“Wait,” Brazile recalls saying. “That victory fund was supposed to be for whoever was the nominee, and the state party races. You’re telling me that Hillary has been controlling it since before she got the nomination?”
Brazile later found the written agreement giving Clinton control, which “specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings.”
Armed with this knowledge, Brazile steeled herself for a phone call with Sanders to square with him. The Vermont senator comes across well in her telling: “Bernie took this stoically. He did not yell or express outrage.” Indeed, Sanders could hardly have been shocked; he’d been accusing the DNC of much the same thing for months. But he did ask Brazile for her analysis of the race, and she boldly told the truth: “I had to be frank with him. I did not trust the polls, I said. I told him I had visited states around the country and I found a lack of enthusiasm for her everywhere. I was concerned about the Obama coalition and about millennials.” (As Nate Silver notes, there appears to be some retrospective revisionism at play in this quote.)
This is interesting as far as it goes, especially for the details of the contract between the Clinton campaign and the DNC. But Brazile’s account raises quite a few questions of its own.
For anyone who watched the 2016 campaign, it’s surreal to see Brazile’s overtures to Sanders and to see her complaining that the DNC had been in the tank for Hillary Clinton. Brazile is not a product of the Clinton machine—she worked for a series of national Democratic campaigns, then rose to prominence as an aide to Al Gore, whose relationship with the Clintons was complicated, during his presidential campaign in 2000. She remained neutral in the 2008 race, too. But by the 2016 race, she was ready to join the Clinton bandwagon. As hacked DNC emails would later show, she even passed Democratic primary-debate questions—obtained through her position as a CNN political analyst—to Clinton. When this was revealed, it earned Brazile the heated enmity of many Sanders backers. Given that she was a vice chair of the DNC, it also fed the already-strong impression that it heavily favored Clinton.
The fact that the Democratic Party apparatus would lean toward Clinton—a former senator and first lady, the wife of a former Democratic president, and part of a family whose patronage had largely shaped the current party—over Sanders, who didn’t even serve as a Democrat in the Senate, was not a shock. Even so, Sanders’s campaign had been blowing the whistle on the Victory Fund for months. Brazile cites a May 2016 Politico story, but in April, Sanders’s campaign wrote an open letter to the DNC complaining about the fundraising arrangement and suggesting it might violate campaign-finance laws. That letter, in turn, cited a Washington Post piece. Brazile writes of her discovery of the contract, and then her phone call to Sanders in September, as though she had been unaware of the Sanders letter, which was widely publicized at the time.