By Jonathan Easley - 10-14-16 11:45 AM EDT
A Democratic super PAC poll tested several personal attacks against then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in 2008, including his cocaine use as a teenager and his father's Muslim heritage, according to emails released by WikiLeaks.
The Jan. 9, 2008, email exchange is between Paul Begala, a longtime ally of Hillary Clinton, and her current campaign chairman, John Podesta. In it, Podesta provides a list of attack lines the strategists discussed putting into a survey.
Begala, who now runs a super PAC backing Clinton's presidential bid, tweeted that the research was conducted on behalf of an "independent progressive" political action committee led by an Obama supporter. He said the group also ran polling on potential attack lines against Clinton.
The point of the polling, Begala said, was to determine the candidates' potential weaknesses ahead of the general election.
The WikiLeaks emails indicate the super PAC also tested attack lines about Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who ultimately won the GOP nomination that year. The email chain carried the subject line "McCain Survey- Take 3."
The poll questions about Obama, as written in the emails, included:
- Obama (owe-BAHM-uh)'s father was a Muslim and Obama grew up among Muslims in the world's most populous Islamic country."
- Obama (owe-BAHM-uh) is ranked as one of the ten most liberal members of the Senate because of his support of issues like gay adoption."
- Obama (owe-BAHM-uh) described his former use of cocaine as using "a little blow."
Conservative opposition research groups passed around the email highlighting the Muslim question.
Tom Matzzie, the former Washington director for the liberal group MoveOn.org, said the poll was taken to see how voters responded to potential attacks against Clinton and Obama by Republicans.
We tested negative attacks on BOTH candidates Clinton and Obama in 2008. We were testing expected attacks by Republicans on them. 2/- Tom Matzzie (@tommatzzie) October 14, 2016
Those on the email were ready to defend whoever won the Democratic nomination, Begala said, as he did once Obama defeated Clinton in the primaries.
Not Clinton team. That was a super pac led by an Obama supporter planning to defend whoever won Dem primary. Tested negs on Clinton too. https://t.co/Wh7iXUx3Rw- Paul Begala (@PaulBegala) October 14, 2016
Bingo. https://t.co/HPQuyHAhT8- Paul Begala (@PaulBegala) October 14, 2016
- Escape Artist (@ImageFeeder) October 14, 2016
Thanks. That was for an independent progressive Super PAC (run by frmr MoveOn Dc head). Didn't coordinate with either Clinton or Obama. https://t.co/BKAAbxT8xs- Paul Begala (@PaulBegala) October 14, 2016
Our group was led by an Obama supporter from MoveOn, funded by Obama & Clinton donors.Committed to helping whoever won nom. in 08. https://t.co/sQgvmh7eyv- Paul Begala (@PaulBegala) October 14, 2016
Clinton's campaign has hammered her GOP rival, Donald Trump, for promoting doubts that President Obama was born in the U.S. and rejected Trump's assertion that she was responsible for fanning the racially charged rumor in 2008.
In a Friday conference call with reporters, the Clinton campaign lashed out at WikiLeaks, calling the Russian hack of Podesta's emails an "unprecedented and alarming attack" on U.S. democracy meant to influence the election in favor of Trump.
Clinton's team criticized Trump for his flattering comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin and ripped him for encouraging further cyberattacks that they say endanger the nation's sovereignty.
The Clinton campaign has not confirmed or denied the authenticity of the Podesta emails. Spokesman Nick Merrill sought to cast doubt on the emails, though, saying they could have been manipulated.