When the transparency fetishist site Wikileaks released some 20,000 emails that were either hacked or leaked from the DNC on Friday July 22, most focused on identifying the source and punishing Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz for blatant favoritism of Hillary Clinton at the expense of Bernie Sanders.
But there’s a New Jersey angle here, as well. It raises questions about NJ State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37) and the always blurry line between government resources and political activity.
Reacting to Wasserman Schultz’s resignation last week at the convention, Weinberg applauded the chairwoman’s decision to contain the damage that the leaks would have caused had she stayed to plead her own case.
“I’ve worked with Debbie Wasserman Schultz and I have a lot of respect for her, and I think she’s stepped down in order to make sure that our party is unified,” Weinberg told PolitickerNJ. “And that was an appropriate and probably difficult step.”
But what Weinberg didn’t say is that Wikileaks reveals that she herself had taken direction from the DNC. What’s more, she appears at least to have entertained the idea of using her official office in the New Jersey statehouse to amplify the statements that had been crafted by the DNC for the purpose of damaging Chris Christie.
According to several leaked documents, the DNC communications staff was 100% responsible for crafting Weinberg’s statement regarding Gov. Chris Christie taking the helm of the Trump transition team. The documents reveal that staffers at the DNC wrote and edited a tough statement for Weinberg and even circulated it around the DNC hierarchy for approval.
On May 9, 2016, DNC staffer Eric Walker wrote a release titled “Senate Majority Leader Weinberg Calls on Gov. Christie to Resign in Light of His New Role as Trump Transition Chair.” It takes several tough shots at the governor, citing newspapers that blamed Christie for “long neglect of the state to pursue his own selfish agenda” and slamming him for spending “over 70 percent of his time out of state last year.”
Walker sent the statement to another DNC staffer, Jeremy Brinster, to ask for “ASAP research approval.” Walker actually writes a followup email that reads, “Also FYI this is coming from her letterhead, not from DNC. Thanks.”
Later in the day, the Northeast Regional Press Secretary for the Democratic National Committee, Shu-Yen Wei, sent an email that read, “Ok, new plan, Sen. Weinberg was uncomfortable with calling on Christie to resign this time, so new statement.” TJ Helmstetter, the Deputy Director of Regional/Specialty Media at DNC, chimes in that it might be too late: “If this still hasn’t gone I think we missed our window.” Wei pushes back, urging that the statement be sent to Weinberg “for them to use or not at their discretion.” Helmstetter tells her, “That’s fine, it’s just embarrassing when the DNC reacts to news 8 hours after it happens.”
For her part, Sen. Weinberg told Politicker NJ, “I do not recall ever getting a request like that from the DNC.” And no statement ever did materialize on her letterhead or anyone else’s. Weinberg adds, “I don’t usually need prompting. If I feel strongly about an issue concerning the governor, I have been pretty forthright in making that statement without anyone else having to suggest it.” Weinberg called back a few minutes later to clarify that she did in fact receive an email from Shu-Yen Wei, but didn’t release a statement calling on Christie to resign.
Yet, it’s crystal clear that the DNC was trying to get her to do just that. An even more detailed look at the inner workings comes courtesy of an email from Helmstetter to five DNC staffers: Walker and Wei, plus Luis Miranda, Mark Paustenbach and Tom Walsh. Walker had inquired about Weinberg’s willingness to send the release and Helmstetter replies, “I would have this come on her letterhead and then we forward it for maximum impact. Looks out of whack to Jersey press corps if Weinberg statement is going out on our letterhead.”
In other words, the DNC writes a statement for Weinberg, Weinberg releases it, then the DNC says “Wow, look at this powerful statement Weinberg just released.” All so it doesn’t “look out of whack” to the New Jersey press corps.
It’s not news that the DNC assists Democrats in scoring political points – that’s why the committees exist. What’s of interest here is the degree to which the DNC would use local legislators to put points on the national scoreboard. And also the revelation that Weinberg, who has cultivated a reputation as a grandmotherly public servant, is quite capable of hardball. Plus, it’s just kinda fun to see how the sausage is made.
Emails to several staffers at the DNC mentioned in this story were not returned as of press time; if they choose to respond this story will be updated