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Palmieri served as White House Communications Director for U.S. President Barack Obama. Before her service at the White House, she served as the Senior Vice President of Communications for the Center for American Progress and the President of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Earlier, Palmieri was the National Press Secretary for the 2004 John Edwards presidential campaign and for the Democratic National Committee in 2002, after a brief time at the advocacy group Americans for Gun Safety. She served in the Clinton Administration as Special Assistant to White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, then deputy director of Scheduling and Advance, and finally as a Deputy White House Press Secretary the last three years of Clinton's presidency.
Palmieri attracted controversy when an email chain allegedly showing Clinton aides joking about Catholics and evangelicals in 2011 was released by WikiLeaks. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that individuals with connections to the Russian government had conducted a spear-phishing attack against Clinton campaign chair John Podesta as part of an operation to prevent Hillary Clinton from winning the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
In the emails between Palmieri, Podesta, and John Halpin of the Center for American Progress, Halpin reportedly wrote that 21st Century Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch and NewsCorp Chief Executive Robert Thomson were drawn to Catholicism because of the faith's "systemic thought and severely backward gender relations."
Palmieri, herself a Catholic, purportedly responded that she believes Murdoch, Thomson, and many other conservatives are Catholic because they think it is "the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion ... Their rich friends wouldn't understand if they became evangelicals", she wrote.
The president of CatholicVote.org, a religious conservative 501(c)(4) organization, demanded Palmieri resign from the campaign, saying:
Podesta did not respond in the email thread. Palmieri said she "didn't recognize (the email) ... [but] we are not going to fact check each of the emails that were stolen, hacked by Russian-led efforts in an effort to hurt our campaign."
At a Harvard University forum held on December 1, 2016, to define the Clinton Campaign for the historical record, Palmieri ascribed the loss to (1) alleged white supremacists within the Trump campaign, (2) the e-mail scandal (which she believed reporters should not have covered), and (3) claimed "[that] many political journalists had a personal dislike for the Democratic nominee." Palmieri's role in the campaign is described in the book by Donna Brazile, Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House and Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign.
Palmieri joined the Showtime documentary series, The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth, as guest host, beginning 13 October 2019, with season four episode twelve, Desperate Times, Desperate Measures.
Palmieri was announced to be a permanent co-host beginning on January 10, 2021, with the premiere of season 6.
Palmieri is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair.