Tom Perez Dodges on Whether Democrats Owe Bernie Sanders an Investigation

The DNC chair told Chuck Todd that he'll work to 'restore trust' with voters, but won't commit to looking into what happened in 2016

by Kathryn Blackhurst | Updated 05 Nov 2017 at 9:13 PM

Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair Tom Perez struggled to answer questions about how he will work “to restore trust” among Democrats after a divisive 2016 presidential primary, as he dodged questions during an interview Sunday on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”

Perez, who succeeded interim DNC chair Donna Brazile in February, skirted “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd’s question about whether or not the DNC “owed” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and his presidential campaign an investigation into charges that the primary process was rigged in Hillary Clinton’s favor. Brazile reignited the controversy last week when Politico published excerpts from her new book, “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.” Brazile revealed that a funding agreement between Clinton’s campaign and the DNC may have tipped the scales in Clinton’s favor.

"How are you going to restore trust with Sanders supporters that the DNC is, is going to be a fair place to — is gonna be a fair arbiter here for the party?" Todd asked Perez, pointing to criticisms from progressive Democrats alleging that the Democratic Party's 2016 primary was "rigged."

The DNC chairman replied, "When I hear the word 'rigged' — let's be very clear. Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary by four million votes."

"Where I think both [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren and [Rep.] Keith Ellison and myself, where we agree, is we have to earn the trust of the voters," Perez continued. "And during the process of the Democratic primary, we fell short in that, undeniably. And I accepted that responsibility."

Perez claimed that he would fight to make the DNC "fair and transparent" while ensuring that "all of our fundraising agreements, our partnerships, will be available to everyone" so that the DNC can work with voters "to earn their trust."

But Todd pressed Perez, asking, "Don't you owe the Sanders campaign an investigation?"

"I mean, Donna Brazile put that charge out. Don't you and Keith Ellison, shouldn't you guys look back and see if her charges are true?" Todd continued.

Perez dodged, saying, "Well, again, I totally agree, Chuck, with the notion that the DNC fell short during critical moments of the primary."

When Todd interrupted, saying, "So they did play favorites? So [Brazile's] right?" Perez once again declined to answer whether the DNC owed Sanders and his supporters an investigation.

"I think we have to, we have to do better is what we have to do, Chuck," Perez said. "And that's why I was very clear during our primary campaign, during the campaign for DNC chair, that we have to make sure that everybody feels at the end of the process that everyone got a fair shake. That's what we're about, Chuck, and that's what we have to do. That's how we earn people's trust."

The day before his interview with Todd, Perez penned an op-ed for Medium entitled "Making 2020 Transparent." During the course of the article, the DNC chair acknowledged that he knew "repairing our party's structural flaws and healing the deep divisions among our supporters would not be easy" when he took the job. Although Perez promised that "the new DNC" is "committed to the task of making sure that our 2020 nominating process will be unquestionably fair and transparent," he made no mention of investigating what went wrong during the 2016 primary between Clinton and Sanders.

Although Perez hopes to move the Democratic Party forward, many progressives who were sympathetic to Sanders warned that the party could not move forward without looking backward at what happened in 2016.

"At this point, with barely any funds, compromised integrity and low trust, Chairman Perez needs to prove above and beyond that he's willing to reform this party," Nomiki Konst, a Sanders-aligned progressive appointed to the Unity Reform Commission, told the Huffington Post on Sunday. "Make it transparent, accountable, inclusive, and eliminate conflicts of interest that have burdened it."

A recent report from left-leaning activists called "Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis" also warned that the party must look at and learn from its 2016 mistakes before it can ever hope to move forward and make significant gains in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

"To gain and retain the support of voters — and as a matter of principle — the Democratic Party should be democratic in its operation as well as in its name," the report read. "Yet some of the party's operations have violated basic precepts of fairness as a bedrock of democracy. The credibility and prospects of the party diminish when the Democratic National Committee is widely understood to be operating with bias during the presidential nomination process."

"The Democratic Party's national charter requires the DNC to be evenhanded in the presidential nominating process, but the DNC's use of a joint fundraising committee that favored one candidate during the primary season violated this charter obligation," the report continued. "The conduct of top officials at the Democratic National Committee ... engenders no faith that they will act with integrity for a truly democratic process in the future."

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