PHILADELPHIA, (Reuters) – The head of the Democratic Party resigned yesterday amid a furor over embarrassing leaked emails, hoping to head off a growing rebellion by Bernie Sanders supporters on the eve of the convention to nominate Hillary Clinton for the White House.
Lingering bitterness from the heated primary campaign between Clinton and Sanders erupted after more than 19,000 Democratic National Committee emails, leaked on Friday, confirmed Sanders’ frequent charge that the party played favorites in the race.
In a statement, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the best way for the party to accomplish its goal of putting Clinton in the White House was for her to step aside after the convention. Sanders had demanded earlier in the day that Wasserman Schultz resign.
The furor was a blow to a party keen on projecting stability in contrast to the volatility of Republican candidate Donald Trump, who was formally nominated at a raucous convention in Cleveland last week.
It also overshadowed preparations in Philadelphia for Clinton’s coronation as the nominee to face Trump in the Nov. 8 presidential election. She will be the first woman nominated for president by a major U.S. political party.
The four-day Democratic convention will open on Monday. In some good news for Clinton, The New York Times reported that businessman and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will endorse her in a prime-time speech on Monday, saying she will be the best choice for moderate voters in 2016.
The cache of emails leaked on Friday by the WikiLeaks website disclosed that DNC officials explored ways to undermine Sanders’ insurgent presidential campaign, including raising questions about whether Sanders, who is Jewish, was really an atheist.
Sanders said Wasserman Schultz, a U.S. representative from Florida, had made the right decision for the future of the Democratic Party. “The party leadership must also always remain impartial in the presidential nominating process, something which did not occur in the 2016 race,” he said.
The Clinton camp questioned whether Russians may have had a hand in the hack attack on the party’s emails and were interested in helping Trump, who has exchanged words of praise with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“What’s disturbing to us is that experts are telling us that Russian state actors broke into the DNC, stole these emails and other experts are now saying that Russians are releasing these emails for the purpose of helping Donald Trump,” Clinton campaign chairman Robby Mook said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort said the Clinton camp was trying to distract from its party discord ahead of the convention.
“What’s in those emails show that it was a clearly rigged system, that Bernie Sanders … never had a chance,” Manafort said on ABC.
Clinton, 68, a former secretary of state, and Sanders, 74, an independent U.S. senator from Vermont who ran for president as a Democrat, waged a bruising months-long battle for the nomination. Branding himself a democratic socialist, Sanders galvanized young and liberal voters with his calls to rein in Wall Street and eradicate income inequality.
But Sanders repeatedly voiced frustration with a DNC and party establishment he felt was stacked against him, and the resentment from Sanders and his supporters threatened to disrupt the convention.
“I’m not shocked but I’m disappointed,” Sanders said of the emails earlier on Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
The emails showed DNC officials pondering various ways to undercut Sanders. Brad Marshall, the DNC’s chief financial officer, apologized on Facebook on Saturday for an email in which he discussed how some voters in upcoming nominating contests in Kentucky and West Virginia would reject an atheist.