Xavier Becerra, the controversial secretary of health and human services, has hired longtime Democratic strategist Kristina Schake to lead the agency's "public education efforts" on COVID-19.
Schake is perhaps best known for encouraging Michelle Obama to make an "undercover" shopping trip to a Target in Alexandria, Va., where an Associated Press photographer just happened to be waiting with a camera. She is credited with helping the former first lady establish her brand as an "accessible everywoman."
Schake's efforts to do the same for Hillary Clinton in 2016 were not as successful, for obvious reasons. In her role as deputy communications director, Schake was tasked with showcasing the failed candidate's "self-effacing, warm and funny side," according to the New York Times.
The communications guru understandably struggled to capture this side of Clinton during the campaign. More often, Schake was forced to defend the candidate's failure to comply with federal law or the campaign's refusal to release transcripts of the paid speeches Clinton gave to Wall Street financial firms.
Efforts to portray Clinton as likable and down-to-earth were also complicated by events like the celebrity-packed fundraising concert in Manhattan that took place less than a month before Election Day. Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced Hollywood executive and convicted rapist, helped produce the event.
Schake and other members of the Clinton campaign were reportedly urged to stop associating with Weinstein in light of the producer's longstanding reputation as a sexual predator. Celebrity activist Lena Dunham, for example, said she warned Schake in 2016 that it was "a really bad idea for [Weinstein] to host fundraisers and be involved [with the campaign] because it's an open secret in Hollywood that he has a problem with sexual assault."
Dunham said Schake had been surprised by the warning and promised to raise the issue with Clinton's campaign manager, Robby Mook. Regardless of whether the concerns about Weinstein were discussed among senior members of the campaign, no actions appear to have been taken in response.
Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill did not deny Dunham's claim about warning Schake and other campaign officials but questioned why the actress "would tell them instead of those who could stop [Weinstein]."
Days after losing the election, Bill and Hillary Clinton had dinner with Weinstein in part to discuss a documentary TV show about her campaign. Hillary has repeatedly insisted she had no idea that Weinstein was a notorious pervert.
"How could we have known?" Clinton asked the Hollywood Reporter in 2020 when asked about her relationship with the disgraced producer. "He raised money for me, for the Obamas, for Democrats in general. And that at the time was something that everybody thought made sense."
According to journalist Ronan Farrow, who wrote one of the first stories documenting the allegations against Weinstein, the sex pest tried to use his relationship with the Clintons to thwart his reporting. Farrow said his efforts to secure an interview with Hillary Clinton in 2017 prompted a call from Merrill, who expressed concern about the "big story" Farrow was working on about Weinstein's predatory history.
Clinton's team "tried to cancel the interview … over the Weinstein stuff," Farrow said.