Email snafu reveals White House outreach to Obama and Clinton alumni
President Donald Trump is better known for speaking directly to his base than trying to win over his critics.
But when it comes to selling Trumpâs Iran strategy and other foreign policy initiatives, the White House has been blasting out its talking points to an uncharacteristically inclusive list of foreign policy heavyweights â" including former Obama administration officials, advisers to Hillary Clintonâs 2016 presidential campaign, and critics who have publicly accused Trump of being, across the board, âbad at playing president.â
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An unusual peek at the White House list of âinfluencersâ came courtesy of communications aide Kelly Sadler, who failed to blind-copy recipients in a May 22 email blast highlighting the administrationâs new Iran strategy. The email, reviewed by POLITICO, suggested to its recipients ways to amplify the White Houseâs message and show su pport.
But many who received the email said they were left deeply confused about what the White House expected them to do with the information.
âIâm baffled,â said Jeffrey Lewis, a liberal nuclear weapons expert and blistering Trump critic, who leveled the âbad at playing presidentâ critique at the president on Twitter.
Some recipients said it wasnât the first time theyâve been included in Trump administration blasts. A few have also been invited to off-the-record âexpertâ calls with senior administration officials, and participated out of curiosity, but wondered how they had been invited â" and why.
âI donât know why I would be on such a list,â said Frank Januzzi, a former top executive at Amnesty International who previously advised Joe Biden and John Kerry from a post as a policy director to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Januzzi now works for a foundation dedicated to fostering U.S.-Asia relations. âWhen I was at Amnesty International, I would sometimes be invited to participate in background briefings by officials when they were rolling out a new policy,â he said. âI donât know why I would be on their list now.â
Other unusual suspects on the White House blast list include Evan Medeiros, who served as President Barack Obamaâs top Asia adviser on the National Security Council.
Also on the list: Dan Fried, Obamaâs former Russia sanctions coordinator, who has been highly critical of Trumpâs stance toward Russia, and Mira Rapp-Hooper, the Asia policy coordinator for Clintonâs 2016 campaign.
But along with Democrats and liberals the list includes members of the foreign policy establishment who are deeply associated with the George W. Bush administration that Trump purports to revile.
Meghan OâSullivan, the former deputy national security adviser on Iraq and Afghanistan in the Bush White House, is a recipient of Trumpâs foreign policy talking poin ts, as is Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Haass has advocated an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
A White House official explained that the list was put together by the State Department with unofficial input from National Security Council staffers and passed along to the communications shop. Many of those on the list are Trump fans or reliable conservative voices, including analysts at The Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. The White House also has a separate list of surrogates, who received talking points.
But the purpose of Sadlerâs list of foreign policy âinfluencers,â the official said, was to make sure they understood the administrationâs perspective, even if they disagreed with it. âThe list is inclusive of people who donât always agree with the administration on the issues,â the official said. âThatâs fine. At least theyâll state our perspective with some accuracy, even if they are going to say weâre wrong.â
Sadlerâs email suggested tweets that were supportive of Secretary of State Mike Pompeoâs recent speech at The Heritage Foundation, in which he outlined the tough sanctions imposed on Iran, and hinted at the potential use of military force if Iran restarted its nuclear program.
Sadler included links to two tweets from Fox News, a tweet from Pompeo and a tweet from press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in which she called the Iran deal âone of the worst deals in history.â
Sadler told the group: âWe encourage you to tweet, and write op-eds on this new strategy. If you need any assistance or more information, please let me know. Also send me your stuff so we can amplify!â
Some of the unlikely recipients said itâs not unusual for a White House to send background briefings to experts in the field, even if they donât agree with the polici es it is promoting â" but it was the paper-thin level of content that was more troubling to those people than the recipient list.
Medeiros noted that when he served in the Obama administration, such emails would typically be distributed before a policy decision had been announced and covered, and tried to lay out a persuasive case to experts to understand the administrationâs thinking â" not simply suggesting fan tweets.
âThe question isnât why Iâm on the list, the question is what I do with it,â said Medeiros. âThe answer is not a lot. Itâs useful to see what theyâre saying. But the content is not particularly good.âSource: Google News