August 2nd, 2015
03:51 PM ET

Clinton Comm Dir. Jennifer Palmieri: “…to suggest [Hillary Clinton] is the subject of a criminal inquiry is something that can't be unwound”

Today on CNN’s Reliable Sources, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign communications director, Jennifer Palmieri joined host Brian Stelter in an exclusive interview. They discussed her open letter to The New York Times regarding their recent story on Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden potentially joining the presidential race, and whether she believes that story was a “hit job”.

Reliable Sources airs Sundays, 11 a.m. to noon (ET).

Video & Text highlights and a full transcript from the show are available below.

MANDATORY CREDIT for reference and usage: “CNN’s RELIABLE SOURCES”

VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS:

Clinton aide reacts to possibility of Biden bid

Why Clinton campaign decided to take on the Times

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS:

Hillary Clinton’s campaign communications director, Jennifer Palmieri on her 2000-word public letter: I – felt that we still needed to be on the record for a few reasons.  One – this was so egregious in terms of the impact that it had in press coverage, to suggest that the Democratic frontrunner for president is the subject of a criminal inquiry is something that can't be unwound, and felt that we had to - in defending my candidate and doing my job, I needed to be on the record doing that. …second – it took them not just a long time to correct it, but – indefensible time to get rid of "criminal" in the headline and in the lead.  …third – overall – this is true not just of The Times but in the digital age, I think the press has a view where there is an inclination to think, "I want to be fast and if it's wrong I can fix it online later".  And that's just so dangerous, because what we find – that the disaggregation of media sources means any one story with a sensational headline – penetrates in a way that other coverage won't do.

Palmieri on Vice President Joe Biden potentially joining the 2016 presidential race: I had imagined that this would be coming - that there would be more discussion about the V.P. in the news because he said that he would be making his decision relatively soon.  I have a great deal of love for Vice President Biden, a lot of respect, so do the Clintons, and everyone in the campaign. …however hard it is to secure a Democratic nomination is however hard it is.  And we have no illusions.  We’ve never thought that this was going to be easy.  There are a lot of views in the Democratic Party.  And, you know, we'll be prepared to handle whatever comes our way

Palmieri on whether she believes The New York Times has an agenda against Hillary: No.  That's not my point – my point is that they should be getting it right. …in this case, they did not.  They certainly admit they did not.  But, again, because of how, not just for The Times, but for all papers and news outlets and how fast these headlines spread and understanding the extraordinary amount of interest in Hillary Clinton, we – we just felt like we had to pause and say this is really egregious.

Palmieri on if Hillary Clinton would interview with The New York Times in the future: You know, we're not harboring any resentment on our part.  We're just wanting to have it be worked well going forward.

Palmieri on whether there’s discomfort or uncertainty from the Democratic Party about Hillary: I certainly don't feel that level of discomfort.  I don't see a lot of evidence of it.  I see Hillary Clinton leading - beating every Republican in most national polls, the vast majority of national polls.  So, I understand when you are the frontrunner, you get a lot of attention and people look to see – they gauge polls in other ways as opposed to the fundamental question, is she winning or not?  And we're looking at the fundamental question, is she winning or not?

Palmieri on this story being a “hit job”: …it's certainly a hit job by somebody with a political agenda.  So, that seems likely that it comes from that [Republican] side. …obviously, we don't know.  And – this isn't the first time there have been selective leaks from - regarding documents that people on Capitol Hill have access to.  So, there does seem to be certainly a political agenda, probably a partisan agenda, and it's all the more reason to look at these things again.

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: This story is something of a bombshell.  It's on the front page of other papers now as well.  So, how is the Clinton campaign reacting?  Well, Jennifer Palmieri joins me now.  She is the campaign's communications director and the author of the letter to The Times. And I want to ask you all about the letter and what The Times is telling you about unfair coverage.  But, first, this Biden news - there has been talk for months about maybe, possibly Biden entering the race.  He has said he'll decide by the end of the summer.  What do you make of this new development, all of this new attention?  Will it fundamentally change the race if he does enter the race?

JENNIFER PALMIERI, HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  I don't know about the - I don’t know about new attention.  I had imagined that this would be coming - that there would be more discussion about the V.P. in the news because he said that he would be making his decision relatively soon.  I have a great deal of love for Vice President Biden, a lot of respect, so do the Clintons, and everyone in the campaign.  And we’re going to let him make his decision, and otherwise stay out of it.

STELTER:  You know this better than anybody.  Is it too late for anybody else to enter the race?

PALMIERI:  I don't know.  It’s pretty - the Democrat side is dynamic.  So, it - you know, you have a lot of early states up.  I don't know that it's - you know, I'll let them decide that.

STELTER:  So, it's not too late you're saying?  You’re saying it’s not too late?

PALMIERI:  Well, I’m saying - I’m saying I'll let the vice president decide if he thinks - if he thinks the timing is right or not.

STELTER:  Here’s a lot of the chatter in the last few hours, on all of the Sunday morning shows today, has been that if Democrats were absolutely confident about Clinton's chances, then there wouldn't be a chance Biden would be talking about running.  Does this suggest that there is discomfort and uncertainty in the Democratic Party about your candidate?

PALMIERI:  I have been in politics a long time, and I don't feel that level of - I certainly don't feel that level of discomfort.  I don't see a lot of evidence of it.  I see Hillary Clinton leading - beating every Republican in most national polls, the vast majority of national polls.  So, I understand when you are the frontrunner, you get a lot of attention and people look to see - they - you know, they gauge polls in other ways as opposed to the fundamental question, is she winning or not?  And we're looking at the fundamental question, is she winning or not? We have a lot of campaign that we still need to run - we're just getting started - to prove to people that she is someone they can count on to fight for them.  But it is - you know, I think in the coverage, it gets lost.  She has the most money, and she is beating every Republican in most of the polls.  So, you can't really ask for much more than that.

STELTER:  Yes, there has been a lot of talk lately about drooping poll numbers.  Donald Trump likes to mock Clinton basically for having losing poll numbers.  But she is winning in all the categories, and in head-to-head matchups against people like Jeb Bush.

PALMIERI:  And beating Donald Trump.  Yes.

STELTER:  But, you know, let me mention Maureen Dowd one more time.  I have a quote I want to put on screen.  We know she’s not a fan of Clinton, hasn’t been for a long time.  But here is something she wrote in her column this morning, "Many Democrats fret that she seems more impatient than hungry, more cautious than charismatic." Would you agree with that assessment of your candidate?

PALMIERI:  No.  I think that she - you know, the - I believe candidates succeed when you let them get the sort of foundation underneath them, about understanding how they want to run their campaign, how they want to communicate with voters.

STELTER:  Be themselves you're saying?

PALMIERI:  Just be themselves.  And that is the - you know, that is - in starting this campaign, that was what was important for us, for Hillary to be able to do.  So, for her, that meant trying to ramp up to some degree and starting with small groups, small groups of voters.  I understood at the beginning of the campaign that would - that there was going to be - we were going to have no runway in terms of press coverage.  It was going to be extraordinary amounts of interest, extraordinary amounts of scrutiny.  And that meant every decision we made was going to be really overanalyzed.  So, we tried to allow for that to some degree, but you can't let that dictate your campaign.

So, we thought what was really important was that she starts the way she wants.  She has gotten a good base under her.  She's been able to talk one-on-one with voters for months now.  And we're expanding the campaign in terms of sides of the events and engagement with the press.  But I think that you see on - I think we see a really - a candidate that's having a good time out there now and feels - you know, feels like she’s got a strong base under her.  And that’s - you know, that is - we took water on at the beginning of the campaign with the press.

STELTER:  What do you mean?

PALMIERI:  We took water on at the beginning of the campaign with the press for not having her engage as much with the national press.

STELTER:  For not doing as many interviews as we’d like.

PALMIERI:  Right. But I knew that was going to happen, but it was worth - but we have to take the long view and make sure that we're starting this campaign the way that she wants them, that she's able to engage with - she has thought a lot about how she wants to engage with voters.  She has thought a lot about the relationship that you have with a candidate and asking someone to support you for president.  And it was important that we start with way, and now, we're expanding out.

STELTER:  And she has been on the trail for months.  So, if there is any nervousness about this Biden news, I’m not hearing any from you.

PALMIERI:  No.  Like I said, we'll let him make his decision.  The - however hard it is to secure a Democratic nomination is however hard it is.  And we have no illusions.  We’ve never thought that this was going to be easy.  There are a lot of views in the Democratic Party.  And, you know, we'll be prepared to handle whatever comes our way.  But you know it's going to be a long haul.

STELTER:  Looking at the calendar, August 2nd, August of 2015, not '16.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER:  Let me turn to this email controversy and I want to catch viewers up to speed about it because it’s 10 days ago that The Times reported that Clinton was the subject of two criminal referrals - criminal referrals - over her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state.  The story landed like a bombshell.  It sounded like a bombshell.  But within hours, The Times was backpedaling.  Take a look here at the headline.  First, the paper removed references that Clinton as the subject of the probe, so that watered it down quite a bit.  And then they took the word "criminal" out of the story there.  You see it’s out of the headline there.

So, you decided to go on the offensive about this, this week.  On Tuesday, you wrote a letter to The Times executive editor Dean Baquet, almost 2,000 words long, showing all the mistakes that were made, calling them egregious.  On Thursday, you made that letter public because The Times declined to print it?

PALMIERI:  Yes.  I would say going back to in terms of why we felt the need to do this, I felt that we need be - obviously, we had been in discussions with editors and reporters covering the story in real-time and wanted to see how The Times handled it in terms of corrections and the public editor, and felt that we still needed to be on the record for a few reasons.  One is just, this was so egregious in terms of the impact that it had in press coverage, to suggest that the Democratic frontrunner for president is the subject of a criminal inquiry is something that can't be unwound, and felt that we had to - in defending my candidate and doing my job, I needed to be on the record doing that.

The second thing is that the - it took them not just a long time to correct it, but it took them a really long - indefensible time to get rid of "criminal" in the headline and in the lead.  It just - it made no sense to us why it -

STELTER:  I think it wasn't until Saturday.  The story came out Thursday night.  It took a long time to take the word out of the headline.

PALMIERI:  I mean, there’s that.

STELTER:  That word has stuck.  Donald Trump is now using the word against your candidate.

PALMIERI:  Yes. So - and the third thing is just that, overall, for - you know, this is true not just of The Times but in the digital age, I think the press has a view where there is an inclination to think, "I want to be fast and if it's wrong I can fix it online later".  And that's just so dangerous, because what we find, and I’ve had a lot of experience with this, not just this job, but in working for President Obama, that the disaggregation of media sources means any one story with a sensational headline can have - penetrates in a way that other coverage won't do. So, I just think it is - so I’m sure this headline, you know, probably made it on Facebook pages, in addition to having a lot of penetration in print and television, and that it's all the more important that people, you know, take a step back and make sure that they have it right before they put something on.  Even if you can correct it, you can never undo whatever that first headline was.

STELTER:  Right.  There is no undo button in the modern news media.

PALMIERI:  No.  Yes.

STELTER:  Now, did you expect this letter to be published by The Times?

PALMIERI:  I hadn't necessarily thought that when I wrote it.  We just wanted to write it and then in discussing with them, the situation - we did ask that they would publish it.  And they thought about it for a couple of days and decided not to do it. I would note that, you know, that's not Dean Baquet’s decision, because as the editor, he was - this was an editorial page decision.

STELTER:  Right.

PALMIERI:  So, it was not his to make.  But they -

STELTER:  And this morning, here in the paper, he calls it a screw-up.  He has pretty strong language about this story.

PALMIERI:  Yes, he has - he has said that, and other things that he's written about the story, he -

STELTER:  Are you satisfied?

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI:  We - we just want it to be on record to explain why this - how this happened.  Also, the - how we were not given time to respond, not that we really could have responded because there wasn't any inquiry.

STELTER:  It’s important.  We should talk about this.

PALMIERI:  Yes.

STELTER:  The idea is that you weren't given enough time to react.  So, you say you heard about the word "criminal" at 8:36 p.m.

PALMIERI:  Right.

STELTER:  You tried to respond by 10:30, and the story was already online by 11:00.  That's, you know, pretty poor behavior.

PALMIERI:  That was - that is - that’s unusual, or you would hope that it was - it’s more usual than I would like, but you would - but I do - thought that that was important for people to understand, too, in terms of when you're making a charge of this magnitude, again, against a Democratic frontrunner, understanding the impact that that’s going to have.  That's - that’s a problem.  And there is a problem with sourcing and, you know, not - The Times didn't have the inquiry.  Their source - their original source had not seen the inquiry.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER:  Was it - was it a good job by Republican sources?

PALMIERI:  I can’t - it’s somebody - it's certainly a hit job by somebody with a political agenda.  So, that seems likely that it comes from that side.

STELTER:  But you don’t know.

PALMIERI:  We - obviously, we don't know.  And this isn't the - this isn't the first time there have been selective leaks from - regarding documents that people on Capitol Hill have access to.  So, there does seem to be certainly a political agenda, probably a partisan agenda, and it's all the more reason to look at these things again.

STELTER:  Does The Times have an agenda, you think, against Hillary Clinton?  Some have said The Times views her as secretive, as even corrupt or sleazy, and just seems to be much more aggressive covering her than other candidates.  Do you agree?

PALMIERI:  No.  That's not my point.  My point is - my point is that they should be getting it right.

STELTER:  In this case, they did not?

PALMIERI:  In this case, they - in this case, they did not.  They certainly admit they did not.  But, again, because of how, not just for The Times, but for all papers and news outlets and how fast these headlines spread and understanding the extraordinary amount of interest in Hillary Clinton, we really wanted to - we just felt like we had to pause and say this is really egregious.  Here is how this happened.  And hope that it doesn't happen, you know, not just with The Times in the future, but with other outlets, too.

STELTER:  Yes.  I think you're sending a message to the press.  I think you’re trying to say to other news outlets, tread carefully and make sure you have your facts right before you come at this campaign.

PALMIERI:  And the other thing we hope gets out is, for consumers of news to understand how, you know, to see behind the scenes a little bit how the sausage is made and maybe that they should have - you know, to be looking at stories with a critical eye, too.

STELTER:  If The Times calls as I’m sure they have already, actually, and asked for an interview with Clinton, what would you say?  Is she going to be available?

PALMIERI:  We certainly would not, you know - on Tuesday, the first day that Hillary Clinton was out in front of the press after the stories had run, we for media avail, we called on Amy Chozick from The Times, we engaged with them multiple times a day, regularly.  You know, we're not harboring any resentment on our part.  We're just wanting to have it be worked well going forward.

STELTER:  And will she be doing for television interviews?  She did one with CNN's Brianna Keilar.  Will she be doing more national TV interviews in the coming weeks?

PALMIERI:  Yes, I think that we have - I have two priorities.  My top priority is local media, from Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada and South Carolina, and then there’s the people that cover her every day.  This is - I think you've seen that she does media avails most days that she travels now, with the people who cover her.  That’s - Brianna covers her, so we're going to focus on those correspondents first.  And then, we'll branch out from there.  That's what she did in the 2000 Senate race – was really get to know the people that covered her, spend a lot of time with them, let them be our main conduit to the national media.  And that’s where we’re starting this time, too.

STELTER:  It’s noteworthy, there have not been that many complaints about press access with your media, as opposed to prior Clinton campaigns.  What’s notable right now is that there’s not a lot of noise about media grievances.  In the past, there has been.  It seems like you're having a smoother experience with the press so far.

PALMIERI:  I would say - it didn't feel that way in the beginning necessarily.

STELTER:  No?

PALMIERI:  But it is - it's an ongoing - it’s a work in progress.  I think it is a big priority to me that we have a good relationship with the press.  What our fundamental priority is making sure that the campaign is operating the way it needs to and that we're allowing the press in on top of that and we're trying to get to - we still have a lot more work to do to get our relationship with the press where I would like it to be, but we're making progress.

STELTER:  You’re going back to work now, today, on a Sunday?

PALMIERI:  Going back to work now.

STELTER:  Jennifer, thanks for being here.  Good talking with you.

PALMIERI:  It was a pleasure.  Thanks for having me, Brian.

STELTER:  Thank you.

END INTERVIEW


Topics: Brian Stelter • CNN • Reliable Sources
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