Nearly 20,000 emails sent and received by Democratic National Committee staff members were released Friday by Wikileaks, with one message in particular raising questions about the committee’s impartiality during the Democratic primary.
The revelation threatened to shatter the uneasy peace between the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders camps and supporters days before the Democratic convention kicks off next week.
The leaks, from January 2015 to May 2016, feature Democratic staffers debating everything from how to deal with challenging media requests to coordinating the committee’s message with other powerful interests in Washington.
The emails were leaked from the accounts of seven DNC officials, Wikileaks said. CNN has not independently established the emails’ authenticity.
One email features DNC staffers appearing to ponder ways to undercut Sanders, an insurgent Democrat who had a bitter relationship with party leadership. Sanders supporters charged that the DNC was biased toward Clinton, and Sanders late in the primary endorsed DNC chair Debbie Wassserman Schultz’s primary opponent in her Florida congressional race.
On May 5, a DNC employee asked colleagues to “get someone to ask his belief” in God and suggested that it could make a difference in Kentucky and West Virginia. Sanders’ name is not mentioned in the note.
“This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist,” DNC chief financial officer Brad Marshall wrote.
Neither the DNC nor Marshall immediately responded to requests for comment.
But Republican nominee Donald Trump said the emails were proof of the Democrats’ “rigged” system, resurfacing an attack he’s leveled against the party before.
“Leaked e-mails of DNC show plans to destroy Bernie Sanders. Mock his heritage and much more. On-line from Wikileakes, really vicious. RIGGED,” Trump tweeted Saturday morning.
‘It’s gas meets flame’
The publication of the emails comes just a weekend before the start of the Democratic convention, where a major objective will be to unify the Democratic Party by winning over Sanders’ voters.
Several Democratic sources told CNN that the leaked emails are a big source of contention and may incite tensions between the Clinton and Sanders camps heading into the Democratic convention’s Rules Committee meeting this weekend. Representatives of the former primary rivals were expected to meet Friday night to discuss the issue.
“It could threaten their agreement,” one Democrat said, referring to the deal reached between Clinton and Sanders about the convention, delegates and the DNC. The party had agreed to include more progressive principles in its official platform, and as part of the agreement, Sanders dropped his fight to contest Wasserman Schultz as the head of the DNC.
“It’s gas meets flame,” the Democrat said.
Michael Briggs, a Sanders spokesman, had no comment.
The issue surfaced on Saturday at Clinton’s first campaign event with Tim Kaine as her running mate, when a protester was escorted out of Florida International University in Miami. The protester shouted “DNC leaks” soon after Clinton thanked Wasserman Schultz for her leadership at the DNC.
The DNC has previously had its files hacked by an individual named “Guccifer 2.0” that may have had ties to the Russians.
Hackers stole opposition research on Donald Trump from the DNC’s servers in mid-June. Two separate Russian intelligence-linked cyberattack groups were both in the DNC’s networks.