CNN must conduct an internal investigation on debate question leaks — now

Donna Brazile, CNN commentator

In light of new revelations Monday that former CNN political analyst Donna Brazile appears to have passed on yet another debate question in advance to the Clinton campaign, the network must — without delay — conduct an internal investigation into how exactly this happened and who was involved.

Such an investigation also must be conducted by an outside firm to ensure integrity.

To review this disturbing story from the beginning, on March 12, 2016, Brazile, who in addition to providing political commentary for CNN also was vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee that was allegedly neutral in the party primary, passed along a town hall debate question to Clinton campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri.

{mosads}Despite overwhelming evidence, thanks to hacked emails from WikiLeaks, Brazile denies having done so, and instead pointed the finger at the Russians.

For its part, CNN, via one of its media reporters, attempted to shift the focus of any wrongdoing to TV One’s Roland Martin, seemingly suggesting he was to blame to passing the question along to Brazile.

Martin — a former CNN political commentator — was a co-moderator of the March 13 town hall featuring Clinton and Bernie Sanders. 

Per a CNN story written shortly after the Brazile email to John Podesta was revealed by WikiLeaks: “How did the text of a CNN-TV One town hall question about the death penalty end up in the hands of the Clinton campaign ahead of time? New evidence on Wednesday suggests that TV One co-host Roland Martin may have been the link from the town hall prep process to the Democratic National Committee.”

Regardless of whether Martin was involved — there’s no proof either way — I called for CNN to conduct an internal investigation at that time.

The argument was and remains a pragmatic one: A breach had obviously occurred, since Brazile wasn’t directly involved in the town hall or with any debate or town hall hosted by the network through the primaries, and someone with access to the questions was getting some to the Clinton campaign.

In the interest of reassuring the integrity of the network, CNN needed to show it was taking said breach seriously, by making a real attempt to get to the bottom of it.

But it didn’t do so, seemingly content that Martin was to blame.

“To be perfectly clear: We have never, ever given a town hall question to anyone beforehand,” CNN said in a statement. 

Now let’s fast-forward to the latest WikiLeaks email dump from Podesta’s account, released Monday morning.

Brazile appears to be sharing another question in advance regarding a different debate in March, this time in Flint, Mich. Unlike the town hall where the candidates appear separately, this question was one to be asked during a one-on-one debate between Clinton and Sanders. 

“One of the questions directed to HRC tomorrow is from a woman with a rash,” Brazile wrote to Podesta and Palmieri. “Her family has lead poison and she will ask what, if anything, will Hillary do as president to help the ppl of Flint.”

The March 13 CNN/TV One Town Hall in Ohio was hosted by Jake Tapper and Roland Martin. The March 6 debate in Flint was hosted by CNN’s Don Lemon and Anderson Cooper.

Translation: The questions were getting to Brazile by someone involved in the planning of both the town hall in Ohio and the debate in Flint one week prior.

Off the bat, you can eliminate any thought of Tapper, Lemon and Cooper being involved, since this happened across two different events with different moderators.

All of that said, would an internal investigation be so difficult to conduct swiftly and effectively? We’re likely talking about a narrow group within CNN that assists in debate prep for its moderators.

Brazile became interim chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee after Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned in the wake of other WikiLeaks email dumps showing her and other senior DNC officials seeking to undermine the Sanders campaign.

When Brazile took over as chairwoman, CNN suspended her commentator deal. Brazile has since handed in her resignation to CNN, on Oct. 14.

In a statement to The Huffington Post on Monday, the network via a spokesperson says it is “completely uncomfortable” with Brazile’s actions.

The “uncomfortable” part should have come weeks ago when it was first revealed Brazile was engaging in collusion with a presidential campaign while employed by the network.

“CNN never gave Brazile access to any questions, prep material, attendee list, background information or meetings in advance of a town hall or debate,” the statement continues.

Of course they didn’t. This is more likely the work of a rogue actor (or actors).

In the end, we simply don’t know who else inside the network may have received questions in advance besides Brazile and if other were passed along during the many debates and town halls the network hosted for months leading up to the general election.

Simply put, we just don’t know how often this horrifying practice may have occurred. 

An internal investigation is the only path forward here. Anything less will appear to the public as nothing more than apathy around a major problem that should be causing people to be apocalyptic.

Feeling “uncomfortable” solves nothing.

Concha is a media reporter for The Hill.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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