Congressional Democrats are circling the wagons around former secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham Clinton5 ways politics could steal the show at Oscars Lewandowski: Perez ‘doesn’t understand what’s going on in America’ Five takeaways from the Scott Pruitt emails MORE in the face of escalating attacks from Republicans over her use of a personal email account in the Obama administration.
Democrats say Clinton broke no laws, and accused Republicans of drumming up flimsy charges for the sole purpose of undermining her likely run for the White House in 2016.
"It's very clear that she followed the law and she followed the rules … and so there's nothing there except politics," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said Wednesday, adding that the GOP criticisms are "without a doubt" related to the next presidential race.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse agreed, calling the attention to Clinton's emails "the biggest non-issue ever."
The Rhode Island Democrat ridiculed reporters for even asking about the Republicans' motives.
"You guys are laughable," he said.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said the Clintons are polarizing figures no matter what they do, and said he “fundamentally” believes the former secretary of State acted on the level.
“The inevitable attacks on Hillary Clinton were going to come whether it was this spring or this summer or this fall,” Murphy said. “We better all get used to the fact that she’s going to get attacked and attacked mercilessly … I just think this is a fact of life for being Hillary Clinton.”
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) added to the chorus of Democrats arguing the attacks are politically motivated.
“She laid things out and followed the rules that were in place at the time,” Stabenow said.
“We’re in the middle of a presidential campaign, so the opposition is going to raise question after question after question,” she said. “It’s not because it’s Hillary Clinton, it’s because it’s a Democrat running, and whoever it is, is going to have all kinds of negative charges.”
The firestorm surrounding Clinton has swirled since early last week, when The New York Times reported that she'd used a personal email account throughout her tenure atop the State Department.
Republicans pounced on the revelation, saying the absence of a government account essentially empowers the likely 2016 presidential contender to sweep controversial or unflattering episodes from that time under the rug.
Those criticisms were only amplified after Clinton revealed during a press conference Tuesday that more than 30,000 personal and private messages from the email account have been deleted, with the rest handed over to the State Department.
“She was supposed to put the emails on a government server and she didn’t, and now she says 'I didn’t do the right thing but trust me now that the ones I deleted weren’t pertinent,’” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who's eyeing a presidential bid of his own, said Wednesday morning on NBC’s “Today” program. “My sense of trust is a little bit lost.”
Clinton addressed the controversy for the first time on Tuesday with a 21-minute press conference in New York, where she acknowledged that there might have been a "smarter" way to manage her email accounts. But the defiant Clinton also asserted that she broke no laws or administration rules.
"I went above and beyond what I was requested to do," she said.
That explanation proved hollow to Republicans, and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), head of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, called this week for Clinton to turn her server over to a third party for review.
“One thing that’s clear is that we don’t get to grade our own papers in life. We don’t get to call penalties on ourselves," Gowdy said. "She doesn’t get to determine what is a public record and what is a personal record. Someone else needs to do that.”
While a few Democrats had criticized Clinton for waiting so long to address the email controversy, they now appear united in their defense of her.
"The important point is full disclosure, and from what I understand, she's gone through a pretty exhaustive process to make sure that all information is available," said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.).
Murphy said a review of Clinton's server is unnecessary.
“For me, she put the matter to bed yesterday,” the Connecticut Democrat said.
A number of Democrats said their only concern surrounding the email scandal is that it will distract Congress from more important issues. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is mulling a potential primary challenge against Clinton, laughed out loud when The Hill asked him about the controversy on the way to a budget press conference.
“The major issue facing this country is how we create millions of jobs, deal with income inequality and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and make college affordable," Sanders said. "Hillary Clinton’s emails will go down in history as not one of the major issues.”
Colin Powell, the secretary of State under President George W. Bush, entered the debate last weekend when he revealed not only that he used a personal email account while atop the agency, but also that he has no record of those messages.
“I don’t have any to turn over. I did not keep a cache of them. I did not print them off. I do not have thousands of pages somewhere in my personal files,” Powell said on ABC's "This Week" program. “A lot of the emails that came out of my personal account went into the State Department system. They were addressed to State Department employees and state.gov domain, but I don’t know if the servers in the State Department captured those or not."
Democrats took note of those remarks, and are questioning why the Republicans are attacking Clinton but not Powell.
"Colin Powell said he destroyed all of his emails, not one Republican has said a thing — not a thing," Boxer said. "At some point the American people are going to turn around and say, 'Now it's becoming a harassment of the person who followed the letter and the spirit of the law.' And when that happens they'll back down. Until then, they won't back down."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has effectively stopped dealing personally with the press in public areas on Capitol Hill, declined to comment on the issue Wednesday. The liberal favorite walked briskly away from questions as an aide stepped in as a buffer.