ATLANTA — Donna Brazile has been through a lot — but nothing like the last eight months.
More than taking over a Democratic National Committee in crisis, more than seeing the party collapse from cruising victory to crushing defeat all in one night, more than trying to keep the wings of the party from choking each other to death, there was taking care of a young staff that spent the last year getting death threats, harassing emails and suspicious packages that they regularly called the police on.
Brazile also needed to take care of herself. She went through fear, then anger, then bitterness, then resistance — and then again relived it Saturday night, speaking to me for the “Off Message” podcast in her first extensive interview about the experiences.
The anguish started early into her time as interim chair, when she was called in by the FBI to be told what they knew already then of the extent of the hacking and Russia’s role.
“All I can tell you is that when I left that room after that briefing,” Brazile said, “I went back to the DNC, closed the office, and stared at the ceilings. There was nothing else I could do.”
“I was scared,” she added later. “I was scared that first day and night. I went home that night, I couldn’t talk to anybody because I had a — I couldn’t even tell the staff what was happening to them.”
What followed were months of new security measures being put in place, cameras installed and sweeps for Russian bugs — tough moments that Brazile tried to lighten at points by walking around the DNC headquarters with a green watering can, joking, “I’m watering the bugs.”
Between the attention on the DNC from last year’s first big hack and her own emails that went public in the WikiLeaks dump of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails, Brazile was the target of so much attention that she began to feel she was an actual target — to the point of having someone who would help check out her house every time she went home.
“There was an individual who would often go up the stairs, you know, a gentleman to make sure that there was nothing suspicious, no packages,” she said.
More than once, they found something they reported to the police.
Saturday’s election here of Tom Perez means that Brazile’s time as interim chair is over, and she did not run for her old vice chair post, so for the first time in a long time, she’s not officially involved in Democratic politics. But even after the chair vote finished in the early afternoon, Brazile continued running the proceedings while Perez began the behind-the-scenes work of taking over — what in the end was a 13-hour day.
Between the last few votes, she scooted across the hall to a room in the Atlanta Convention Center to talk about things she’s never talked about before to anyone, including her FBI briefing on the Russian hacks last summer and the time Ivanka Trump came asking for her help with the Trump International Hotel in Washington — which President Donald Trump continues to own and where he was eating dinner on Saturday, coincidentally just as we were speaking.
Among her many jobs, Brazile was D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s chief of staff decades ago, and she knows pretty much everyone in Washington. She says the president’s daughter tapped into that.
“She was working with district officials on the hotel and she needed cell phone numbers and contacts for people,” Brazile said. “I was on a train with Ivanka and she said that she was having a problem — trouble getting in touch with Mayor Bowser.”
Our interview paused twice, while Brazile went back in — first to announce a second round of voting on the final DNC vice chair slot, then to announce that Michael Blake had won it and to close out the proceedings for the last time.
Over the course of it, she got the news that Democrats had won the special election for a Delaware state Senate seat that kept the chamber in Democratic control, ending her tenure with a win.
She was literally cheering into the microphone — though that also might have been the eagerness to go meet Perez and officially sign over the paperwork that gave him responsibility for the DNC, or to go to the beckoning hotel bar where delegates were packed in a few floors below us.
But then there’s the fact that the president of the United States can’t stop talking about her.
Ever since the email came out from the Podesta hack that seemed to show her passing a question onto the Clinton campaign ahead of the debate, she’s been a talking point for Trump, all the way through his rambling press conference in the East Room two weeks ago.
Brazile talked through what she says happened, in her telling an inflated flap that either mistakenly or willfully misinterpreted and misunderstood some basic facts.
“Did CNN provide Donna Brazile or any other contributor debate questions? No. I’ve never received questions from CNN,” she said. “There’s no there there.”
Brazile said she never would have guessed things would turn so sour with Trump, from the way they used to interact at the early Republican primary forums and debates that she helped cover for ABC and CNN as a political commentator.
“I thought he loved me,” she joked. “I really did.”
She couldn’t have been clearer that she’s had it with the way he’s treated her since then, when I asked if the president is obsessed with her.
“Donald Trump has not switched off the campaign button. He is still in campaign mode and if he wants to use his time in office — he only has four years, but if he wants to use four years, you know, bashing Donna Brazile, insinuating misleading information, that’s up to Mr. Trump,” she said. “I have no — I have the respect for the office of the President but I have no — I don’t have the capacity.”