Democratic Leaders Frustrated Over Hillary Clinton’s Handling of Email Issue

Hillary Rodham Clinton, addressing a crowd of campaign supporters on Thursday at Case Western University in Cleveland. Credit Michael F. McElroy for The New York Times
Hillary Rodham Clinton, addressing a crowd of campaign supporters on Thursday at Case Western University in Cleveland. Credit Michael F. McElroy for The New York Times

Democratic leaders are increasingly frustrated by Hillary Rodham Clinton’s failure to put to rest questions about her State Department email practices and ease growing doubts among voters about her honesty and trustworthiness.

On top of that, many say, her repeated jokes and dismissive remarks on the email controversy suggest that she is not treating it seriously enough.

Interviews with more than 75 Democratic governors, lawmakers, candidates and party members have laid bare a widespread bewilderment that Mrs. Clinton has allowed a cloud to settle over her candidacy — by using a private email server in the first place, since it was likely to raise questions about her judgment, and by not defusing those questions once and for all when the issue first emerged in March.

With Americans registering their mistrust of Mrs. Clinton in opinion polls, anxious supporters are starting to speak bluntly of fears that she has inadvertently opened the door to a possible challenge for the party’s nomination from Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and handed Republicans new ammunition for attacks on her character should she become the nominee.

Among some of Mrs. Clinton’s advisers, discussions recently turned to whether she should offer a more forceful acknowledgment of regret — if not the actual words “I’m sorry” — that might help the campaign move on.

Mrs. Clinton took a step on Wednesday by saying at an Iowa campaign stop that she took “responsibility” for conducting government business as secretary of state using her personal email, and that “it clearly wasn’t the best choice.”

Yet many Democrats worry that this newly contrite tone is too little and too late to quell questions, and that it may not last — given that her responses up to now have been so varied, and her irritation with the issue so thinly veiled.

“They’ve handled the email issue poorly, maybe atrociously, certainly horribly,” said Edward G. Rendell, a former governor of Pennsylvania and a supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy. “The campaign has been incredibly tone-deaf, not seeing this as a more serious issue. She should have turned over the email server at the start, because they should have known they’d be forced to give it up. But at this point, there’s nothing they can do to kill the issue — they’re left just playing defense.”

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Source: The New York Times | PATRICK HEALY, JONATHAN MARTIN and MAGGIE HABERMAN

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