Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook sat down for a pair of interviews on Sunday morning—one with CNN’s Dana Bash on State of the Union, and one with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on This Week. While his campaign may not have quite as many exciting subplots, mysterious happenings, and controversial new hires as Donald Trump's team, there was still a lot for him to talk about.
For example, Mook spent his Sunday morning discussing the Clinton Foundation’s decision to stop accepting donations from foreign donors if Hillary Clinton becomes president as well as accusations of quid pro quo deals during Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State. Mook also tackled recent reports of Trump’s undisclosed hundreds of millions worth of corporate debt, going so far as to paint the GOP nominee as a “puppet for the Kremlin.”
Starting with Mook’s appearance on CNN, Bash grilled him about recent reporting and developments around the Clinton Foundation. Specifically, she asked him why, if the foundation decided it’d be improper to accept such foreign donations while Clinton were president, that it had done so throughout her tenure as Secretary of State.Mook sidestepped the question quite plainly, and tried to steer the conversation towards all the good the Clinton Foundation has done around the world—especially in regards to providing life-saving AIDS medication—rather than allegations of undue donor influence during her time at the State Department.
Bash further questioned Mook about recently released emails from 2009, showing a request by prominent Clintonite Doug Band for a “favor” from the State Department for a Clinton Foundation donor. Top Clinton aide and confidante Huma Abedin responded to the request with “we have all had him on our radar. Personnel has been sending him options.” Bash asked Mook whether this was the sort of thing that was turning off the American public to career politicians, but Mook didn’t concede anything, instead insisting that the email “had nothing to do with the foundation.”“The email in question from Doug Band was coming from his private email account," Mook explained. “It was not related to the foundation… the State Department at every step was following all the appropriate protocols. This was someone who had a relationship with Clinton long before her tenure as Secretary of State.”
Bash didn’t stop there, though, suggesting that the issue was “not so much where the email is coming from” but the request itself as well as its recipient. Mook doubled down on his previous defense, arguing that there was nothing improper, and that the request had come from a “longstanding relationship with the Clintons,” who simply wanted “some insight into a matter.” Mook flatly denied any allegations of a “quid pro quo.”
The tenor and substance of Mook’s interview with Bash came across as a firmly defensive struggle, with the Clinton campaign chief angling to defuse some of the transparency and ethics questions Bash raised, while at the same time artfully ducking around them.
His appearance with Stephanopoulos on This Week was an entirely different affair, though. Mook went on the attack, swiveling the spotlight around to focus on Trump and his relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin.Stephanopoulos began by asking Mook about the so-called Trump pivot this week, or what his new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway described as “the best week of the campaign.” Clinton herself has been railing against the idea that there’s some “other” Trump that the public has yet to see, and Mook hammered that same point, highlighting Trump’s recent hiring of Breitbart executive chairman Steve Bannon as proof:
“We’re not seeing a pivot. Donald Trump himself said this was not a pivot. He wants to double-down on letting Donald Trump be Donald Trump. That’s why he’s brought in to run his campaign, someone who ran a so-called news organization, Breitbart News, that’s peddled some of the worst conspiracy theories around. They’ve run news―quote unquote news―that’s defended white supremacists, racists, sexists, the worst of our politics.”
Mook then pulled off a pivot of his own, changing direction into an attack on Trump’s coziness with Putin, which has become a major story throughout both his primary and general election campaigns. Trump's former campaign chief Paul Manafort was the figure perhaps most tightly associated with Putin due to his past work for pro-Russian political forces within Ukraine. Despite Manafort being replaced by Conway, Mook insisted that Trump’s ties to Russia should be investigated by the media:
“I would also point out that Paul Manafort has been pushed out, but that doesn’t mean that the Russians have been pushed out of this campaign, the hand of the Kremlin has been at work in this campaign for some time, it’s clear that they are supporting Donald Trump. We now need Donald Trump to explain to us the extent to which the hand of the Kremlin is at the core of his own campaign. There’s a web of financial interests that have not been disclosed, and there are real questions being raised about whether Donald Trump himself is just a puppet for the Kremlin in this race.”
That strong assertion provoked a follow-up from Stephanopoulos, who asked, with a trace of incredulity, “you’re saying Donald Trump is a puppet of the Kremlin?”
"...there are real questions being raised about whether Donald Trump himself is just a puppet for the Kremlin in this race.”
The implication appeared to be there when Mook responded by stating that “serious questions have been raised.” This brand of hands-off questioning or anonymous sourcing is actually out of Trump’s own playbook―one of his preferred phrases is “many people are saying.”
It was a rather startling assertion, even considering the wealth of recent reporting into Trump's political and financial ties to Russia, simply because you normally don't hear such allegations of presidential candidates being stooges for foreign governments, much less from Democratic operatives. But Mook was clearly willing to go there, despite whatever blowback risks it may have posed.
It'll be interesting to see whether this line of attack continues to stick now that the ever-controversial Manafort has bowed out of the Trump campaign, but this much is clear―the Clinton camp is hoping to keep those issues front-and-center for the stretch run of the general election.