On 22 July 2016, Wikileaks released a cache of damaging e-mails belonging to the Democratic National Committee (commonly referred to in the online world as #DNCLeaks), including many communications involving now-former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
The #DNCLeaks backlash was swift, sweeping social media in a tense pre-convention weekend. The Democratic National Convention was set to begin on 25 July 2016, and the leak occurred just three days prior to the start of that event. On 24 July 2016, Hillary Clinton’s campaign addressed the leaks via a statement announcing that Debbie Wasserman Schultz was stepping down as the Committee’s chairwoman:
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) July 24, 2016
In that statement, Clinton announced that Wasserman Schultz had subsequently “agreed to serve as honorary chair of [the Clinton] campaign’s 50-state program to gain ground and elect Democrats in every part of the country,” adding that the former chair would “continue to serve as a surrogate for my campaign nationally”:
I want to thank my longtime friend Debbie Wasserman Schultz for her leadership of the Democratic National Committee over the past five years. I am grateful to Debbie for getting the Democratic Party to this year’s historic convention in Philadelphia, and I know that this week’s events will be a success thanks to her hard work and leadership. There’s simply no one better at taking the fight to the Republicans than Debbie–which is why I am glad that she has agreed to serve as honorary chair of my campaign’s 50-state program to gain ground and elect Democrats in every part of the country, and will continue to serve as a surrogate for my campaign nationally, in Florida, and in other key states. I look forward to campaigning with Debbie in Florida and helping her in her re-election bid–because as President, I will need fighters like Debbie in Congress who are ready on day one to get to work for the American people.
This announcement was received by many as meaning that Schultz had been “promoted” to a position of “running the Hillary Clinton campaign,” but others noted that the gesture was merely a symbolic courtesy:
Being an honorary chair of a campaign — a position that involves no responsibilities, no employees, no budget, and no duties — is not a promotion from being chair of the DNC.
Being an honorary chair does not mean that Debbie Wasserman Schultz is “in charge of” Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It doesn’t mean anything. That is, unless you think President Obama’s 2012 campaign was run by actress Eva Longoria; or former Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee; or high school guidance counselor Loretta Harper — all of whom were among 24 people who served as honorary co-chairs of Obama’s 2012 campaign.
Being an honorary chair is not a job. It’s a courtesy. It’s the associate producer of politics. It’s an empty title handed out to help ease Debbie Wasserman Schultz out of her chair and make it slightly more palatable for her to leave a job she’d done (badly) for five years without putting up a fuss.
Initially, Wasserman Schultz was replaced with fellow DNC member Donna Brazile. However, according to CNN, Brazile (also heavily implicated in the leaks) would possibly step aside soon, leaving the DNC’s Marcia Fudge in charge:
DNC Vice Chair Donna Brazile will serve as interim chair through the election, it was announced Sunday. She had been a CNN political commentator, but CNN and Brazile have mutually agreed to suspend their contract, effective immediately, although she will remain on air during the convention week in an unpaid capacity, CNN said. CNN will revisit the contract once Brazile concludes her role. Chants of “Debbie is done!” and “Debbie resigned!” broke out at a pro-Sanders rally in Philadelphia after the news was announced. Party officials decided Saturday that Wasserman Schultz would not have a major speaking role or preside over daily convention proceedings this week. The DNC Rules Committee has named Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, as permanent chair of the convention, according to a DNC source. She will gavel each session to order and will gavel each session closed.
Brazile’s appointment was immediately controversial given the neutrality questions raised by the #DNCLeaks:
In the aftermath of the leaks, users on Twitter shared what appeared to be a since-deleted tweet from Wasserman Schultz to her Republican counterpart Reince Priebus, mocking an anticipated lack of “order” at the prior week’s Republican National Convention:
— Carlos Cruz (@CarlosCruz2016) July 24, 2016
As aftershocks from the #DNCLeaks controversy blanketed media and the Democratic Party, both ABC and CNN cut ties with Brazile, and it remained unclear how much of a role Debbie Wasserman Schultz would retain as the convention kicked off. Video emerged of the embattled former chair taking the stage at a breakfast for the Florida delegation, amid booing and cries of “shame, shame”: