The Podesta Emails: A Primer

Over the past week, thousands of private emails sent to and from John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, have been released by WikiLeaks, an organization that specializes in leaking classified material to the public. The emails covered a wide range of topics including discussion of a New York Times piece on one of Clinton’s orders from Chipotle, debate over campaign speech phrasing, and conversation about Clinton’s plan to defeat ISIS.

As of today, WikiLeaks has published eight installments of Podesta emails since October 7 (one every day). In total, 11,107 emails have been published, the latest being a February 2015 request from one Matt Wanning for Podesta to call into the Cats Roundtable radio program in New York.

On CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday morning, Senator Tim Kaine, Clinton’s running mate, claimed that an e-mail within the leak that showed he was slated for the vice presidential slot months in advance of when it was announced” was inaccurate, and could have possibly been doctored.

“One of the emails that came up this week referred to me,” Kaine said. “It was completely inaccurate. And I don’t know whether it was inaccurate because the sender didn’t know what he or she was talking about it or it had been doctored.”

Along with the emails, WikiLeaks published an article by its editor-in-chief, Julian Assange, titled “The Podesta Emails; Part One.” The article addresses the primary focus of the first installment of the leaked emails – nuclear energy. In particular, it addresses a scandal surrounding the sale of a Canadian uranium mining company with control over certain U.S. uranium assets to a Russian-controlled energy company.

The Clinton connection? Since the deal involved uranium, a strategic asset, the deal had to be approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). Through CFIUS, nine agencies, including the then-Clinton-led State Department, had to approve the sale. The agencies did approve it, the Clinton Foundation received large sums of money from shareholders in Uranium One (the Canadian company) before and after the approval. Because of these donations, Clinton opponents have characterized this incident as an example of Clintonian corruption.

This was first reported in a book titled Clinton Cash by Peter Schweizer, later confirmed by the New York Times, and has since been criticized by right-wing outlets like Breitbart and Fox News.

Assange’s article provided a bit of new information on this scandal from the newly-leaked emails. The new information surrounded one particular detail – Jose Fernandez, the then-Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Business affairs. According to a Clinton campaign response to The New York Times article on the scandal, “the CFIUS approval process historically does not trigger the personal involvement of the Secretary of State” and that Fernandez was the “State Department’s principal representative to CFIUS,” not Clinton. Moreover, the campaign made note that Fernandez “personally attested that ‘Secretary Clinton never intervened with me on any CFIUS matter.’”

Assange claimed that this was not the full picture, citing an email that Fernandez sent to Podesta in April 2015 wherein Fernandez stated “it was good to talk with you this afternoon” and “I would like to do all I can to support Secretary Clinton, and would welcome your advice and help in steering me to the right persons in the campaign.”

In the article, Assange used this evidence to claim that Fernandez was “hardly a neutral witness” since “he had agreed […] to play a role in the Clinton Campaign.

But timelines are not in favor of Assange’s argument: the documented communication between Podesta and Fernandez happened in April 2015, roughly five years after the Uranium One deal was approved in the CFIUS in October 2010. There is thus no concrete connection between the 2015 Fernandez communication with Podesta and the 2010 CFIUS approval.

In the end, the Podesta emails released so far have little new information to reveal, at least about the Uranium One deal. But Assange has made no indication of letting up the steady stream of leaked emails, so who knows what more information is to come?

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