By Julian Hattem - 09/24/15 06:00 AM EDT
For Team Clinton, it’s become the equivalent of a courtroom quagmire.
Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonPerez mum on VP speculation McConnell: Trump needs to 'catch up fast' on fundraising Rubio: I hope I can trust whoever wins with the nuclear codes MORE’s presidential campaign is finding it difficult to move past the controversy over her email setup while she was serving as the nation’s top diplomat, in part because of the nearly three-dozen legal challenges related to it.
The courtroom drama will likely drag on for months, keeping the email issue in the headlines even as Clinton seeks to go on the attack against her 2016 rivals.
“The biggest potential liability of it has nothing to do with the emails themselves and it has more to do with the fact that people doubt that Clinton is particularly trustworthy in the first place — this just makes that concern salient,” said Jennifer Lawless, a political science professor at American University.
“In some ways, the longer this story is out there, the more reason people will have to continue to doubt her trustworthiness.”
The State Department requested to have 32 of the cases consolidated earlier this month, so that the 17 different judges responsible for them would coordinate their demands and refrain from issuing “a hodgepodge of orders.”
However, the cases all concern different issues and are at different stages.
One judge, Reggie Walton, told government lawyers this month that “there may be some reluctance” to coordinate on the cases.
The lawsuits cover a wide swath of ground.
Some are demanding that the former secretary’s private server, which is now in the hands of the FBI, be searched for emails that may belong to the State Department. Reports suggest that FBI officials may already be able to pull old deleted emails from that machine.
Other lawsuits are aimed at obtaining messages from Clinton’s top aides, including Huma Abedin — whose unusual employment arrangement allowed her to work part-time for a consulting company while also serving in the State Department — Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan and Philippe Reines.
Others still are focused specifically on information related to the 2012 attack on an American facility in Benghazi, Libya.
The conservative group Judicial Watch alone has filed 20 lawsuits against the State Department seeking documents. Citizens United, another conservative advocacy organization, has filed at least four.
“We’re just looking for the answers,” Citizens United President David Bossie told reporters this week, after yet another hearing before a federal judge.
Bossie this week accused the former secretary of State and her allies of stonewalling Congress and the public in order to protect her presidential ambitions.
“Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills have taken specific strategies and tactics — just like they did in the ’90s ... to drag these efforts out,” he said, “so that people ask questions like, ‘This has been going on for three years and don’t we know anything?’ and, ‘Isn’t this a rehash?’
“The same Clinton playbook is played over and over and over again.”
Media outlets including Gawker and The Associated Press have filed lawsuits of their own seeking various documents.
So far, the most consequential legal action has come in response to a lawsuit from Vice. In May, a federal judge in that case ordered the State Department to release thousands of Clinton’s emails every month, with an ultimate deadline of having all 55,000 pages of her work-related emails out by mid-January.
The biggest revelation to date in the emails has been the assertion by some government officials — which the State Department rejects — that some of the emails contained classified information.
Mostly, though, the messages contain banalities about travel, scheduling and Clinton’s appreciation for the TV show “Parks and Recreation.”
Still, the mere fact that the emails will continue to be released on a regular schedule ensures that the issue will continue to shadow her into next year.
The Clinton campaign and its allies have been quick to dismiss both the lawsuits and aggressive congressional oversight as blatantly political attacks designed to tear down the Democratic presidential front-runner.
“The quest for former Secretary Clinton’s emails was ginned up and continues to be pushed by Republican operatives who want nothing more than to hurt Hillary Clinton,” said Adrienne Watson, spokeswoman with the Clinton-aligned rapid response group Correct the Record.
The House’s Select Committee on Benghazi has conducted multiple closed-door interviews with top Clinton aides. The panel will question Clinton herself in an open hearing next month.
Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight
and, increasingly, in the Senate have also pressed on the email issue.
Whether or not Clinton can effectively paint the probe as purely partisan remains to be seen.
As time drags on and the race for the White House heats up, voters may well grow tired of the email story.
“It could also ultimately help her campaign craft a narrative that suggests that the conservatives are willing to throw anything against the wall to see what sticks,” said Lawless, the political science professor.
“The more lawsuits and the longer this drags on, the more it looks like it’s politically motivated, the easier it is for her campaign to do so.”
Still, the issue has already started to define her.
The No. 1 word associated with Clinton, according to Gallup, is “email.”