Plainly put, Clinton herself has kept the issue alive over 25 years of public life, with long-winded, defensive, obfuscating answers to questions that—in politics, if not in law—cry out for a crisp yes-or-no reply.
Email-gate is only the latest step on this long, winding road. Consider just one brief, recent revelatory exchange with Charlie Rose, in which Rose noted (correctly) that FBI Director James Comey had called her “careless,” and Clinton replied with a flurry of nonresponsive words: “Well, I would hope that you like many others would also look at what he said when he testified before Congress, because when he did, he clarified much of what he had said in his press conference.”
“But he said it was sloppy,” Rose persisted.
“No,” Clinton insisted, “he did not.”
Yes, he did, too. Asked to explain what he had intended by the word "careless," Comey explained that it was a common-sense term, meant to convey “real sloppiness.” To pretend otherwise is to persist in the pattern that Clinton has followed from virtually the moment she became a national figure in her husband’s first presidential campaign. Over the past quarter-century she has all too often offered up pained and partial answers to controversies, too often seeming to hide more than she is willing to reveal, only to find that, again and again, the issue blows up in her face.
The pattern is unmistakable, from the Whitewater inquiry (when she resisted disclosing documents about a failed Arkansas land deal) to her 10,000 percent profits in commodity trades (which she explained by saying she’d read The Wall Street Journal) to the Rose Law Firm billing records (which infamously and mysteriously turned up in the White House residence after she’d said they were missing) to the Monica Lewinsky affair and the State Department emails themselves.
Twenty years after the New York Times columnist William Safire first called Clinton “a congenital liar” in print, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus could still rouse his convention delegates in Cleveland with an unyielding refrain about the emails. “She lied,” Priebus cried. “And she lied over and over and over. She lied! She lied!”
Clinton’s penchant for dissembling in discussion of her personal and financial dealings is all the more puzzling because it stands in such sharp contrast to her willingness to articulate clear principles on the policy front, whether with her passionate speech on women’s rights at the Beijing Women’s Conference in 1995, her speech last year on Internet freedom, or, for that matter, her courageous, if politically unpopular, effort to pass health insurance reform two decades ago. (Her stances in this campaign on hot-button issues like trade have sometimes been more expedient.)
Moreover, dissembling is not always a bad trait in a president. Some of the greatest, most notably Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who enjoyed playing his aides off against each other by letting each think he’d sided with them on a given issue, have been masters of the art. Even Abraham Lincoln was not immune. “To develop public support or outflank opposition, he would sometimes conceal his hand or dissemble,” wrote the historian LaWanda Cox. “And he kept his options open.”
Still, Clinton has suffered for her willingness to be economical with the truth at times.
The latest New York Times/CBS News Poll found that nearly 7 in 10 voters don’t believe Clinton is honest and trustworthy (more than 6 in 10 feel the same way about Donald Trump). A like number say she did “something wrong” with her email. Her trust deficit—fewer than 3 in 10 voters say she is honest and trustworthy—may be her single greatest weakness heading into the fall campaign. And if she wins, it is a reality that would seem to presage a presidency of unusual secretiveness.
Clinton bears an even greater burden than her husband in this regard. Bill Clinton was routinely distrusted by a majority of voters during his time in office, but when he ran for reelection in 1996, polls nevertheless showed that as many as 65 percent of voters believed he cared about them—an advantage of some 20 points over his rival Bob Dole. As I once wrote in the New York Times, the president’s “job approval ratings seemed to rise with his legal bills.”
Hillary Clinton enjoys no such benefit of the doubt: This year’s polls have consistently shown majorities of voters saying she does not care about people like them (though Trump’s ratings on that question tend to be even worse).
To make matters worse, it’s not clear just what—if anything—Clinton can do about the problem, at least before November.
“I don’t think she can do much to change her trust numbers in the campaign,” says one veteran Democratic consultant who has known the Clintons since their earliest campaigns for the Arkansas governorship. “Her numbers may improve some, but only with voters who are going to vote for her, and quit responding negatively on the trust issue. Clinton voters may reconcile their support for her by moving to a positive on trust.”
“As president, HRC could change the trust numbers,” he adds, “but not in the campaign.”
To be fair, Clinton has been the subject of more than two decades of sustained—and often unhinged attacks—from quarters as high-minded as the Wall Street Journal and as vicious as the darkest corners of the Internet. Her introduction to the national media came in the unholy whirlwind of Whitewater, Gennifer Flowers and her husband’s draft record that marked the 1992 campaign, and her disdain for the press is palpable, persistent and hard-won.
But to say that she is often her own worst enemy is to understate the case.
In February, CBS News anchor Scott Pelley asked Clinton, “Have you always told the truth?”
“I’ve always tried to,” she replied. “Always. Always.”
When Pelley noted that Jimmy Carter had famously promised, “I’ll never lie to you,” Clinton plunged ahead.
“Well, but you know,” she said, “you’re asking me to say, ‘Have I ever?’ I don’t believe I ever have. I don’t believe I ever will. I’m going to do the best I can to level with the American people.”
All too often over the years, Clinton’s best has turned out not to be good enough.
It is one thing for Gov. Chris Christie to put Clinton on mock trial at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Or for delegates at Quicken Loans Arena to take up a chant of “Lock her up!” in reply. It is quite another for a former attorney general of the United States to say—as Michael Mukasey did at the GOP convention—that Clinton would become “the first president in history to take the constitutional oath of office after already having violated it,” by her handling of the email server and her shifting, inconsistent and ultimately inaccurate explanations of why she did so.
Hillary Clinton is, by temperament and training, a lawyer, and a perennially cautious one at that. She is a literal, linear thinker. That might explain her famous lawyerly assertion to Matt Lauer that the allegations that her husband had an affair with a former White House intern—and then lied about it—were not “going to be proven true.” (After all, she had no inkling of the blue dress and DNA evidence that would prove her so devastatingly wrong.)
But a fuller explanation for the personality trait in Clinton that makes her shrink from full disclosure would seem to have some deeper source, whether in a reluctance to confess failure or error to a father who was perpetually demanding and judgmental, or in 40 years of living with a husband who often had more than his share of family secrets to keep. As first lady, she talked plaintively of wanting to protect a zone of privacy for herself and her family, an understandable desire but one difficult to achieve in an age of superheated media inquiry.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was indulging in some oratorical hyperbole in Cleveland when he said of Clinton: “She lied about her emails. She lied about her server. She lied about Benghazi. She lied about sniper fire. She even lied about why her parents named her Hillary.”
But he also had a point.
I was on an airport tarmac with Clinton and Sir Edmund Hillary in Katmandu, Nepal, in 1995 when she explained that her mother had read about the famous mountaineer in an article, and named her in his honor. The story seemed a bit strange at the time, if only because Clinton was born in 1947 and Hillary didn’t climb Mount Everest until 1953. It wasn’t until Clinton’s 2006 Senate reelection campaign that her aides acknowledged that the naming tale was a bit of family fabulism, conjured up after the fact to inspire by Clinton’s mother to inspire her to achievement.
In her 2008 presidential campaign, Clinton took to claiming that in 1996, when she was first lady, she and her entourage had landed in Bosnia “under sniper fire” and been forced to run for safety “with our heads down.” Subsequent inquiry disclosed that the airport was safe and that Clinton had bent down only to kiss a smiling 8-year-old Muslim girl who read a poem in her honor. Clinton later amended her account to say that she had vivid memories of an airborne security briefing warning about the threat of sniper fire.
But the damage—of the same sort that derailed Brian Williams’ career as anchor of "NBC Nightly News"—had already been done, and it lingers.
As first lady, Clinton more than once dispatched aides to disseminate information that turned out to be incomplete, misleading or plain wrong. In her perpetual determination never to be seen as having done anything wrong, she all too often left the unmistakable impression that she had. In a trivial but telling example of her resistance to scrutiny, it was Clinton who caused an uproar in the White House press corps at the beginning of her husband’s administration when she ordered that reporters be barred from a corridor outside the press secretary’s office, lest they bump into the president coming from the Oval Office just steps away.
In her first memoir, Living History, Clinton recounted bursting into angry tears and gasping for breath when her husband first confessed the Lewinsky affair. But many people who knew the president all too well were gasping for breath—in disbelief at his denials—on the day allegations of the affair first surfaced. With the rarest exceptions—her teary eyes in New Hampshire in the 2008 campaign when asked by a voter how she carried on—Clinton’s most confessional moments have a sanitized air, as if she has carefully scrubbed them for public consumption.
“When people ask me how I kept going during such a wrenching time,” she wrote of the impeachment period in Living History, “I tell them there is nothing remarkable about getting up and going to work every day, even when there is a family crisis at home. Every one of us has had to do it at some time in our lives, and the skills required to cope are the same for a first lady or a forklift operator. I just had to do it all in the public eye.”
It wouldn’t take an analyst to imagine that coping under such circumstances was far harder—and took a far heavier toll —than that passage implies. Clinton’s resilience—her ability to slog on in the face of the worst possible reverses—is the trait that has helped her get within reach of the biggest prize of her life. The flip side is that her capacity for a level of defensiveness and denial that sometimes seems to border on magical thinking might yet keep the ultimate goal out of her grasp.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/07/hillary-clinton-emails-history-214095#ixzz4FMfLFXUa
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