Hillary Clinton’s former aides say they can’t enjoy watching her 2016 presidential campaign rival Donald Trump face legal problems, even after he threatened to jail Clinton if he won that election.
Trump on Thursday became the first former president to ever be indicted. The indictment follows an investigation into his alleged role in a hush-money payment to silence adult film star Stormy Daniels about their alleged affair ahead of the 2016 election, when he defeated Clinton. He could potentially be charged in multiple other ongoing investigations.
Daniels said she will “dance down the street” if the former president goes to jail. But Clinton’s allies aren’t in a dancing mood.
One former Clinton staffer said his predominant emotion is “a genuine fear for the country” with Trump, now a 2024 presidential candidate, still on the national scene.
“If Trump was getting embarrassed on things that were comparatively inconsequential, then schadenfreude would have its day,” said Jesse Ferguson, a strategist who was Clinton’s deputy national press secretary in the 2016 race. “But when it is Trump being potentially involved in criminal activity, inciting violence, trying to overturn elections, then schadenfreude takes a back seat to fear.”
“Can I make schadenfear into a word?” he joked.
Clinton confidante Philippe Reines, who played Trump in her mock debate preparations, told Insider, “It’s the epitome of too little too late.”
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly called for Clinton to go to jail over her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state, and threatened to put her there if he became president. He suggested that the “Second Amendment people” could act against her. Years after the election, his supporters still chant “lock her up” at his rallies, and he said he agreed with them.
The FBI twice determined that she did not break the law.
Now, Clinton isn’t a 2024 presidential candidate. She’s planning to teach a course on foreign policy decision-making at Columbia University in the fall. Still, Trump managed to weave “crooked Hillary” references into his stump speech Saturday during his first 2024 campaign rally in Waco, Texas. A federal judge in January imposed nearly $1 million in sanctions on him and his lawyer for filing a “completely frivolous” lawsuit against her and others, claiming they tried to rig the 2016 election in her favor.
“He is the master of projection on steroids,” attacking others when he’s “caught up in a series of alleged crimes,” Ferguson said.
One reason to be ‘gleeful’
Trump faces multiple investigations at the federal and state level that could result in charges against him. The probes involve possible interference in the 2020 election and mishandling of classified government documents.
“I do think that, just like any American, if there is evidence, that evidence should be pursued,” Clinton said on CNN after the FBI seized documents from Trump’s home last year.
A former senior aide to Clinton’s 2016 campaign said staffers put their lives on hold, moved to a new city and worked long hours in an attempt to make history by electing the first female president. Now, the aide said, it’s a “sad day for America” to see a former president making history because of criminal charges.
They were heartened that the country is “starting on the journey of there being some kind of repercussion as a result of this,” said the aide, who asked to not be identified because of their current position.
Ferguson said many of those who worked on that campaign are likely worried “about what his control over this MAGA wing means for the country.”
Trump has been playing the victim and calling on his supporters to protest potential charges against him, in rhetoric reminiscent of his calls to be at the “big protest in D.C. on January 6th” when his followers stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election results.
“He’s trying to incite violence around it,” said Ferguson, who defined his “schadenfear” as a fear that someone’s misfortune may cause broader harm and damage.
The former senior aide, who declined to be identified, said charges against Trump would “send a strong signal” to future presidential candidates who may want to break the law that justice will eventually prevail.
“If we’re going to be gleeful about something, it’s that,” the aide said.
This story was originally published on March 29, 2023.