Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign has not officially begun, but suggestions she may have violated federal records laws are the latest kink in her nascent White House bid.
Reports that Clinton used only personal email accounts when Secretary of State have left her exposed to legal challenges and potentially more consequential allegations of evasiveness and political plotting.
Amid suggestions Clinton may have breached the Federal Records Act — which calls for official correspondence to be retained — Clinton allies are fighting a rearguard action.
“Like secretaries of state before her, she used her own email account when engaging with any department officials,” said Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill.
“Both the letter and spirit of the rules permitted State Department officials to use non-government email, as long as appropriate records were preserved.”
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the department “has long had access to a wide array of Secretary Clinton’s records — including emails.”
As the early frontrunner to win the Democratic nomination for the race to replace Barack Obama as president, Clinton was always going to attract opponents’ brickbats.
Latest polls show she has a nearly 40 point lead over rivals in her party.
But Republicans were quick to characterize Clinton’s use of private email as evidence that she will do anything to realize her political ambitions.
Clinton’s potential rival Jeb Bush pointed to his own decision to selectively release thousands of emails from his time as Florida governor.
“Hillary Clinton should release her emails. Hopefully she hasn’t already destroyed them,” said Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell.
“Governor Bush believes transparency is a critical part of public service and of governing.”
At the same time, a political group allied with Bush served the State Department with a freedom of information request to release emails from staff to Clinton’s private address.
“America Rising” director Colin Reed accused Clinton of an “intentional and unlawful effort” to hide correspondence.
Clinton’s foes also raised the possibility that her actions could have made the hacking sensitive, classified exchanges easier for foreign governments.
“The Chinese government probably has it now,” said Reed.
Republicans hope that the revelations, first reported by the New York Times, could weaken Clinton’s support among women, neutralizing a major electoral advantage.
“One of the things that women tend to like about women candidates is that they don’t seem like a typical politician,” said Katie Packer Gage, a consultant who was Republican Mitt Romney’s deputy campaign manager in the 2012 presidential race.
“When Hillary is viewed in that light she is very strong with women,” she told AFP. “But when you start to demonstrate times when she has behaved very much like a typical politician, where she has lacked transparency… it really diminishes her with women.”
The email revelations are also likely to fuel the Republican campaign to hold Clinton’s feet to the fire over the death of US Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.
Clinton’s emails have figured in a Congressional Select Committee’s investigation into the incident, which was blamed on Islamic militants.
Clinton was accused of not doing enough to protect the diplomatic facility.
A Democrat on that panel, Elijah Cummings, said it had been known for “for several years” that Clinton used private email.
He called on Republicans to allow the release some of her correspondence supplied to the committee, lifting the veil of secrecy.
I believe, Cummings said, the panel should “make them available to the American public so they can read their contents for themselves.”