Hacked emails obtained and released by Wikileaks from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman show that high-level Democrats talked about how to keep New York Congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout on the sidelines during last spring’s high-stakes New York presidential primary against Bernie Sanders. A plan, according to the emails, was to offer her support from U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in her own June Democratic congressional primary as an enticement.
The revelations came last week after the anti-secrecy website published dozens of emails apparently stolen from John Podesta, a longtime Clinton adviser and chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Buried among the inside-baseball discussions of the presidential race is a conversation between Neera Tanden, president of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress and a Clinton adviser, and Koethe Zan, an attorney and author from the Columbia County town of Ghent. Tanden would later forward the email thread to Podesta, who in turn apparently shared it with Clinton campaign manager Robbie Mook.
The conversation between Tanden and Zan dated March 4 is in an email thread titled “Yale Law School 20th Reunion” (Both women, along with Teachout, are Yale Law graduates). After discussing the reunion, Tanden writes “Is terry teachout running in your CD?” apparently confusing the award-winning biographer and playwright with the Fordham Law School professor and author who was the midst of a primary campaign against Columbia County farmer (and Princeton grad) Will Yandik for the Democratic line in the 19th Congressional District.
In response, Zan, apparently backing Yandik, corrects Tanden and gives her take on the race, including a biting criticism of Yandik and prediction about Teachout.
“Zephyr. Yes. Big problem,” Zan wrote. “But I got mad at our guy bc he has weak political instincts. I set him up with great connections (not just donors but real strategists) and he failed to follow up etc. Zephyr is going to lose big time here. Our guy would have won but he has no path to win the primary.”
“I need Zephyr not to be a pain in the ass to Hillary,” Tanden replied. “Do you think she would endorse Bernie? Do you have her contact info?”
The email conversation between the two women ends with Zan suggesting Clinton’s campaign reach out to Gillibrand. Gillibrand, Zan writes, had already declined to support Yandik in the primary because “she won’t go against a woman.” Teachout, meanwhile, wrote Zan, “Would be out of her mind happy to get attention from Gillibrand bc she is very popular here.” The next day, Tanden passed along the email conversation with Zan.
“From my dem activist/leader friend on the ground” Tanden wrote. “Zephyr is now running for congress in Hudson NY. Kirsten would be best to call.”
Podesta in turn, according to the hacked emails, reached out to Mook, asking, “Who is best to go at this.” Mook replied that he had spoken to Gillibrand’s staff and learned that Teachout had already endorsed Sanders, adding, “But he thinks he can keep her from being too vocal.”
Gillibrand would later send out a fundraising email supporting Teachout’s run for congress. Clinton would go on to win the April primary in New York, beating Sanders 58 to 42 percent.
There is no evidence of any discussions between Gillibrand’s office and Teachout’s campaign regarding her support for Sanders. But Teachout’s Republican opponent, John Faso, said this week that the emails indicate that she had ditched Sanders in exchange for support from the Democratic Party establishment.
“I have no way of knowing, you have to ask [Teachout] what she did or didn’t do,” said Faso. “But within a few weeks [of the email exchange] Kirsten Gillibrand is endorsing her and sending out a fundraising email. So one could put two and two together and get four.”
“This is simply not true,” said Teachout campaign spokeswoman Alexis Grenell. “The only thing those emails reveal is that Zephyr Teachout is a royal ‘pain in the ass’ to the Democratic establishment, and she’ll continue to be in Congress.”
Supporters note that Sanders’ efforts on Teachout’s behalf are hardly those of a man who has been stabbed in the back. Sanders has helped raise money for Teachout and last month headlined a rally in New Paltz where he urged his supporters to send her to Congress.
Efforts to reach Zan through her literary agent and through a Facebook page promoting her campaign for Ghent Town Board where unsuccessful. Clinton’s campaign has consistently declined to comment on any Wikileaks revelations except to claim that the website was working in collusion with Russian intelligence services.
Note: A previous version of this story had Will Yandik graduating from Yale when he in fact graduated from Princeton.