Donna Brazile on her critics in the Democratic Party and what she thinks about becoming a hero of the right

  • Former interim chair of the Democratic National Committee Donna Brazile released an explosive new book.
  • In an interview with Business Insider, she discussed her relationship with CNN, her critics within the Democratic Party, and what she thinks about becoming a hero of the right.

Donna Brazile said her book about the 2016 election almost did not happen.

In an interview with Business Insider, the former interim Democratic National Committee chair said that before she decided to find a new literary agent, she was told that no one would be interested in her version of the election.

But when Brazile published her book about her tumultuous tenure as DNC chair, which was appointed to following the hack and leak of internal DNC emails last year, it rocked the political landscape.

“My agent said political books aren’t selling, especially by political hacks,” Brazile recalled. “And I said ‘There’s that word ‘hacks’ again.'”

While former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s book about her 2016 loss provoked glee among conservatives and private griping among Democrats, Brazile’s provocative tell-all sparked open warfare between the former campaign, fact-checkers, and Brazile’s defenders.

On Saturday, Clinton campaign staff released a letter pushing back against claims that Brazile made in her book, including that the campaign lacked enthusiasm.

Journalists and critics have pointed out the factual inaccuracies in Brazile’s book, and accused her of revisionism and backtracking on many of the most explosive claims, including her suggestion that she considered helping replace Clinton with former Vice President Joe Biden.

Her book also garnered praise from the right, which lauded her criticism of Clinton’s campaign manager, and used the book’s text to spin off more conspiracy theories about the death of former DNC staffer Seth Rich.

For her part, Brazile said she was surprised by the intense pushback to her book, saying she warned Democrats in the Clinton orbit and the DNC orbit that she was planning on releasing a critical book.

In an interview with Business Insider about the fallout from the book tour, Brazile largely dismissed criticism, pointing out that she was only the latest of a number of influential 2016 campaign players to release a behind-the-scenes version of what happened.

“When that letter came out on Saturday night, it really did cause me to pause and say ‘Are these really my friends? Or are they just imposters?'” Brazile asked.

Read the full transcript, which has been lightly edited for clarity:

BI: I wanted to ask you about the title of your book, “Hacks.” Read one way, it’s about what happened to the party last year, and your retelling of how those events occurred. But people have really fixated on the comments that you made about the DNC and the Clinton campaign as well. And I’m curious if you meant that title to have any double meaning.

BRAZILE: I wrote this book because the worst things that I described are still happening now. If people could read the book, they would find my book is a story about an election loss. I wanted to explain exactly what happened, probably so that I would understand it, so that I could help teach people the lessons from my own experience. So that was the decision to write the book.

At first I had like four or five different titles. And I started thinking about hacking and my attempts to get the party and the government to start acting. The story wasn’t going to be about who was hacked, the story was that there were hacks. And I was afraid that everyone would focus on the discord, and the disinformation, which was the crime here. And it was a crime committed not just against the Democratic Party, but against every American.

I believed that this would be a great opportunity a year after the election to reflect. Now, let me also remind you that I was not the chair of the Clinton campaign, I was not the campaign manager. I assumed that they would write their story as to what happened inside. I also assumed they would write some form of postmortem about the election.

I spent two months travelling across the country with those [DNC] future forums to have grassroots Democrats give us feedback, I wanted to hear from them. I also wanted to meet the new leadership of the Democratic Party. But when I left in March [2017], I was still concerned about the hacking inside the DNC, and what had happened inside our country. And I felt as though no one would address it.

And it wasn’t until after I went down to Alabama to give a commencement speech that I came back to Washington, DC, I said I want to write a book. And my agent said political books aren’t selling, especially by political hacks. And I said, ‘There’s that word “hacks” again.’

I went home and I thought maybe next time, I’ll write another book. And then a week later, I went to talk to a friend about what had happened. And I was giving him everything. And that evening, I met with two reporters who were writing a book, and I started giving them everything.

And I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, I have all the information!’ That’s when I decided to write a book.

BI: Some Democrats were upset at the timing of the release of the book. The one year anniversary and also being on the day of an election — they thought that it would stoke infighting. But Democrats won pretty big. How do you respond to people who were criticising you for putting this book out yesterday?

BRAZILE: Well I think if I put the book out on Thanksgiving they would say you are ruining their Christmas, and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. If I put it out next year they would say that I was ruining 2018. If I put it out in 2019, I was ruining 2020. I was told that it was the wrong time to tell the troubling truth.

But imagine if this book came out next year before the midterm elections or the year after when the 2020 cycle will be beginning. The year after a presidential election is the best year for debate and dissent. I had to relive what I experienced in the hope that nobody else has to experience it again.

My last book that I wrote came after the Gore campaign. I wanted to write a book after Obama in 2008. I have to tell you, the same the same agent told me that nobody cares what you do. I said, ‘fine.’ I actually have another book in my bookcase that I have never published, but I have it, I’ve written it.

I’m more than grateful that I was able to tell my story. And some people will disagree with me, which is ok. I’ve read Bernie’s book, I’ve read Hillary’s book. I believe Jeff Weaver is writing a book. Jennifer Palmieri’s going to write a book. Joe Biden is going to write a book. I’m a book lover, I’m like Casanova, I’m a book lover. I am going to read their books. I’m going to try to learn as many lessons as possible, so that whether I’m teaching at Georgetown or up at Harvard or wherever I end up next year, I will be able to tell all of the lessons that we have learned.

When I read Hillary’s book, part of the book was a memoir, part of it was like a history book. And that was part of the book that was emotional. Emotional for those of us who went through it who spent time on the road went out there and actually encouraged people to vote for her.

So I think we all have a right to tell our story. For those who have just gone above board with their silly criticism and not constructive, and there’s a difference between constructive criticism — which of course I’m willing to learn — and just downright ‘How dare you.’ I took a personal offence on Sunday and said to some of my critics ‘Go to Hell.’

I regret I said that because I’m one of these people that reflect on things I say. I regret that because I should not have channeled my dad, I should have channeled my mum, who said you get more with honey than vinegar. And honestly I should have channeled Michelle Obama: When they go low we go high.

But at the moment it came in to me, it felt like something I had never experienced before from my Democrats. I have the thickest of thick skins. I’ve gotten the ‘Bernie bros’ to beat me down. I’ve got Trump-ites to beat me down. Gotten the Russian bots to beat me down, the Russian trolls to beat me down. I’ve been called everything that you can imagine a woman being called, especially a woman of colour. That has never ever stopped me from doing my work.

But when that letter came out on Saturday night, it really did cause me to pause and say, ‘Are these really my friends? Or are they just imposters?’

How many of those people who signed that letter got paid last year? I didn’t. How many of those people who signed that letter stopped working last year to help her party and her candidate? I did. How many of those people had to get cameras installed in their home? How many of those people had to go home at night driving a different route because somebody was following? I did.

For me, their criticism of me, being disappointed in my attempt last year to help them, it read like sour grapes. They have had every opportunity over the last year to do what I did which is to do an examination of the tactics, the strategies.

I went back and I examined every email, every message, every conversation and I had to wake up the next morning looking at myself and remember I didn’t leave on November 9th and go home and cry. I had to go back inside the Democratic Party. And then I had to stand it up, to make it better, to make it stronger. And so on Saturday, I was I was quite — let me just be diplomatic — disappointed. And what I like to call the overreaction. And they’re still overreacting and that’s their right and that’s what they will do.

But in the future they will never ever be in the same room with me and look me in the face and say, ‘Madam chair, you made the wrong decision.’ I made the right decision. And whether it was the right timing, that’s for history to judge me by. But it was the right decision, just like I made the decision three weeks ago to go down to Virginia and canvass for delegate candidates. I made the right decision to lend my name and to lend my expertise to help raise money for the Virginia Democratic Party.

I made the right decision to write checks over the last two months using the advance money I receive from my book to help Democrats who were struggling because they didn’t hear from the party.

So to those people who are still upset with me I won’t tell them what I said on Sunday. But I will tell them what Michelle reminded us: When they go low we go high.

BI: Tucker Carlson said that that CNN management told hosts to discredit you. Whether that’s true or not, some of the hosts have been critical of you. Brian Stelter questioned your credibility [over the CNN town hall questions debacle], and you said Jake Tapper betrayed you. What’s been your reaction to that, and do you think that you’ve gotten fair treatment from the network?

BRAZILE: First of all the media should take a look at their role in 2016. If I can take a look at my role as chair of the party, as an activist — if I can admit to my mistakes, my errors, then I think the press should be able to do the same.

I have nothing but love for CNN. I said that in the book. I was a part of CNN for well over 14 years of my life. I gave my all to CNN to be part of a good political team, to be part of a great network. I don’t believe I should say anything other than what I stated in the book, which is I love CNN.

BI: It’s been interesting to see what the right’s reaction to that book has been. People on the right have been defending you for one reason or another. Some famous conspiracy theorists who have ties to Trump have used your book as a way to stoke more conspiracies about people like Seth Rich. I just wanted to get your reaction to the right trying to use your book to stoke more suspicion and confusion and infighting.

BRAZILE: The good news is that I have spent the last five days in a bubble. I’ve been gone from interview to interview. And I’ve been using this time to even reflect more. I think once I got the “message” that I would be made to be seen as a “wacko,” and that they were going to use this to say that it was my fault that Ralph [Northam, of Virginia] would lose and I’m like, “Oh God let me just redouble my efforts to make sure we get out the vote.”

So I stopped reacting to what people were saying about my book and started doing what I do best which is get on the phone and start begging people to get out the vote. I chose to do Tucker Carlson because I’ve received about eight or nine requests from Fox. Like I said over a decade in my life, I had exclusive deal with CNN and ABC so it’s almost like a kid with new toys — I’ve been going to the green room at Bloomberg, at MSNBC.

I’ve only known two networks for the last 15 years of my life. I’m excited to go and see what it’s like to be in a Fox studio. I wonder if they’re going to put, you know, some special lipstick on.

But here’s what I will always do regardless if it comes from the left or the right. I will always stand on principle. I will admit my mistakes, but I will always fight for what I believe and that is who I am.

I dedicated my book to Seth. I love him. I miss him. He was my kid. He was someone I loved, someone who worked for the party. He was a patriot. He cared about democracy. I wish I knew who murdered Seth Rich. I wish I could bring his murder to justice. I cannot at this time but I want to know. I want to know that whoever I want to know that the police are still pursuing the case and that we will one day learn how he was murdered who killed them and they will be brought to justice.

BI: You’re going to Fox, which which will be interesting. Have you had any conversations with any other networks?

BRAZILE: You know I didn’t write a book to find a job. I’m going back to Georgetown. I’ve enjoyed my time at the Shorestein school. I chose to go there because I wanted to continue to pursue my study and on how to strengthen democracy. I don’t know what I’m going to do next year or next month.

But all my adult life I’ve been fighting for change and I’m not going to stop doing that whether I get paid to do it, or just do it out of the kindness of my heart. It was not on my bucket list to become chair. I could have lived the rest of my life not wanting to be chair. I don’t want to be chair. I don’t want to be president of the United States. But I want people to know that I am always going to fight for change and I am going to be at the forefront in every battle where people are gathered to you know express themselves and to try to get their votes counted. That’s who I am.

BI: What’s been the reaction privately?

BRAZILE: I got a heads up that Politico was going to write an excerpt. But they didn’t tell me which [chapter]. So I immediately walked out of my office and I walked over to Robby Mook’s office and I told Robby and he dismissed me out of hand. And then I went over to tell Karen, she wasn’t there but she came off as an hour later and I gave her a copy of my book. I said I want you all to know this: I reached out to Charlie Baker to say heads up the book is coming out, because I wanted to let Hillary know.

I don’t need permission to write a book. I’m a syndicated newspaper writer. I am a former radio talk show host. We do things like this, right? But I did give everybody a heads up.

I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback, I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from people in the book. I’ve gotten people who said, ‘Well, Donna you didn’t include enough in the book.’ I’ve heard from the Sanders people, I’ve heard from the Clinton people, I’ve heard from one of Martin O’Malley former staffers.

I’ve heard from Democratic donors, I’ve heard from billionaires, but I’ve also heard from the rank and file. And at the end of each evening, when I come back to lay in bed, the thing that matters to me is that I sleep well at night knowing that my mother told me you that you must tell your truth, and that’s all I wanted to do was tell my truth.