Marc Elias, general counsel for Kamala Harris’s failed 2020 presidential campaign, encouraged Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign to take money from foreign entities according to an unearthed email thread.
The 2015 email exchange is especially concerning in light of a recent National Counterintelligence and Security Center report identifying foreign entities such as the Chinese Communist Party aiming to secure a Joe Biden presidency.
Elias, a lawyer for dozens of high-profile Democratic candidates including Hillary Clinton during her 2016 presidential bid, had been on Harris’s presidential campaign as its top lawyer since its inception.
The trusted Harris adviser, however, was identified by Clinton’s 2016 campaign director as “convincing” the campaign they should take money from registered foreign agents – Americans who lobby on behalf of foreign countries, individuals, and businesses. Elias opposed a “bright-line rule” against universally opposing this source of cash, perhaps foreign.
In the email thread between high-level staffers of the Clinton campaign, participants attempted to make a decision on “allowing those lobbying on behalf of foreign governments to raise $ for the campaign,” as outlined by National Finance Director Dennis Cheng.
Seemingly blind to the national security implications, Cheng fretted the campaign was “leaving a good amount of money on the table.”
Failing to shun foreign lobbyists’ money entirely, Elias initially responded 19 minutes after Cheng’s April 13th email proposing the campaign vet prospective donors “case by case”:
“This is really a straight up political call. One middle option is to take case by case. If, for example, they are FARA registered for Canada, we may not case. If for N. Korea we would. But really comm’s call.”
“Is there anyway to ballpark what percent of our donor base this would apply to (aka how much money we’re throwing away) Cost benefits are easier to analyze with the costs. :)”
The following document showed a host of potential donors to the Clinton campaign, with individuals lobbying on behalf of Iraq, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. Per the table’s creator, this was “only 23 names of the first 350 prospective bundlers we looked at pre-launch. I anticipate more coming down the pipeline.”
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Some of the firms listed below, such as Squire Patton Boggs, have been hired to represent the Chinese Communist Party and its American embassy.
A day later, a phone call between Campaign Manager Robby Mook, Campaign Chairman John Podesta, Research Director Tony Carrk, and Campaign Vice-Chair Huma Abedin led to the decision the campaign would “not allow any currently registered foreign agents (those who register with FARA) to contribute or raise for the campaign. If someone terminates their registration, they would be allowed to contribute or raise for the campaign.”
In that same email, the staffer inquires: “Marc, we’d especially like your perspective on adopting this policy.”
Elias responded the following day, emphasizing he “lean[ed] away from a bright-line rule.”
Continuing on, he made the case for allowing registered foreign agents to be able to raise money for the campaign, despite their conflicts of interest:
“It seems odd to say that someone who represents Alberta, Canada can’t give, but a lobbyist for Phillip Morris can. Just as we vet lobbyists case by case, I would do the same with FARA. While this may lead to a large number of FARA registrants being denied, it would not be a flat our ban. A total ban feels arbitrary and will engender the same eye-rolling and ill will that it did for Obama.”
After Mook inquired where the campaign would “draw the line,” Elias responded:
“If we do it case by case, then it will be subjective. We would look at who the donor is and what foreign entity they are registered for. In judging whether to take the money, we would consider the relationship between that country and the United States, its relationship to the State Department during Hillary’s time as Secretary, and its relationship, if any, to the Foundation. In judging the individual, we would look at their history of support for political candidates generally and Hillary’s past campaigns specifically. Put simply, we would use the same criteria we use for lobbyists, except with a somewhat more stringent screen. As a legal matter, I am not saying we have to do this – we can decide to simply ban foreign registrants entirely. I’m just offering this up as a middle ground.”
Hours later, Mook identified Elias as the chief catalyst in his decision for allowing the campaign to “take the money.” As the campaign director wrote:
“Marc made a convincing case to me this am that these sorts of restrictions don’t really get you anything…that Obama actually got judged MORE harshly as a result. He convinced me. So…in a complete U-turn, I’m ok just taking the money and dealing with any attacks.”
Director of Communications Jennifer Palmieri promptly followed up with a brazen “Take the money!!”
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It remains unclear whether Elias is still involved in Harris’s Vice Presidential bid; however, as a current lawyer for the Democratic National Convention, he plays a considerable role with the Democrats’ bid for the White House.