The article burning up the Internet today tells the story of Kamala Harris and her frustration with a White House that has marginalized her and failed to fully exploit her skill at international diplomacy.
Naturally, the presence of the Bay Area native and former California Attorney General makes this a juicy story for California Globe. But there’s a strange element here that brings it even more to the fore in these parts.
As with any story these days that lays the lumber on a bunch of high-power officials, virtually everything negative the article asserts is voiced by unnamed sources. We hear from “many sources speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the situation more frankly,” “a top donor to Biden,” “a former Harris aide,” “one outside adviser, “Top aides” and “a former high-level Harris aide.” That’s a shame, and it’s killing journalism, but that’s a story for another day. The story for today is that in its massive, unputdownable 5000-word feature, the sole named source who goes negative is California’s own lieutenant governor, Eleni Kounalakis.
Being the sole named source willing to confirm the story’s central premise—that Vice President Harris is indeed frustrated with her role—is tricky enough. You know you’re pissing off whoever says the opposite of what you say, and it’s asymmetric warfare. They know who you are, but you don’t know who they are.
Still, that’s sometimes a position worth taking for a high profile elected official, especially if one’s remarks are the kind of innocuous, supportive statements that are unlikely to ruffle any powerful figure’s feathers. But that’s not what happened here.
Kounalakis went on the record using her own name, to confirm that Kamala, who the article describes as a “longtime friend,” is indeed frustrated with her boss and his administration.
“It is natural that those of us who know her,” Kounalakis told CNN’s Edward-Isaac Dovere and Jasmine Wright, “know how much more helpful she can be than she is currently being asked to be. That’s where the frustration is coming from.”
That’s a shocker.
The lieutenant governor could easily have said “Kamala Harris plays a meaningful role in all presidential deliberations, whether or not that’s visible.” And left it at that.
By speaking on the record, Kounalakis elevated it from an anonymously sourced story to the lieutenant governor of California — one described by CNN as a “longtime friend” of Harris who “spoke with the vice president last Monday morning”—confirming its thesis.
What began as easily dismissible speculation is now a real story confirmed by the only person going on record to affirm that VP feels sidelined.
Why would Kounalakis take such a risk? Well, she undoubtedly thought she was being helpful. And often, in a situation like this, where she’s defending her friend, it will be the friend who has her people call and say, “Hey can you get on the phone with this reporter and talk about all the great things I’m doing.” But that doesn’t explain why she would state that Harris is frustrated with Biden.
It is inconceivable that the vice president’s skilled comms people called Kounalakis to ask her to express disappointment in the president, at a time when his numbers have reached record lows.
After CNN dropped its A-bomb, the White House leapt into crisis mode. White House press secretary Jen Psaki wrote a cringe-worthy tweet that resembled the kind of “he has my full support” message a baseball team owner issues the week before he fires the manager.
For anyone who needs to hear it. @VP is not only a vital partner to @POTUS but a bold leader who has taken on key, important challenges facing the country—from voting rights to addressing root causes of migration to expanding broadband.
— Jen Psaki (@PressSec) November 15, 2021
Incidentally, this is not the first time that Kounalakis has expressed dissatisfaction with Biden. We know of at least one other time in which she ripped him, and oddly enough that also involved a conversation about speaking to reporters both on and off the record.
In October 2015, when there was still hope among Biden partisans that the then-vice president would mount a campaign to succeed President Obama, Hillary loyalists moved swiftly to snuff out any pro-Biden enthusiasm. In an email exchange with Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta that eventually wound up on WikiLeaks, Kounalakis has dinner with reporter Annie Karni (then at Politico, now at the New York Times). Kounalakis, who had recently served as the US Ambassador to Hungary and whose family had raised piles of cash for candidates in California and beyond, asks Podesta for permission to be featured in Karni’s forthcoming story, “What top Clinton donors really think.”
Kounalakis writes, “[Karni] asked to use four quotes from me (see attached). I told her the first two could be with attribution, and the second two without.”
Podesta doesn’t answer the question and instead replies, “Why are you having dinner with Annie Karni? Hard to see how any good can come from that.”
Kounalakis responds by blaming Clinton loyalist David Brock: “Since David had her around traveling with him, I figured she was okay to talk to. He was sort of coordinating….”
And then out of nowhere, she changes the subject, referencing a fundraiser Vice President Biden was attending at the same time, a sort of Knights of Columbus but for Greeks. Kounalakis writes, “There is a Greek American love fest going on with Joe Biden, very boy-club.”
Whatever the thought process in wading into the tensions emerging between Biden and Harris, the move clearly seems to have backfired, with the story dominating the political narrative all day. If Kounalakis truly wants to help her “longtime friend” Kamala Harris, she might want to try something other than revealing the vice president’s “frustration” with the president.
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