Politics

How a Free Beacon Email Helped Cost a Clinton Crony a Campaign Gig

Hacked emails give inside look at campaign's decision to keep Phillipe Reines off campaign

A bizarre email chain between longtime Hillary Clinton press aide Philippe Reines and a Washington Free Beacon reporter had top officials considering whether Reines had lost his mind and came just days before it was decided that Reines would have no role in Clinton's presidential campaign, according to hacked emails released by Wikileaks.

When then-Washington Free Beacon reporter CJ Ciaramella asked Reines about Gawker's report that he and others were using private email addresses to conduct government business while working in Clinton's State Department, Reines replied in a way that made Podesta suggest he should be "committed to Bellevue."

Reines, known for taking an aggressive tone with reporters, wrote back to not only Ciaramella, but also a reporter from Gawker, CNN, and the Washington Post. He called the report a "cockamamie theory" and said the "lying liar pants on fire" source should take a lie detector test. He also lashed out at the Gawker reporter's "lack of professionalism, low standards and sheer cruel intent."

Ciaramella, who has since left the Free Beacon and now writes for Reason, said that he could never have imagined the response he got from Reines.

"I just wanted to ask him a simple question about a FOIA request," said Ciaramella. "But, like a butterfly flapping its wings in Asia, sending an email to Philippe Reines can produce wild, unimaginable consequences."

One consequence was that Reines' email was forwarded to Podesta with a subject of "Phillippe going off the rails, FYI."

Podesta called the email "priceless," adding "Phillipe is the only person about whom you're torn between patting him on the back and trying to get him committed to Bellevue."

Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress and a close friend of Podesta, told him in an email that she was "not torn at all" and that she thought Reines had a "disorder."

Just four days later, Podesta and Reines wound up in an email spat that ultimately ended in Podesta telling Reines that he would not have a role in Clinton's presidential campaign.

Reines complained in an email that somebody in Clinton's inner-circle leaked to CNN that Clinton would be doing an interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell regarding the email scandal.

"Ok, this has gone too far. The email below is from Craig to Nick to me where someone knows an interview with Andrea was on the table," Reines wrote. "The Andrea part especially should only have been known to 10-12 people, 3 of whom are John, Cheryl & me."

Podesta, fresh off reading Reines' email to the Free Beacon, included Clinton on his response to Reines and told him to "stop."

"You got to stop this," Podesta wrote. "The press is trading in rumors that can easily originate in their own newsrooms. If someone wanted to leak juicy tidbits, they have a lot more to work with than our press planning."

"If we are going to be at each others throats before we start, we are going nowhere," he wrote.

Reines defended himself.

"With all due respect, and reluctantly to do this in front of HRC except for wanting to defend myself against being labeled as a cancer—but the conclusion that it is ME that has to stop ‘this' is really unfair," Reines wrote.

Reines stated that he thought Podesta was treating him unfairly and that he had done nothing wrong.

"With all due respect, your reaction to me is unfair in that's it's stronger than any admonition anyone else has received who is actually doing something wrong," Reines wrote. "With that, I'm going to sit quietly in the corner until Cheryl calls me to admonish me for sending this reply and digging myself into an even deeper hole with you than I already was. For those keeping score, that will be two more admonishment than the culprit(s) have received."

Podesta responded, to only Reines this time, and scolded him for putting the idea that Clinton "can't trust anyone" in her head the day before her interview with Mitchell.

"I don't condone leaks, but she has a very tough job to do tomorrow. Do you really think it helps get her in the right head space to tell her she can't trust anyone she just brought on board?" Podesta wrote.

"CNN thinking Andrea Mitchell is getting an interview is about the least of our problems," he wrote. "I am happy to fire someone for leaking whether they did or they didn't just to make the point, but let's try to get through the next few days."

Reines responded simply by writing "Ok," but he followed up hours later with a lengthy announcement that he would accept Podesta's wishes and disconnect himself from the soon-to-be-launched campaign.

"While our exchange might not make it seem so, and my too-often caustic nature doesn't help, I want this to succeed far more than you know," Reines wrote to Podesta. "And I firmly believe that doing so means I shouldn't be 50 percent in 50 percent out. Should be 100/0 or 0/100.

"It's clear you don't think it should be 100% in," Reines wrote. "That's a bitter pill to swallow. Not because I want to, but because how much I respect you and how hard it is to accept that you have determined that my downsides have exceeded my upsides."

Reines wrote that he was willing to accept that his best way of helping would be to step away.

"0 percent in is an extreme, but I want to be as close to that as possible," he wrote. "So it being tough to accept after nearly 13 years of waking up everyday working for her, you and I are in agreement.

"If she wants to be President, I want to help her do so," he wrote. "And I am more than prepared to define help as stepping back & away to allow a new team to gel & function without someone saying, She doesn't like this, she won't go for that."

"Who cares what's happened," he wrote. "The past didn't work out too well and there's far less downside to reinventing the wheel than people always say. Maybe there's a better wheel. Or at worst, you end up with the same wheel but needed to go through that process yourself to come to that conclusion."

"Once we are past the worst of this, my participation should be dialed way back down to where you decided it to be, with clear boundaries, which honestly, is where I need it to be for myself," concluded Reines.

Reines was later brought back to fill a role that his aggressive persona was perfect for—to play Donald Trump in Clinton's debate prep.

Reines did not respond to a request for comment on whether or not he thinks his email to the Free Beacon had anything to do with Podesta's belief that he shouldn't be on the campaign. The Clinton campaign also did not respond to a request for comment.

The emails between Reines and Podesta were posted online by Wikileaks. The U.S. director of national intelligence and the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security have accused "Russia's senior-most officials" of hacking and leaking emails posted to Wikileaks and other sites in order to influence the 2016 election.