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Clinton campaign chair Podesta on DNC emails: Was it Russians?

Hillary Clinton leaves with campaign manager John Podesta (left) after a meeting with Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill on July 14, 2016 in Washington, D.C. | Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

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PHILADELPHIA — When Hillary Clinton told Tim Kaine on Friday he was her running mate in a phone call, “she surprised him by telling him I was outside, waiting to swoop in on him,” Clinton campaign chair John Podesta told me.

Podesta is a Chicago native, as is Clinton, though she was raised in suburban Park Ridge, and Podesta’s blue-collar roots were planted at 4932 N. Kentucky, where he grew up. Podesta graduated from Lane Tech in 1967 before heading to Knox College in Galesburg to pick up his undergrad degree in 1971.

I talked with Podesta in the lobby of the Westin Hotel here, within an hour of Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s announcement she was stepping down after the convention following an email scandal. Podesta speculated that the hack of DNC emails — which showed DNC staffers plotting against Bernie Sanders — could have come from Russians wanting to help Republican Donald Trump.

The irony of another controversy involving emails was not lost on

Podesta, overseeing a Clinton campaign overshadowed at times by her

use of a private email server while Secretary of State.

OPINION

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Podesta, who has been a top staffer for President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama, was deeply involved with Clinton’s vice presidential selection process every step of the way.

On Friday, Podesta was in a car with Sara Latham, his senior adviser who put together the Kaine “rollout strategy,” waiting for the senator to finish his call with Clinton. They were parked a few blocks from the Rhode Island hotel where Kaine was headlining a fundraiser.

Clinton “told him I would be calling him. I called him from outside the Viking Hotel in Newport. We met up. . . . Sara and I went into his hotel room and had a rapid-fire briefing on what was to come next, what the schedule looked like for the rollout, what the expectation was for the convention, for coming out of the convention, what plans have been made.”

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Clinton and Kaine are planning a post-convention bus trip through the swing states of Pennsylvania and Ohio after a sendoff rally here Friday — a very nostalgic move for Clinton, who accompanied her husband, his running mate Al Gore and his wife Tipper in a barnstorming bus tour following his Democratic convention in New York in 1992.

In a wide-ranging conversation Podesta told me:

On the DNC emails: They were released through Wikileaks with the hack coming from “the Russians or by others. We are trying to get to the bottom of that.

He added later: “The Republicans last week changed their platform to be more Russia friendly.”

On why Wasserman Schultz was not pressured to step down until after the convention, and why the Clinton team will still give her a role: “I think she has worked to bring this convention about and put it together. . . . And I think everyone recognizes that this is an appropriate move. . . . And for the people who have called on her to resign, I think that ought to be enough.”

How the emails toppled Wasserman Schultz: “They had become a great distraction as we were going into the convention. We feel we have put together a tremendous opportunity for the American people to hear what Hillary and Tim Kaine and Democrats more broadly will do for the American people — a strong and inclusive economy — and we want to make sure they hear that message.

“And so this was something that was kind of interfering with that message going forward. So I think that Debbie was gracious in doing the right thing.”

When Wasserman Schultz said she would quit: She “made her intentions known” about midday on Friday in a conversation with Campaign Manager Robby Mook and Charlie Baker, the campaign chief administrative officer.

On potential Clinton campaign email hacks: “We have the highest levels of security and we know that we are a target and obviously we have tried to insure that all of our staff are aware of that and that we have the most robust and enhanced capacity to stop intrusion.”

On the Trump convention: “I think the layer of venom was so intense, it will be a stark contrast to our convention.”

A Twitter List by Suntimes