New WikiLeaks emails show influence of Univision chairman in Clinton campaign

Hillary Clinton aboard her campaign plane at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport in St. Louis following the second presidential debate at Washington University on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016.
Hillary Clinton aboard her campaign plane at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport in St. Louis following the second presidential debate at Washington University on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. AP

The clashes between presidential candidate Donald Trump and the Spanish-language Univision television network began within days of Trump’s announcement last year that he was seeking the Republican nomination.

Now, a series of emails pirated from the Democratic National Committee and published in the past week by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks show that within days of Trump’s June 16, 2015, announcement of his candidacy, Univision’s chairman, Haim Saban, was urging the Clinton campaign to take a tougher stance on Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda.

“Haim thinks we are underreacting to Trump/Hispanics. Thinks we can get something by standing up for Latinos or attacking R’s (Republicans) for not condemning,” Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta wrote July 3, 2015, in an email to other Clinton staffers.

The email drew an immediate response from Jennifer Palmieri, a former White House spokeswoman who is communications director for the Clinton campaign: “Haim is right – we should be jamming this all the time.”

Univision was quick to set itself in opposition to Trump’s candidacy. Just nine days after Trump launched his bid by denouncing Mexican immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally as “rapists” and drug dealers, Univision canceled its telecast of the Miss USA pageant, which the Trump Organization owned jointly with NBCUniversal.

Trump filed a $500 million lawsuit against the network, alleging that it had broken a contract, and he barred Univision reporters from his Doral National resort, which lies a mile from Univision’s studios in Doral, a Miami suburb.

The acrimony reached a crescendo on Aug. 25, 2015, when Trump had Univision’s anchor, Jorge Ramos, ejected from a news conference in Iowa. “Sit down, you weren’t called. Go back to Univision,” Trump scolded Ramos, who nearly a year later wrote a column that called Trump “a hater” who’d ushered in a “poisonous political climate where insults, bullying and racism have become commonplace.”

That confrontation played prominently on newscasts across the globe, pitting the bombastic Trump against Ramos, who made Time magazine’s list of the “100 most influential people” in 2015 and is widely considered the Spanish-language equivalent of the legendary Walter Cronkite. Even Trump’s later invitation to Ramos to return and ask questions didn’t dampen the furor.

A spokeswoman for Saban, Stephanie Pillersdorf, said the media tycoon’s support for Clinton’s presidential bid had not influenced Univision’s news coverage. “Not even one iota. Zero, zero, zero,” Pillersdorf said.

“He has been a supporter of Hillary separate and way before his involvement with Univision,” Pillersdorf said.

Ramos did not respond to email and messages on Twitter seeking comment on whether Saban has influenced his coverage. Daniel Coronell, president of Univision News, said Saban “has never tried to get involved or made any requests to our news division.”

Saban’s company was among a group of investors that bought the network in 2006.

The emails are among nearly 6,000 sent and received by Podesta that WikiLeaks has published in three batches since Friday.

The Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party have declined to certify the emails’ authenticity, and they caution that the Obama administration has accused Russia of the hack that produced them. But Clinton herself indicated they were authentic when she recalled at Sunday’s presidential debate the details of a speech she’d given that was among the emails.

Saban’s media involvement has been a sore subject for conservative commentators for years. A former musician who became a television producer, he’d been a major contributor to Democratic candidates since the 1990s. His Wikipedia profile describes him as a good friend of President Bill Clinton’s and says that he and his wife were frequent overnight guests at the White House during the Clinton administration.

When the conservative Hot Air website published an article headlined “Univision’s pro-Hillary boosterism” that called the network Clinton’s “not-so-secret weapon,” Saban jotted a quick email to the campaign’s staff: “I have nothing to do with it. I NEVER tell our news DEP what to cover . . . unlike some of my peers.”

That brought a response from Huma Abedin, a close aide to Clinton: “Welcome to our world!”

The bad blood between Univision and the Trump campaign continued through the year. In late October, the Trump campaign refused to issue a press credential to a Univision reporter for a Miami campaign rally.

Saban, who holds both American and Israeli citizenship, also weighed in with the campaign on matters related to Clinton’s platform on Israel.

“She needs to differentiate herself from Obama on Israel,” Saban wrote to top campaign officials on June 20, 2015.

On another occasion, the mogul emailed Podesta that an Israeli television channel had interviewed him and inaccurately portrayed his view of Clinton’s position on the nuclear deal with Iran, which Israel opposed.

“It was an interview on Israeli TV in Hebrew . . . on the day she announced . . . someone took my statement and translated it freely to English, and stated what THEY wanted to state NOT what I said. Never said that she opposes the deal,” Saban wrote.

“No big deal and not even a small deal. I’m sure it was great in Hebrew,” Podesta wrote back. Saban replied: “Lol. . . . Hebrew lessons bro.”

One issue of strong interest to Saban is the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, which seeks international pressure on Israel to withdraw Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

On receiving an email about positive student perceptions of Clinton’s opposition to the movement, Saban whipped off an email to Sarah Bard, the Jewish outreach director for the campaign.

“Sarah we should Talk about how to capitalize on this. I have some ideas and would appreciate your thoughts when we talk next,” Saban wrote on Jan. 28.

“Thank you for sharing. I look forward to discussing and strategizing on this with you,” Bard wrote back a day later.

CLARIFICATION: This story has been revised to make clear that Jorge Ramos’ comments on Donald Trump were made nearly a year after their Iowa news conference confrontation.

Tim Johnson: 202-383-6028, @timjohnson4