A former chairman of the Democratic National Committee said he believed the party was wrong to fire three top-tier staffers this week in the wake of an embarrassing email leak that revealed internal bias against Sanders during the primary campaign.
"These firings are just a bit of an overreaction to something that, in my mind, is totally explainable and justified," former DNC chairman Don Fowler said in an exclusive interview with Circa on Wednesday.
"I think that if I had been making that decision, I wouldn't have [fired them]," he added.
The DNC announced on Tuesday that it had fired three staffers: CEO Amy Dacey, Chief Finance Officer Brad Marshall, and Communications Director Luis Miranda. All three had been parties to emails that appeared to disparage Sanders.
But Fowler, who served as the DNC's national chairman during Bill Clinton's presidency, said favoritism is common within the Democratic Party, although some say the party shouldn't have sided with Clinton before she began the nominee.
Hillary was a quasi-incumbent, if not literally an incumbent.
"In presidential campaigns where an incumbent is running for re-nomination and election, the DNC is a wholly owned subsidiary of the incumbent president," Fowler said.
"What we've had this year is somebody who is not literally an incumbent, but somebody who for 20 years worked for and contributed to the Democratic National Committee," he continued. "Hillary was a quasi-incumbent, if not literally an incumbent."
The DNC's charter states that the party's chairperson should be neutral during the presidential primary campaign, and that the chairperson should ensure neutrality among staffers. Read it here.
Fowler said the DNC was understandably wary of Sanders because of his long-term status as an independent, not a Democrat.
"When you have a situation like this, when you have someone who has worked 20 years and more, I think it's appropriate for the party to help that person out, particularly when you have somebody coming in from the outside who has not participated before," Fowler said. "We don't want to shut people out, but I think in this case, the party behaved appropriately."
Sanders has long been reluctant to call himself a Democrat. When he announced he would seek the Democrats' presidential nomination last year, he hedged on whether he would officially join the party.
"I am what I am, and I will have to deal with the state-by-state regulations," Sanders said at the time. "But I am what I am."
Sanders also said he would remain an independent when he returned to the Senate after his presidential campaign.
There's an assumption that the parties should be neutral ... there are some cases where that's not true.
Because of Clinton's long-term tenure as a Democrat, and Sanders' reluctance, Fowler said some of the favoritism expressed in the leaked emails was justified.
"There's an assumption that the parties should be neutral, and put on the process without playing favorites," he said. "I think that's true in most cases, but there are some cases where that's not true."
Still, Sanders received 13 million votes in the Democratic presidential primary -- and that's why Fowler thinks the DNC felt obligated to let people go. If he were still running the DNC, they wouldn't have been fired, he said.
"They fired those people because they couldn't figure out what else to do," he said. "I think it's an attempt to make amends ... but I personally think it was an overreaction."
Shortly after the email leak, the DNC announced it was parting ways with then-chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. In a statement after Wasserman Schultz's departure, the DNC's incoming interim chairwoman Donna Brazile apologized to the Sanders campaign.
"On behalf of everyone at the DNC, we want to offer a deep and sincere apology to Senator Sanders, his supporters, and the entire Democratic Party for the inexcusable remarks made over email," the statement said. "These comments do not reflect the values of the DNC or our steadfast commitment to neutrality during the nominating process."