Scandal Retreads Lead Hillary Shortlist for Chief of Staff

Top contenders to be Hillary's right hand are tainted with a hefty share of Clinton controversy

by Jim Stinson | Updated 28 Oct 2016 at 11:21 AM

A recently curated shortlist of candidates to be White House chief of staff in a potential Hillary Clinton administration mostly features a retread of cutthroat political operatives and scandal-tarred players from yesteryear.

To be sure, there are less-intriguing names on the list. Among the leading candidates for the top spot in a potential Clinton White House, her chief of staff, are drab bureaucrats. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack of Iowa. President Obama’s former “Ebolza czar,” Ron Klain of Indiana.

“This is a cheryl [sic] special … Know you love her, but this stuff is like her Achilles heal [sic]. Or kryptonite. she just can’t say no to this sh**.”

But the contender most believe is standing firmly in the front of the line to lead another Clinton White House is her campaign chairman, a longtime figure in and around Clinton scandals — John Podesta.

Politico, who compiled the list of front-runners to be Clinton’s right hand based on interviews with Democratic insiders, noted Podesta leads the potential chief-of-staff pack predominantly because he is Clinton’s right-hand man now — and the job does not require congressional approval.

Podesta, the 67-year-old former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, rose to that level during the impeachment proceedings and then the Bush-Gore recount of 2000. Serving as their top adviser during such defining moments in Clinton history endeared him to both Clintons.

Podesta went on to found the Center for American Progress in 2003, stayed out of the Clinton-Obama primary of 2008, and then assisted President Obama with his transition to the White House. He worked for a year as counselor to Obama before chairing the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2015.

And then his Gmail account was hacked in March. Many of the Hillary Clinton campaign's dirty secrets began leaking out to the public, courtesy of WikiLeaks, starting on Oct. 7. The emails show a campaign propensity for misleading the public and throat-cutting, including a plot to leak a sunbathing photo of Sanders to the New York Post.

Podesta's leaked emails likely have hurt his credibility and damaged his value as a potential White House chief of staff by handing critics more ammunition to undercut his influence.

If Clinton does sidestep Podesta, the candidate most believe to be next up would be Ron Klain, Obama's former "Ebola czar." Klain was the former aide to Vice President Al Gore, played sympathetically by actor Kevin Spacey in HBO's "Recount."

Klain would be far less a scandal retread than Podesta — but Clinton reportedly doesn't trust him as part of her small, insulated inner circle. Klain is also all over WikiLeaks, even expressing fear that Bill Clinton could be compared to Bill Cosby on the issue of assaulting women.

That brings us back to another Clinton aide — Cheryl Mills. Mills was attorney to the Clintons during Bill Clinton's impeachment and was Hillary Clinton's counsel during the email scandal at the Department of State.

Mills appears to have encouraged Clinton's pursuit of a private server to handle Clinton's emails during her tenure as secretary of state. The decision will likely haunt Mills. Even Podesta and Clinton adviser Neera Tanden mocked the decision. They also chalked it up to an inability for Mills to counsel Clinton wisely.

"This is a cheryl [sic] special," Tanden wrote. "Know you love her, but this stuff is like her Achilles heal [sic]. Or kryptonite. she just can't say no to this sh**."

So while the chief of staff position does not need congressional approval, appointing the architect of Clinton's private server controversy might cause an avalanche of congressional and media criticism.

Tom Vilsack, secretary of agriculture and a former Democratic governor of Iowa, would likely be a smart pick. He has long been a Clinton supporter. A former presidential candidate in his own right, Vilsack has demonstrated a capacity for loyalty — he is the only member of Obama's original cabinet who remains in the administration.

Vilsack is also an expert on agriculture and Midwestern politics — something Clinton could use if she gets the chance to run for re-election in 2020. But Vilsack, unlike some of the other contenders, has not been part of the Clintons' notoriously insulated inner circle, driving down his chances and boosting those of the more scandal-tarred members of Clinton World.

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