(AP/The Washington Post) — Hacked emails threatened to overshadow the Democratic Party’s upcoming celebration in Philadelphia as progressives expressed disappointment Sunday over the presidential nomination process and Bernie Sanders stepped up demands that the party’s chairwoman step down.
Bitterness and frustration among the more progressive wing came after some 19,000 emails were published on the website Wikileaks that suggested the Democratic National Committee played favorites during the primary, when Sanders fell short against Hillary Clinton. The DNC is supposed to be neutral throughout the primary process, but Sanders spent much of it accusing the DNC and its chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Fla., of supporting Clinton behind the scenes.
In one leaked email, a DNC official wondered whether Sanders’ religious beliefs could be used against him, questioning whether the candidate may be an atheist.
In interviews broadcast Sunday, the Vermont senator said the emails proved what he knew was true: The DNC planned to support former Secretary of State Clinton from the start.
“I’m not shocked, but I’m disappointed” by the exchanges in the emails, Sanders told ABC.
Sanders pressed for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., to quit as chairwoman immediately. He also suggested that Clinton’s choice of running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, was a disappointment, and that he would have preferred Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a favorite of liberals.
“His political views are not my political views. He is more conservative than I am. Would I have preferred to see somebody like an Elizabeth Warren selected by Secretary Clinton? Yes, I would have,” Sanders told NBC.
The Clinton team worked to portray their party’s convention in a different light from the just concluded Republican gathering in Cleveland, where Donald Trump accepted the GOP nomination but party divisions flared when his chief rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, refused to endorse the billionaire businessman.
Trump cast himself as the law-and-order candidate in a nation suffering under crime and hobbled by immigration, as the GOP convention stuck to a gloom-and-doom theme. Democrats said they wanted to convey a message of optimism and improving the lives of all Americans.
But party disunity also seems to be a factor in Philadelphia, given Sanders’ demands for a new leader and general unhappiness among his many supporters about how the nomination process unfolded.
Wasserman Schultz will not speak at the convention, CNN reported. And at least one of Sanders’ delegates said there was talk of protests during Kaine’s acceptance speech.
Norman Solomon, a delegate who supports Bernie Sanders, says there is talk among Sanders’ delegates of walking out during Kaine’s acceptance speech or turning their backs as a show of protest.
Solomon said he believes a “vast majority” of Sanders’ delegates support these kinds of protests to express their dismay. Sanders’ supporters say they are concerned that Kaine is not progressive enough.
Dan O’Neal, 68, a retired school teacher and delegate from Arizona, said Wasserman Schultz has to be censured.
“We knew they were stacking the deck against Bernie from the get-go, but this type of stuff coming out is outrageous,” he said. “It proves our point that they’ve tried to marginalize him and make it as difficult as possible.”
Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, agreed, saying Sanders’ supporters “have a lot to complain about.”
“The emails have proven the system was rigged from the start,” Manafort told Fox News.
Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, tried to shift blame away from DNC officials to “Russian state actors” who, he said, may have hacked into DNC computers “for the purpose of helping Donald Trump,” the Republican presidential nominee.
“There’s evidence Russian state actors broke into the DNC, stole those emails, and there are experts saying they are releasing these emails for the purpose of helping Donald Trump,” Mook told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview that aired Sunday. “It’s no coincidence these emails were released on the eve of the convention.”
Mook said the idea that Russia leaked Democrats’ emails to possibly help Trump was “disturbing.”
“We need to be concerned Trump and his allies made changes to the platform to make it more pro-Russian, and we saw him talking about how NATO shouldn’t intervene [in Russian disputes]. So I think when you put it all together, it’s a disturbing picture,” he said.
When Tapper pressed him further, Mook made a connection between the June breach of the DNC’s network by Russian government hackers and WikiLeaks’s publication on Friday of DNC emails. “If they are the ones that took them, we have to believe they are the ones releasing them,” Mook said. He doubled down on that assertion in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Sunday.
Mook did not call for Wasserman Schultz’s resignation, instead saying, “I’m going to leave that to the DNC because I don’t have all the facts.”
Clinton is within just days of her long-held ambition to become the party’s official presidential nominee.
After the DNC released a slightly trimmed list of superdelegates — those are the party officials who can back any candidate — it now takes 2,382 delegates to formally clinch the nomination. Clinton has 2,814 when including superdelegates, according to an Associated Press count. Sanders has 1,893.
Sanders has endorsed Clinton, but his delegates are pushing for a state-by-state tally. The state-by-state roll call is scheduled for Tuesday.