HARD DRIVING PLAN. WikiLeaks emails: Clinton team crafted server story

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Hillary Clinton’s top aides privately debated whether to joke about her emerging email scandal, if they should shift some blame to former secretaries of state and how to frame, explain and defend her use of a home brewed server in a series of purported March 2015 emails revealed by WikiLeaks this week.

The emails, which originated on the Gmail account of Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta, paint a portrait of a political team alternately worried and defiant in the face of their boss’ mushrooming email disclosure. Through the early days of the email revelations, and even throughout the summer as further discoveries turned up the heat, Clinton’s group sweated the minutiae of her carefully crafted responses in an attempt to keep the campaign’s preferred narrative on track.

As the scandal evolved during the summer of 2015, aides suddenly had to combat reports that classified information may have been emailed, leading Clinton to eventually modify her original denials to say she had never “sent nor received any email that was marked classified.” On Aug. 21, her team was debating a new statement addressing the issue. Press secretary Brian Fallon emailed communications director Jennifer Palmieri to flag a potential issue.

Clinton’s advisers also discussed how much – if any – blame should be assigned to her predecessors at the State Department. Palmieri’s first response to being emailed The New York Times story on March 2 was: “Didn’t Condi [Rice] also use a non-government account?”

On March 10, Clinton appeared before reporters for the first time to answer questions about her use of email. That same day Rep. Trey Gowdy, who was chairing the committee investigating the Benghazi terror attack, issued a statement critical of Clinton. That appeared to please Palmieri, as she wrote that Democrats can now shift the conversation “back in the Benghazi box.”

“Saw it as positive that Gowdy took the bait and overreacted to her comments,” Palmieri wrote. “Hill Dems will like to hear that we are looking to put this back on House R’. Anytime they are involved, Dems win.”

A month later, on April 12, Clinton announced her candidacy for president.

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