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SWEET: When political operatives ‘keep an eye on’ you

Hillary Clinton, meeting with leaders of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, with U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., about job cuts at a South Side Nabisco plant. | Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — When Hillary Clinton was campaigning in Chicago on March 14, a day before the Illinois primary, as she wrapped up a stop on the far South Side, her traveling press secretary, Nick Merrill, emailed a message with “Lynn Sweet” in the subject line.

“Let’s keep an eye on her,” he wrote to Sarah Hamilton.

“Yes. I’m sitting next to her on the bus,” Hamilton replied.

Actually, she didn’t seek me out on the press bus parked at the Kids off the Block Memorial, 11618 S. Michigan Ave.

I was the one who’d plopped down next to Hamilton.

Hamilton, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s former press secretary, is now a managing director at Kivvit, the public affairs firm co-founded by David Axelrod. Earlier this year, Hamilton volunteered to help the Clinton campaign wrangle reporters at a few events in Chicago and Nevada.

Merrill owes her an apology.

Hamilton is an experienced political operative.

It’s absolutely insulting. Hamilton should be outraged. She’s a pro.

Hamilton certainly does not have to be told to keep an eye on me.

Most P.R. folks in Chicago who have been around know that if I cover an event, unless a Secret Service agent tells me to stay in place, I am likely to roam.

Of course, I was going to try to get close to Clinton to hear what she said as she talked to the Rev. Jesse Jackson and parents of kids who were victims of violence.

We were in Chicago. These were people I’ve covered for years. Of course, I would try to shout out a question to Clinton, if the opportunity came up — which it did not.

What’s the backstory here? On Tuesday, Smoking Gun, an outlet specializing in breaking news based on documents or photos, had a scoop: Emails of Clinton campaign officials were hacked, and the Russian government was behind the operation, Smoking Gun said, attributing that conclusion to SecureWorks, a research firm.

Hamilton was duped into providing her password to a fake Gmail log-in page, designed to trick her into thinking it was from the Clinton campaign.

A February email chain puts Hamilton at a Las Vegas rally, monitoring the movements of CNN producer Dan Merica and other journalists. “French journos and dan merica heading to stage right,” Hamilton told her Clinton colleagues.

I am not as outraged as some about Merrill and Hamilton keeping an eye on me.

I am more concerned that Clinton, a Chicago native, did not grant interviews before the Illinois primary and that the Clinton campaign will not disclose when she comes to Chicago to raise money. Plenty of more important things about which to be infuriated.

Anyway, a short time after Merrill emailed Hamilton to keep an eye on me, we arrived at 7300 S. Kedzie, across from the Nabisco plant. Clinton was meeting in with leaders of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union about job cuts at the plant.

I was part of a small press pool allowed in the session for a “photo op.” As the reporters were being told to leave, I lingered to take a better picture. Some of the union workers, recognizing me, shouted a hello. The press-wranglers were forced to let me stay a few more seconds — couldn’t be rude to the union folks.

The photo with this column shows that instant — when Clinton had to keep an eye on me.