CORRECTED: Brazile leads to questions for CNN
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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified Danelle Garcia, who is a producer at CNN. The Hill apologizes for the error. The story was last updated at 6:24 p.m.

Two women from Flint, Mich., who asked questions about the city's contaminated water during a March 6 CNN debate say they did not speak with then-network political analyst Donna Brazile before the event, according to a Wednesday report.

The Daily Caller reports that the women — Mikki Ward and LeeAnne Walters — did not speak to Brazile, who was vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee at the time while also serving as a CNN contributor. However, Ward and Walters say they did submit questions to a CNN producer named Danelle Garcia.

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Per the Daily Caller report, CNN denies that "a producer [Garcia] who coordinated logistics with the two women knew of the questions before the debate."

The March 6 transcript from the debate shows the following question being asked by Walters. 

ANDERSON COOPER: I want to go to Lee-Anne Walters. This is Lee-Anne Walters. She was one of the first people to report problems with the water in Flint. One of her twin boys stopped growing. Her daughter lost her hair.

She says she's undecided, and has a question for both of you to answer, but we'll start with Senator Sanders. Ms. Walters?

WALTERS: After my family, the city of Flint and the children in D.C. were poisoned by lead, will you make a personal promise to me right now that, as president, in your first 100 days in office, you will make it a requirement that all public water systems must remove all lead service lines throughout the entire United States, and notification made to the — the citizens that have said service lines.

In an email released by Wikileaks and sent by Brazile to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta on March 5, the now-DNC chairman warned that “One of the questions directed to HRC tomorrow is from a woman with a rash.”

“Her family has lead poison and she will ask what, if anything, will Hillary do as president to help the ppl of Flint,” Brazile wrote.

That exact question was not asked at the debate. 

But Mikki Wade, a public-housing manager who had a son who developed a rash from the contaminated water, asked Clinton about what could be done about the water in Flint.

Wade: The water has impacted our lives in such a way that living comfortably in our home isn't the same anymore. The constant drives to pick up water just so my children can wash their hair, to wash our fruits and vegetables, and to brush our teeth is incredibly difficult. Once the pipes are replaced, I'm not so sure I would be comfortable ever drinking the water.

If elected president, what course will you take to regain my trust in government?

Speaking on background, CNN says a network employee spotted Brazile speaking with a female Flint resident at a charity community event one day before the debate. 

The woman allegedly said to Brazile that she suffered from a rash, and that she and her kids were suffering from the effects of lead poisoning. 

What's not clear is whether the woman CNN says was speaking to Brazile the day prior to the event was Wade or Walters.  

Brazile has maintained she did not get any questions from anyone at CNN. 

A network spokesman, Lauren Prepatas, wrote in a statement that the network "never gave Brazile access to any questions, prep material, attendee list, background information, or meetings in advance of a town hall or debate."

The Daily Caller piece also refers to a story in East Village magazine, a Flint-based publication.

In it, CNN's Garcia is specifically mentioned as someone with access to the questions and shows her as having an active role in debate prep. 

Below is how a third woman chosen to ask questions during the Flint debate — Denise Ghattas — interacted with Garcia the evening leading up to the event, according to the July 16 East Village piece:

The Friday before the debate, at about 5 p.m, the producer, Danelle Garcia, called her: CNN had picked one of her questions.

It was the second on her list: "Do you believe God is relevant? Why or why not?" But instead of asking it only of Sanders, they wanted her to ask it of both the candidates. The producer and Ghattas met at Blackstone’s to go over details. She was told that she had been vetted by the Secret Service and had passed muster.

"Here’s how it’s going to go," the producer said. "First, you’re going to ask the question to Bernie, and then Anderson Cooper will say, 'are you satisfied with that answer?' and you would have a chance to say yes or no and follow up. Then you’ll ask the question of Hillary."

Ghattas agreed: she says she thought it was fair to ask the same question of each candidate, especially with the provision for follow up.

On Sunday, she reported to her seat with her husband, nervous and mostly worried, she says, that she would stumble on her words. 

But then things got complicated.

Twenty minutes before the debate started, a producer tapped her on the shoulder and said, "There’s going to be a change.  We want you to ask the first question of Bernie, and then we want you to ask your fourth question, 'To whom and for whom do you pray?' of Hillary."

Ghattas says she was startled and flustered but agreed.

Ghattas was then mocked and bullied on social media, all while being accused of being a "Hillary plant." 

In reading the passage from the magazine report above and also absorbing that Garcia was actively involved in debate prep, ask yourself two questions:

Were questions for two town hall debates CNN was a co-sponsor (March 13) and sole sponsor (March 6) of passed along to Brazile by someone with access to debate questions at CNN?

Or were the questions first passed along by Roland Martin of TV One (the other co-sponsor of the March 13 debate) and then someone else outside the network who happened to meet Donna Brazile at a charity event a day before the Flint debate that Ward and Walters say they didn't even attend?

And then ask yourself this: If Brazile handed in her resignation on Oct. 14, why did CNN not disclose this information until Oct. 31? CNN is a publicly traded company under the umbrella of Time Warner, so immediate disclosure comes into play here.

CNN should be announcing it is launching an internal investigation by an outside firm.

But network president Jeff Zucker said on Wednesday his network has conducted and finished a full investigation of Brazile passing along questions in advance and has reached a conclusion. 

“Yes, we have done a complete investigation,” Zucker said according to a source who watched the network town hall where the remarks were made. 

“This behavior was completely unacceptable and we are clear, exactly where they came from."

Concha is a media reporter for The Hill.


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