WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton’s entourage expressed annoyance that Canada’s Liberal party used an Ottawa event she appeared at as a fundraising opportunity, according to an exchange from a purportedly stolen email published by Wikileaks.
The back-and-forth involving a 2014 event was included in the latest cache of messages supposedly hacked from the email account of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, and released Wednesday by Wikileaks.
Clinton was receiving a fee to speak to a conference that fall hosted by the progressive think-tank Canada 2020, which has close ties to the Liberal party that was in opposition at that moment.
Rumours swirled at the time of a possible joint appearance featuring Clinton and Justin Trudeau. Liberals were eager to billboard that event as a glimpse at the future of North American leadership, as both were leading the polls in their respective countries at that point.
Wednesday’s email release offers clues into what happened next.
“As Trudeau’s team is aware, there was some unhappiness that they used this event to raise money for their political party,” said an email purportedly sent by top Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
“This was supposed to be a completely apolitical event.”
She added that Clinton would meet him anyway: “Regardless, I think we are set for Monday and she will see him backstage.” She specified that Clinton would not only see the Liberal leader backstage, but also then-foreign affairs minister John Baird.
The exchange suggests the Liberals pushed hard for the high-profile encounter. A parliamentary aide to Trudeau reached out to a number of Liberals, asking them to work potential connections to the Clinton circle.
“We would need to drive this in order to see it happen,” says a note supposedly from Marlene Floyd. “I think a multi-prong approach is the best one in this circumstance, so I am reaching out to this group to see if we can brainstorm other approaches, or connections.”
Trudeau’s future prime ministerial principal secretary, Gerald Butts, was among those who received the message. He forwarded it to a friend in Washington with a simple request: “Help!!!” That friend from the U.S. think-tank Center for American Progress, Matt Browne, forwarded it to Podesta and Abedin — while vouching for Trudeau.
“It looks increasingly likely that he will be prime minister in a year’s time,” Browne wrote.
“A string of national polls released this week suggests that the Liberal party is pulling further away from both the Conservatives and NDP, and are thus the ever more likely the winners of the October 2015 election.”
His assessment about the Liberals proved accurate.
The party, meanwhile, used the event to add to its campaign war chest. A fundraising message from the time, still posted on the Liberal website, invited donations in exchange for a draw to win what it called the political experience of a lifetime.
“(You could) win: a return flight to Ottawa, breakfast with Justin Trudeau and one of his senior advisers … and a chance to hear former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speak over lunch on October 6, 2014.”
Ironically, the emails are surfacing now as the Liberals fend off accusations at home of improper fundraising.
While the Liberals take flak from their opponents for raising cash at events featuring cabinet ministers, the federal lobbying commissioner has also said her investigators are examining allegations that lobbyists have been involved in such events.
The Clinton campaign refuses to comment on the Wikileaks emails, neither confirming nor denying the authenticity of documents that American authorities believe were taken by Russian hackers in an attempt to meddle in the U.S. election.
Canada 2020, for its part, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The organization bills itself as an independent, not-for-profit, progressive think tank — though its president, Tom Pitfield, is a childhood friend of Trudeau’s, was the Liberals’ chief digital strategist in the last election, and is married to party president Anna Gainey. It was founded by two longtime Liberals, Tim Barber and Susan Smith, who are also the founders of a lobbying firm, Bluesky Strategy Group.
This is not the first time Canada 2020’s close Liberal ties have raised concerns about the think-tank being used for partisan fundraising.
Earlier this year, the Liberals sent out fundraising missives, urging people to join a contest to win a trip for two to Washington, D.C., and take part in two exclusive events with Trudeau, organized by Canada 2020 to coincide with the prime minister’s first official visit to the U.S. capital.
The Conservatives asked the ethics and lobbying watchdogs to investigate what they alleged was Trudeau’s blurring of the lines between government business and party fundraising.
They also accused the party of helping its lobbyist friends and offering access to Trudeau in return for donations — the same accusations they’ve been levelling for several weeks about so-called “cash for access” fundraisers featuring cabinet ministers.
Canada 2020 is holding its annual conference this week in Ottawa, its theme being innovation policy.
— With files from Joan Bryden in Ottawa