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ATLANTA – Outgoing Democratic National Committee chair Donna Brazile, in some of her first public comments since the presidential election, opened up Friday about how Russian hacking of the DNC last year colored not only the outcome of the election but also her personal experience in politics.
In an interview with Business Insider at the DNC winter meeting on Friday, the chair reflected on the effects of the release of hacked emails from the committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman that were published by WikiLeaks last year. She said that included “constant harassment” and “physical threats, harmful threats.” And she said the experience changed her personally.
“It was a campaign that I’ve never experienced before, and I have seven presidential campaigns under my belt. When I assumed the chair role, I assumed, ‘Well, this will only take a couple months out of my life, and I’ll go back to being Donna.’ But it transformed me,” Brazile said.
Brazile’s comments came as Democratic leaders gathered in Atlanta to choose a new chair and top party brass. She was elevated to interim chair after a batch of WikiLeaks emails were released before the party’s convention that displayed some DNC staffers’ clear distaste for Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Other emails hacked from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s account appeared to show Brazile, then a CNN contributor, tipping off the campaign about a question in advance of a Democratic primary debate on the network.
“I’ve never gone up against a foreign military intelligence unit,” she said Friday. “I don’t think no campaign manager, no one in my position has ever had to fight the weaponization of misinformation, to have your files corrupted and then to be used as a form of weaponization to sew discord.”
The outgoing chair lamented that the hacking allowed voters to see a “partial glimpse of an email or file system,” offering a confusing picture of how the DNC conducts its business. In an emotional speech earlier in the day, Brazile elaborated on the threats made against DNC staffers personally, noting that there were bomb threats and murder threats made against individual staffers.
Though she previously apologized to Sanders for some DNC staffers’ private misgivings about the Vermont senator, the outgoing chair also defended the system that allowed Clinton to secure the Democratic nomination.
During the 2016 primary, some progressive activists decried the influence of so-called superdelegates, the Democratic officials and high-profile figures who are selected by the party and have an outsize role in the nominating process.
“What is wrong with a system that allows the person who gets the most votes to win the primary?” Brazile said. “What’s wrong with a system that allows people to vote their conscience? What’s wrong with a system that allows elected officials, party activists and others to participate? There’s nothing wrong with a system like that.”
Once a ubiquitous political figure on television, the outgoing chair has maintained a lower public profile since the 2016 election, appearing at party event, but largely avoiding media appearances. CNN ended its longtime relationship with her in October amid the leaks that appeared to show her sharing questions with Clinton’s campaign, a charge she repeatedly denied.
The first open election in a decade, the DNC chair race appeared to winnow to a close contest between Rep. Keith Ellison and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez. Some observers viewed it as a proxy battle between the ascendant progressive left and the establishment wings of the Democratic party, though both officials have publicly attempted to dismiss the comparison.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg also appeared to be gaining momentum on Friday, but many Democrats at Friday’s meeting were unconvinced that he could win.