By Alex Altman / Philadelphia
July 25, 2016

The chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign said that outgoing Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz had become a “distraction” and made the right move in resigning her post.

“I think she had become a distraction and did the right thing by deciding to resign,” campaign chairman John Podesta told reporters Monday outside a Pennsylvania delegation breakfast in center city Philadelphia.

Wasserman Schultz announced Sunday that she would leave her post after this week’s convention amid intensifying controversy over whether the committee she runs had improperly tried to undermine the candidacy of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The revelations, disclosed via a cache of hacked email messages that were posted by WikiLeaks, showed DNC staff discussing ways to undermine Sanders’ upstart campaign, which mounted a tough challenge to Clinton. The emails infuriated Sanders supporters, complicating the party’s effort to pull together ahead of the four-day televised event meant to showcase unity.

Party officials are trying hard to salute Sanders and smooth the integration of his supporters into the fold. At the outset of the Pennsylvania delegation breakfast here, state Democratic chairman Marcel Groen asked Sanders delegates to rise for recognition. “We want you. We need you,” he said as Clinton allies clapped. “We need your thoughts, we need your ideas, we need your passion and we need your ability to come together.”

Podesta said the Clinton campaign is hiring some of Sanders’ top organizers and plans to dispatch him to campaign on her behalf this fall. “We want to see him out there in battlegrounds, on college campuses,” he said. “Again, we honor what he was able to do. But we got more votes. We won, and she’ll be the nominee, and we’re going to go forward united.”

Podesta told reporters that he expected the email controversy to subside as some of the party’s stars take the podium at the Wells Fargo Center tonight. First Lady Michelle Obama, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker and Sanders himself are all slated to speak Monday night.

“I think people will kind of forget about this controversy,” Podesta said. “We’re united, we’re going forward. I think people won’t remember what happened here over the weekend a day from now.”

As for the hack’s perpetrators, Clinton’s campaign chairman cited a New York Times article that pointed to Russian agents as the culprits. “There’s very good evidence that the DNC was hacked by agents of the Russian government, particularly the Russian military intelligence services. That’s what experts seem to have concluded,” Podesta said.

“Whether their motivation is to influence the US election is something that I think people are looking at,” he added. “But the Russians have been known, of course in Eastern Europe—in Ukraine and other places—to try to use cyber-activity to interfere in free and democratic elections. So anything’s possible. But right now all we know is that the hacks are from people associated with the Russian government.”

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