“At the Democratic convention in Philadelphia last summer, Jake Sullivan and I took to our golf carts one afternoon to make the rounds of the television networks’ tents in the parking lot of the Wells Fargo Center. It is standard for presidential campaign staffers to brief networks on what to expect during that night’s session. But on this day, we were on a mission to get the press to focus on something even we found difficult to process: the prospect that Russia had not only hacked and stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee, but that it had done so to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.
(…) “Now that Trump is president, though, the stakes are higher, because the Russian plot succeeded. The lessons we campaign officials learned in trying to turn the Russia story against Trump can help other Democrats (and all Americans) figure out how to treat this interference no longer as a matter of electoral politics but as the threat to the republic that it really is.
(…) “Without anyone knowing about the FBI’s interest, it was difficult to bring appropriate attention to the Russia issue and Trump’s curious pro-Putin bent. The week after the convention, we sought out credible national security voices to sound alarms. I was surprised by the enthusiasm with which some, such as former acting CIA director Michael Morell, jumped into the fray. When I worked in the Obama White House, people in national security positions had been uneasy making broad public arguments, particularly about political matters. Not this time. They were so concerned about the situation that, to me, the language they used to describe the threat they believed Russia and Trump posed was shocking. I remember my jaw dropping as I sat in our Brooklyn campaign headquarters and read the op-ed Morell submitted to the New York Times in early August, in which he shared his view that Russia had probably undertaken an effort to “recruit” Trump and that the Republican nominee had become an “unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”
(…) “We sought moments for Clinton and Tim Kaine, her running mate, to talk about Russia when we knew they would be on live television and couldn’t be edited. The debates offered the best opportunity, and Clinton took advantage, culminating with her famous line calling Trump Putin’s “puppet ” in the third one. It was tough deciding how much of her time to devote to the issue. We were in a Catch-22: We didn’t want her to talk too much about Russia because it wasn’t what voters were telling us they cared about — and, frankly, it sounded kind of wacky. At the same time, we understood the issue would never rise to the front of voters’ minds if we weren’t driving attention to it. It was already pretty clear they weren’t going to hear much about it in the press.
On Oct. 7, I thought the Russia story would finally break through. We were at a debate prep session in Westchester County, N.Y., when the director of national intelligence and the secretary of homeland security put out a joint statement saying that the U.S. intelligence community was “confident” that not only had the Russian government hacked Democrats’ emails, but “Russia’s senior-most officials” were probably directing their release to influence the election. Incredible. Finally, here was the break we had been waiting for. I was on a conference call with my colleagues to discuss our response when someone said: “Hey, Palmieri. There’s an ‘Access Hollywood’ video that just got released.” Literally minutes later, WikiLeaks put out the first batch of John Podesta’s stolen Gmail. And that was that. The rest is history.” (Read more: The Washington Post, 3/24/2017)