Before I called Bernie Sanders, I lit a candle in my living room and put on some gospel music. I wanted to center myself for what I knew would be an emotional phone call.
I had promised Bernie when I took the helm of the Democratic National Committee after the convention that I would get to the bottom of whether Hillary Clinton's team had rigged the nomination process, as a cache of emails stolen by Russian hackers and posted online had suggested. I'd had my suspicions from the moment I walked in the door of the DNC a month or so earlier, based on the leaked emails. But who knew if some of them might have been forged? I needed to have solid proof, and so did Bernie.
So I followed the money. My predecessor, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, had not been the most active chair in fundraising at a time when President Barack Obama's neglect had left the party in significant debt. As Hillary's campaign gained momentum, she resolved the party's debt and put it on a starvation diet. It had become dependent on her campaign for survival, for which she expected to wield control of its operations.
Debbie was not a good manager. She hadn't been very interested in controlling the party—she let Clinton's headquarters in Brooklyn do as it desired so she didn't have to inform the party officers how bad the situation was. How much control Brooklyn had and for how long was still something I had been trying to uncover for the last few weeks.
By September 7, the day I called Bernie, I had found my proof and it broke my heart.
The Saturday morning after the convention in July, I called Gary Gensler, the chief financial officer of Hillary's campaign. He wasted no words. He told me the Democratic Party was broke and $2 million in debt.
"What?" I screamed. "I am an officer of the party and they've been telling us everything is fine and they were raising money with no problems."
That wasn't true, he said. Officials from Hillary's campaign had taken a look at the DNC's books. Obama left the party $24 million in debt—$15 million in bank debt and more than $8 million owed to vendors after the 2012 campaign—and had been paying that off very slowly. Obama's campaign was not scheduled to pay it off until 2016. Hillary for America (the campaign) and the Hillary Victory Fund (its joint fundraising vehicle with the DNC) had taken care of 80 percent of the remaining debt in 2016, about $10 million, and had placed the party on an allowance.
If I didn't know about this, I assumed that none of the other officers knew about it, either. That was just Debbie's way. In my experience she didn't come to the officers of the DNC for advice and counsel. She seemed to make decisions on her own and let us know at the last minute what she had decided, as she had done when she told us about the hacking only minutes before the Washington Post broke the news.