The newly leaked trove of Colin Powell’s emails offers a rare window into the former secretary of state’s unvarnished, at-times scathing thoughts on Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and old political adversaries who served with him in the George W. Bush administration.
In conversations with former White House and State Department colleagues, Powell blasted Trump for “stupid” minority outreach efforts, lit into Clinton aides for their relentless efforts to link the two former secretaries’ email practices and excoriated former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top deputy for trying to blame him for the Iraq debacle.
Powell and Condoleezza Rice, who succeeded him at the State Department, also joked that Trump seemed in over his head in running for president.
“If Donald were to somehow win,” Powell wrote in a June 23 email to Rice, “by the end of the first week in office he’d be saying ‘What the hell did I get myself into?’”
“I think his attention span may be waning because national campaigning is a lot harder than just showing up at rallies,” Rice said of Trump earlier in that conversation.
The emails show Powell corresponding with his inner circle, his team at a speakers’ bureau and interview-hungry journalists over a period of 26 months, from June 2014 to this past August. POLITICO reviewed the correspondence this week after being given access by DC Leaks, a purported anti-secrecy site that researchers have linked to the Russian hackers responsible for breaches at top Democratic organizations. A spokesperson for Powell told ABC News early Wednesday that the emails “are accurate.”
DC Leaks did not explain how it had obtained the emails.
The leaked documents continued to cause buzz Wednesday, especially the ones showing Powell’s irritation with Clinton aides’ efforts to invoke his track record while defending her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.
The Clinton campaign’s “email ploy this week didn’t work and she once again looks shifty if not a liar,” Powell wrote on Aug. 20 to someone who worked with him in the White House. “Trump folks having fun with her.”
Not that he was a huge fan of The Donald, however. “Trump just looks stupid trying to appeal to blacks and Latinos,” Powell wrote to the former White House aide on Aug. 21.
Powell’s frustration with Clinton loyalists trying to draw him into her email controversy grew so great that when James Carville, a longtime friend of the Clintons, wrote a Sept. 10, 2015, column linking the two former secretaries’ email habits, Powell unloaded on him.
“Dear James,” he wrote in a note intended for Carville, “you are the latest HRC acolyte trying to use me to cover her on the email caper. All these attempts and her dissembling has just made it Worse.”
“She now is apologizing,” Powell continued, adding that “suddenly you surface to throw another log on the fire.”
Powell and Rice also repeatedly and vividly criticized Rumsfeld, the chief steward of the Iraq war.
“One day when we both have had too many drinks we can discuss why [President George W. Bush] tolerated him and why Dick [Cheney], a successful SecDef, was so committed to Don,” Powell wrote on Dec. 16. “I must say I gagged as [President George H.W. Bush] praised him as the ‘best’ at the statuary hall unveiling.”
Powell and Rice’s other targets included former Vice President Dick Cheney and Iraq war architect Paul Wolfowitz.
“Hee, hee, he won’t,” Powell wrote to Rice on Nov. 26, after she said Cheney should “concentrate on quality time with his grandkids and let it go.” Powell had flagged a Fox News reporter’s interview with Cheney that delved into Iraq and other Bush-era controversies.
Rice told Powell that Cheney should “go away already!”
Powell called Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense who spearheaded the Iraq invasion, “a f–king liar” after reading an interview in which Wolfowitz blamed Powell’s State Department for what what many experts allege were the United States’ two largest post-invasion blunders: the disbanding of the Iraqi army, and the decision to expel members of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist Party from the civilian government.
“Bremer worked for him,” Powell wrote to Lawrence Wilkerson, his former chief of staff, on Aug. 28, after Wilkerson flagged the interview for him. He was referring to Paul Bremer, who oversaw the post-invasion transitional government in Iraq. “It wasn’t State, it was the President and the guy who reported to Paul.”
“This is the narrative in the Feith and Rummy books,” Powell said, referring to memoirs by Rumsfeld and Bush-era Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith. “No one has really fallen for it.”
The next day, in an email to Rice, Powell wrote that he would “never forget the lunch in your office when Don abdicated the position.” It’s not clear to what he was referring, but Powell added that Rumsfeld “should have been fired that afternoone [sic].”
Rumsfeld “got mad when I tried to pull his you know what out of the fire by sending [National Security Council Iraq specialist Robert] Blackwill out there,” Rice wrote, recalling the meeting. “And when you and I started to talk to [Bremer] directly.”
“Yep,” Powell responded, “remember his tantrum vividly.”
In their Dec. 16 exchange, Powell and Rice reflected on how their experience with intelligence agencies left them wary of blaming the Obama White House for its controversial early explanation of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
“It is one reason I am not too tough on who said what to whom about Benghazi,” Rice wrote, referring to National Security Advisor Susan Rice blaming an Islamophobic YouTube video, rather than a terrorist plot, for the compound assault. The White House defended Susan Rice, saying she was relying on talking points based on early intelligence.
In her email to Powell, Condoleezza Rice wrote that “intel agencies know how to cover themselves and hang policy types (even POTUS) out to dry.”
Powell replied that the Benghazi investigation was “a stupid witch hunt” and said the “basic fault” for the attack “falls on a courageous ambassador who thought Libyans now love me and I am ok in this very vulnerable place.” He was apparently referring to ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who was killed in the assault.
He added that he also blamed Stevens’ “leaders and supporters” in Washington, including the intelligence community, diplomatic security officials, Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy “and yes, HRC.”