WASHINGTON — A super PAC backing Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is going negative, circulating an email that yokes her chief rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to some of the more controversial remarks made by Jeremy Corbyn, the United Kingdom’s new Labour Party leader, including his praise for the late Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan leader who provided discounted fuel to Vermont in a deal supported by Sanders.
Clinton’s camp has long said it has no plans to attack Sanders. But the super PAC, called Correct the Record, departed from its defense of Clinton’s record as a former secretary of state in an email Monday that compares Sanders with Corbyn. Correct the Record, led by Clinton ally David Brock, also has sent trackers after Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
The Democratic candidates have refrained from criticizing each other directly. Sanders has obliquely knocked Clinton for not stating her position on the Keystone XL pipeline, and hasn’t made an issue of her use of a private email server and account while at the State Department. Clinton, in turn, almost never mentions Sanders’ name and has focused on her Republican rivals.
Monday’s Correct the Record email strays from that pattern. The email, sent to a Huffington Post reporter in response to an article about Corbyn and Sanders without any agreement that it would be off the record, was meant to flag Corbyn’s “most extreme comments.” Among those was the suggestion that the assassination of Osama bin Laden was “a tragedy,” since there was no attempt to arrest the former al Qaeda leader and put him on trial. The email also cites Corbyn’s comment that he’d invite his “friends” from Hezbollah to come to the U.K. to discuss peace in the Middle East and an editorial in which he said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s “attempt to encircle Russia is one of the big threats of our time.”
The email uses those comments to pivot to “similarities” between Corbyn and Sanders, who have engaged in a mild cross-Atlantic love-fest of late, given that they are both insurgent populists challenging their political parties’ establishments. Corbyn has said he is following Sanders’ campaign “with great interest,” and Sanders said he was “delighted” that the Labour Party elected Corbyn as its leader.
The “similarities” between the two, according to the email, include Sanders’ introduction of legislation to terminate the United States’ nuclear weapons program, comments that NATO’s expansion into former Soviet states is dangerous because it could provoke Russia, opposition to more U.S. funds for NATO, and saying he “was concerned” that proposed new NATO members had shipped arms to Iran and North Korea.
The more serious stretch comes as the email highlights how Sanders helped negotiate a program with Venezuela’s national oil company in 2006 that provided discounted heating oil assistance to low-income Vermonters. The senator said it was “not a partisan issue,” in the state, which was the sixth to make the deal. His support for the program was apparently enough to merit a mention, since Corbyn has written that the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez’s “electoral democratic credentials are beyond reproach.”
Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs wrote in an email to The Huffington Post that Correct the Record was “distorting the record.” The Sanders campaign has argued that attacks from Clinton supporters are inspired by anxiety over his leads in polls of Democratic voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“It is disappointing that Secretary Clinton’s super PAC is spreading disinformation about Bernie,” Briggs wrote. “This is exactly the kind of politics that Bernie is trying to change. To equate bringing home heating oil to low-income Vermonters with support for the Chavez government is dishonest.”
Only a handful Clinton surrogates have attacked Sanders directly, and it remains to be seen whether the gist of the email from Correct the Record will be fed to anyone other than reporters. If so, the attack would be in the vein of what Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said about Sanders earlier this year — that he’s unelectable, since he’s a self-identified democratic socialist.