WASHINGTON — As journalists and activists comb through WikiLeaks’ ongoing release of emails to and from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, the leaked content increasingly reads like a playbook on identifying and managing potential political fallout.
On Monday, Mike Prysner, a producer and co-writer for teleSUR English’s “Empire Files,” highlighted an email to John Podesta from Jack Quinn, a former White House counsel who currently represents families of 9/11 victims.
— Mike Prysner (@MikePrysner) October 18, 2016
In the March 27, 2015 email, Quinn was reaching out to Clinton’s campaign chairman with a warning about fallout from potential conflicts between efforts to get justice for the families and Clinton’s ties to Saudi Arabia.
While the Gulf kingdom has given millions in donations to the Clinton Foundation, Saudi money is also believed to have helped fund al-Qaida’s actions on and leading up to the 9/11 terror attacks. Many families of 9/11 victims have spent years trying to expose these links.
“In reaching out, we had in mind that politicization of the litigation is not in the families (sic) interest, but we see that conceivably happening in the likely escalation of Rand Paul’s charges about Saudi donations,” Quinn wrote.
Sen. Rand Paul was sharply critical of the Saudi donations during his failed presidential campaign, and the issue of whether key players in the Saudi government backed the 9/11 attackers hasn’t faded from public and government debate. This debate swelled recently amid controversy surrounding the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which opens the door to lawsuits from the victims of 9/11 and their families against Saudi Arabia and allows for thorough judicial examination of the Gulf kingdom’s role in the attacks.
Quinn, who represents thousands of these families, publicly supports JASTA. In an editorial published in May, Quinn and Sean Carter, another 9/11 family lawyer, wrote:
“Most simply, the Constitution does not restrain the United States from imposing consequences on foreign governments for sponsoring acts of terrorism against our citizens.”
However, in his email to Podesta, Quinn acknowledges that the increased scrutiny on Saudi Arabia’s ties to 9/11 could also leave Clinton vulnerable to criticism. Quinn offered to speak directly to Podesta and his team to figure out ways to manage the potential damage to Clinton’s image. He wrote:
“John, I see this, of course, through all my own lenses those of someone who cares deeply about the families (sic) cause. But I equally do not want this cause not to be misused for political purposes. Those of us who have been concerned about that politicization have had some thoughts about how to defang the issue and would be happy to knock those around with you or Cheryl if and whenever you like.”
The Clinton team seemed reluctant to respond to Quinn and directly address the issue. On March 28, Podesta forwarded the email to Cheryl Mills, former White House counsel to Bill Clinton and a top Hillary Clinton aide, asking, “Should we worry about this?”
Mills responded several hours later, writing: “i have been ignoring it – will read it.”
WikiLeaks archives reveal that Quinn also reached out to Eryn Sepp, one of Podesta’s assistants, on March 26, 2015 about the same issue, offering to brief Podesta and his team on Quinn’s legal case against the alleged Saudi backers of terrorism.
It’s unclear from the archives whether Podesta ever replied, or whether there were further communications between Quinn and the Clinton campaign.
WikiLeaks’ archive of Clinton’s emails also show that her campaign considered refusing donations from foreign agents. Dennis Cheng, the campaign’s finance director, wrote in an April 15, 2015 email:
“ … how do we explain to people that we’ll take money from a corporate lobbyist but not them; that the Foundation takes $ from foreign govts but we now won’t. … Either way, we need to make a decision soon.”
Ultimately, the campaign decided to continue to accept those donations.
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