Clinton Staffers Considered Joking About Email Server the Day Before Congressional Subpoena

‘Might get a big laugh tonight and regret it when content of emails is disclosed’

October 11, 2016

Hillary Clinton staffers discussed whether the candidate should joke about her private email server the day that Congress submitted a records retention request for the server, according to hacked emails released by Wikileaks.

Clinton spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri sent an email to some of Clinton’s top advisers on March 3, 2015 asking if it would be a good idea to include a dismissive joke about Clinton’s server—which contained classified national security information and may have been compromised by foreign agents—in a speech given to a pro-choice group. The server’s existence had been revealed in a New York Times article the previous day.

"I wanted to float idea of HRC making a joke about the email situation at the Emily's List dinner tonight. What do folks think about that?" Palmieri said in a message posted by Wikileaks.

The message was one of many obtained through a hack of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email account. The U.S. government has formally accused the Russian government of carrying out the hack in order to influence the U.S. presidential election.

The email inspired debate among the aides, who could not decide if Clinton’s email server was ripe material for laughs.

"I don't think it's nuts if we can come up with the right thing. But it could also be nuts," spokesman Nick Merrill said.

"I think it would be good for her to show some humor. This is her crowd so the response would be great. Also [speechwriter Dan Schwerin] is looking to add more humor overall so more jokes are welcome too," Deputy Communications Director Kristina Schake said.

Other advisers warned that any joke could come back to bite the campaign once the contents of Clinton’s emails—such as the hundred-plus classified documents that were later recovered from the server—were revealed to the public.

"We don't know what's in the emails, so we are nervous about this," Democratic consultant Mandy Grunwald said. "Might get a big laugh tonight and regret it when content of emails is disclosed."

Grunwald’s email prompted a reply from pollster Joel Benenson.

"If we're worried about equal pay as we were, we should not joke about this," he said.

Speechwriter Dan Schwerin responded to the group five hours after Palmieri’s initial email, writing that Clinton thought the speech needed "some humor up top." The speech Clinton ultimately delivered included a tame joke about "The Dress" that had gone viral a week earlier.

"Despite what you might think, this outfit is not actually white and gold," Clinton said. "I must say that that gave us all a little bit of amusement."

Journalists at the speech noted that the speech omitted any mention of the burgeoning email scandal.

On March 4, the day after the speech, Congress subpoenaed Clinton’s email records. Three weeks later, her IT staffer used BleachBit to permanently delete thousands of emails from the server.

Palmieri, the spokeswoman who floated the joke, did not respond to a request for comment.