(CN) - Emails leaked by Wikileaks show aides for Hillary Clinton fretted over how the Democratic presidential nominee handled the private email server scandal that emerged right as her primary fight with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders began.
"Do we actually know who told Hillary she could use private email? And has that person been drawn and quartered?" asked Neera Tanden in an email sent to Clinton campaign chair John Podesta on July 24, 2015. "Like whole thing is fucking insane."
Tanden is president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank founded and presided over by many years by Podesta. Podesta left his post as president of the think tank to become Clinton's campaign manager.
Preliminary reports indicate Podesta fell for a phishing scheme created by the Russian government that led to the hack of his email account. Wikileaks has been slowly rolling them out in 2000-email tranches over the past two weeks.
Clinton and her camp have not verified the authenticity of the leaked emails, nor have they vociferously denied them aside from a few mild insinuations on behalf of some of the implicated staffers that the tranches contain inauthentic elements.
In March 2015, the public learned that Clinton used a private server for official communications during her tenure as U.S. Secretary of State, a violation of department protocol requiring employees to use email accounts maintained on federal servers.
The Wikileaks emails show staff and allies in the Clinton camp as they grapple with the fallout of the email scandal right as Clinton's campaign for president began ramping up.
"There is just no good answer," said Phillipe Reines, a former senior advisor in the State Department under Clinton. "We need to gut through the process phase, get them all out there and let the content do the talking."
Reines' email went to Podesta on March 7, in response to a chain between New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and Ann Marie Slaughter, the public policy director under Clinton at the State Department.
Slaughter told Friedman that use of private emails was widespread because the State Department's email system was clunky, slow and prone to shutdowns.
"We sent sensitive but unclassified documents to our private emails so we could work on them at home and then sent them back to our work emails," Slaughter wrote.
Freidman wrote back to say he was "troubled by what I have read about what Hillary did."
He added, "I am keeping an open [sic] until I hear what she has to say, but it doesn't sit right with me."
Another aspect of the scandal illuminated by the hacked emails is whether President Barack Obama knew about Clinton's use of a private server.
At one point, Clinton speechwriter Josh Schwerin provided multiple staffers including Podesta with a link that shows Obama telling reporters the first time he heard of Clinton's use of a private server was when he read the news.
Cheryl Mills, a former deputy counsel to the White House, responded to the chain: "We need to clean this up - he has emails from her - they do not say state.gov."
In another email sent during the initial fallout, Tanden blames Mills for the secretive nature of the email scandal.
"This is a Cheryl special. Know you love her, but this stuff is like her Achilles heal [sic]," Tanden wrote. "Why didn't they get this stuff out like 18 months ago? I guess I know the answer, they wanted to get away with it."
What unfolded over the course of the next few months was staffers strategizing different methods of framing and distracting from the scandal.
At one point in June 2015, Clinton's team developed a rigorous question-and-answer to make sure the candidate was prepped on all potential questions from the press.
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook recommended doing a press interview with Andrea Mitchell - which eventually happened - to discuss the email scandal and also recommended bringing up other issues as a means of distraction.
"We could even have her come out against Keystone on Monday as well (not sure where that stands), which will solicit criticism but that might help distract from emails," Mook wrote on August 7, 2015.
After the interview with Mitchell in early September, Tanden expressed approval of Clinton's performance but reservations over her inability to offer a heartfelt apology for the scandal.
"I mean what is really the big deal to say I made a mistake with having two emails and I'm sorry," she wrote to Podesta. "Everyone wants her to apologize. And she should. Apologies are like her Achilles heel."Follow @@MatthewCRenda
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