Opinion: It seems there’s more to the Clinton question planting

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CNN reporters Chris Welch and David Schechter have scored an interview with Muriel Gallo-Chasanoff. You might not recognize her name at first. But she’s the 19-year-old Grinnell College sophomore who was an audience plant at the Hillary Clinton public forum on energy in Newton, Iowa last week.

Gallo-Chasanoff’s story about being driven to the event by Clinton interns and introduced to a Clinton staffer who asked her to pose a specific rigged question that allowed the candidate to expound on her energy plan appeared in the school newspaper and set off a weekend furor over improper campaign tactics and ethics. The Clinton campaign said it was an isolated incident, denied it was standard procedure and promised it wouldn’t happen again.

Other campaigns criticized the practice and said they didn’t rig public sessions like late-night infomercials.


But the Grinnell student’s new detailed account raises additional questions, indicating the staffer had a set procedure he followed and the student said she knew of at least one other audience member there who was given a question to ask of the four Clinton answered that day.

Rigging candidate forums that are highly valued in Iowa and New Hampshire as genuine ....

opportunities to confront and hear candidates up close is pretty offensive in that environment and could damage Clinton in the tightening Iowa race, especially since it plays to her image as calculating and perhaps not always totally honest.

According to the new CNN interview, the staffer approached Gallo-Chasanoff and asked if she’d like to ask Hillary Clinton a question. The student pondered it a moment and said, yes, she’d like to ask how Clinton’s energy plan differed from other candidates. ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea,’ the staffer replied, ‘because I don’t know how familiar she is with their plans.’

He then flipped open a binder to a page with about eight questions on it, Gallo-Chasanoff says. At the top was one marked: (College Student). He ripped that one off and gave it to her: ‘As a young person, I’m worried about the long-term effects of global warming. How does your plan combat climate change?’

Gallo-Chasanoff said the staffer signaled Clinton to call on her and another man in the crowd, among others.

Sure enough, when Gallo-Chasanoff raised her hand, the candidate called on her and she asked the question exactly as printed. See the video here, including Clinton’s perfectly formatted response, noting how it’s always young people who ask that question. What an amazing coincidence, eh?

Asked about the practice of planting questions later, Clinton said it was news to her and inappropriate. A campaign spokesman later said the senator ‘had no idea who she was calling on.’ Of course, no one ever suggested Clinton knew the girl, just that she should call on her.

Gallo-Chasanoff said when the campaign heard about the campus newspaper story being prepared a campaign worker asked her not to talk to any more media members. ‘If what I do is come and just be totally truthful,’ the student told CNN, ‘then that’s all anyone can ask of me, and that’s all I can ask of myself. So I’ll feel good with what I’ve done. I’ll feel like I’ve done the right thing.’

Asked what effect the experience has had on her opinion of Clinton, Gallo-Chasanoff, who calls herself undecided, said, ''I think she has a lot to offer, but I -- this experience makes me look at her campaign a little bit differently.’ She also said she was disappointed to think other campaigns might do the same. She’s still interested in studying political science, but more as an issue advocate not a politician.

To watch the complete interview, click here.

--Andrew Malcolm