Said That, As An Employer, He Often Mistreated His Employees,” reads the header.