PHILADELPHIA — U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., defended embattled Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz on Tuesday morning, saying she should not be held responsible for private emails of others in her organization.
“I think she was treated unfairly,” Clyburn told The Post and Courier. “Absolutely. No question in my mind.”
Clyburn added that Wasserman Schultz’s decision to resign at the end of the week — and to steer clear of public activities throughout the Democratic National Convention — was “a magnanimous thing for her to do.”
“It was becoming a distraction,” Clyburn added. “It had already become a distraction.”
Wasserman Schultz, a U.S. representative from Florida, is bearing the brunt of revelations that the DNC, under her watch, might have undertaken efforts to thwart Bernie Sanders in his campaign against the establishment’s favorite for the Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton. Thousands of emails from her subordinates were leaked just days before the convention in Philadelphia, and some suggested a negative view of Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont.
Wasserman Schultz has been forced into a low profile at the convention she helped organize, no longer even given the privilege of gaveling it in and out of session. She also was scheduled to deliver remarks at the South Carolina delegation breakfast Tuesday morning but did not attend.
Clyburn, who was the majority whip when Democrats last held control of the U.S. House between 2007 and 2011, recalled when he had to make two chief deputy appointments. He gave one to Wasserman Schultz.
“Debbie is one of my best friends,” said Clyburn, who still holds the No. 3 slot in House Democratic leadership.
“I don’t think it’s all that unusual for a woman head of a party to be anxious about the first woman president of the United States,” he continued. “And sometimes, that kind of anxiousness, you may overlook things you wouldn’t overlook otherwise. I don’t think she did anything untoward. I think she has some very zealous people on her staff doing some very, well, let’s just say, questionable things.”
He said there’s a tendency in politics to single out the winning side as having done something nefarious and ignore the losing side, “which might have been doing something worse.”
Clyburn also said there were plenty of Sanders supporters working at the DNC who might also have been writing emails with unflattering things to say about the Clinton camp.
And ultimately, he said, nobody should be held responsible for somebody else’s private correspondences.
“She had no way of knowing what was in those emails,” Clyburn said. “Good Lord, I have staff all around, (and) I have no idea what my staff puts in my emails. How am I responsible for what they put in their emails? Now, when it comes to my attention and I don’t act, that’s another question. But how can you hold me responsible for the emailing that my staff may do?”
But Clyburn said he wasn’t suggesting there be other staff dismissals at the DNC.
“They just need to change their staffing activities,” he said.
Emma Dumain is The Post and Courier’s Washington correspondent.