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DNC Shakes up Leadership as It Looks to Turn Page on Email Hack

The DNC announced the departure of three more senior officers. But for all the damage caused by the email hack, some see a silver lining.
Image: Donna Brazile, the acting Chair of the Democratic National Committee, talks to the media on the floor at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland
Donna Brazile, the acting Chair of the Democratic National Committee since the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, talks to the media on the floor at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 25.CARLOS BARRIA / Reuters

Democratic National Committee CEO Amy Dacey and two other top officials are stepping down, the party announced Tuesday, following the publication of hacked internal emails.

Communications Director Luis Miranda and Chief Financial Officer Brad Marshall joined Dacey in announcing their resignations, after emails showing their apparent favoritism toward Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary were published by WikiLeaks. The emails also led to the resignation of DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

The DNC, now led by Donna Brazile, who took over as chairwoman just ahead of the Democratic National Convention last week, announced the hiring of veteran Democratic strategists Tom McMahon, who will lead the presidential transition team, and Doug Thornell, who will oversee the communications efforts on an interim basis.

Related: DNC Chief Debbie Wasserman Schultz Stepping Aside in Wake of Scandal

Chief of staff Brandon Davis, a former SEIU official installed by the Clinton campaign two months ago, is leading the committee’s presidential general election efforts.

Brazile pulled together the party’s staff Tuesday afternoon to offer a heartfelt word of thanks to the departing staff and announce the changes.

“I’m so grateful for their commitment to this cause, and I wish them continued success in the next chapter of their career,” Brazile said in a statement praising Dacey, Miranda and Marshall. She also touted the new team and added that she is “committed to adding to our team of skilled professionals.”

While the departures were voluntary, sources said, all three were included on one of the most damaging emails uncovered by the hack. The email, sent by Marshall, the committee’s top accountant for more than 20 years, suggested making an issue of what it called Sanders’ atheism in the Kentucky and West Virginia primaries.

Shakeups at the DNC are common during presidential election years, but this one comes as the party confronts deeper questions about what role a national party committee should even play in an era of super PACs and billion-dollar presidential campaigns.

For all the damage caused by the exposure of the internal emails, many party insiders see a silver lining in the fallout, which they say has cleared the way for much-needed changes at DNC headquarters.

“There's a level optimism about the party that I don't think people have held in a while,” said Mo Elleithee, the former communications director of the DNC, before the latest departures were announced. “People feel good that there's now going to be a real opportunity to stand the building back up. To fill the void that has been left by the DNC in such a state of disrepair.”

"There are good people there whose hands were tied," he added. "Now they have a real opportunity with a new chair, with new leadership and a new culture in the building."
Even before the email leak, the party was facing challenges. Clinton’s campaign had lost confidence in key parts of the committee, cutting them out of some projects. Sanders supporters had lost trust in the DNC's credibility managing the party -- doubts they believe were proven by the email leak.

Brazile, who gave up two lucrative TV contracts to be pressed back into service as interim party chairwoman, is widely respected in the party and was on the list of suggested acceptable replacements for Wasserman Schultz put forward by the Sanders camp.

She moved quickly to shore up trust and boost morale, declaring in a speech to the party’s convention, “We will have a party you can be proud of.”

In a gesture to the party’s staff, Brazile reversed an earlier order that had told dozens of junior staffers they were not welcome at the Democratic National Convention, even if they paid their own way, due to a limited number of credentials.

Days after taking the reins, Brazile ordered up two buses to ferry staffers from Washington to Philadelphia, which arrived just in time for them to see Clinton’s speech accepting the Democratic nomination.

And on Sunday, when staffers arrived at work for the first day of a newly instituted seven-day work rotations for the homestretch of the election, some were surprised to see Brazile there too.

Related: Hack of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee 'Similar' to DNC Breach

The leadership style is a welcome change from Wasserman Schultz, who critics say intentionally slow-walked needed changes and clashed with Davis and Dacey, who was well regarded in the party and whose departure former colleagues say is major loss.

“This DNC was going to turn around one way or another, and it's going to be incredibly easier and more painless with her gone,” said one Democrat close to the committee, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly.

Democratic powerhouse consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker has stepped up its involvement with the DNC to help with communications strategy, and law firm Perkins Coie has been involved on the legal side.

Officially, Wasserman Schultz’s exit was presented as a gesture toward party unity. She also had her own reasons for leaving. According to a Democrat familiar with her donor network, what ultimately pushed the former chairwoman to step down -- and to never even lift the gavel at the Democratic convention -- were warnings from donors that money could dry up in her own congressional re-election bid. Wasserman Schultz is facing a strong primary challenge from Tim Canova, a law professor backed by Sanders.

A Democrat close to negotiations with Wasserman Schultz said she had a checklist of requests fulfilled prior to announcing her departure, which included what she believed to be a promised endorsement in her re-election from Clinton. That endorsement came in a press release on Wasserman Schultz’s departure.

Whatever the former chairwoman’s shortcomings, the Clinton campaign respected her loyalty -- though some were chagrined to see her continually popping up at events in Philadelphia throughout the convention after her ouster.

Meanwhile, Wasserman Schultz’s departure has made Sanders and his supporters more eager to help the party, and there are discussions about bringing successful elements of the Sanders campaign into the DNC.

It’s a tough time for party committees in general, which have seen increased competition from super PACs and other outside groups that can accept unlimited donations.

Related: Why Experts are Sure Russia Hacked the DNC Emails

The Republican National Committee this year has made itself indispensable by picking up jobs that would typically be performed by a campaign. Donald Trump, who began raising money for the general election only recently, has farmed out many responsibilities to the RNC, including field organizing in battleground states.

Clinton’s campaign, by contrast, has opted to do almost everything in-house, even hiring key people from the DNC -- like its former digital director and a video operative -- or moving members of the committee’s research team to work out of the campaign’s Brooklyn headquarters.

One of the DNC’s typical roles is to be more aggressive in its statements about the opposition than the candidate might be. But Trump is no typical candidate, and Clinton has pulled no punches.

Some Democrats say the DNC would be best off focusing on a small number of tasks it is uniquely suited for, like maintaining voter data on behalf of all campaigns, instead of trying to do too much.

Still, the DNC has an advantage over super PACs in that it can coordinate directly with campaigns and develop a 50-state political network to connect Democrats across the country, though its primary has been undermined by Obama’s Organizing for America and Clinton’s campaign. And if Clinton wins and appoints new Supreme Court justices, there could be a day when Citizens United gets overturned, putting the parties back in the driver's’ seat.