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Allies fault ‘stubborn’ Clinton on emails

Allies fault ‘stubborn’ Clinton on emails
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Weeks after the Justice Department decided not to press charges against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWoman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Trump: CNN, MSNBC 'got scammed' into covering Russian-organized rally Pennsylvania Democrats set to win big with new district map MORE for a private email setup that she has admitted was inappropriate, the Democratic presidential nominee’s campaign can’t seem to put the issue to bed.

Instead of finding a way to let the issue die, Clinton has time and again inflamed criticism about the server, at times growing increasingly defensive and refusing to answer questions about the setup in the basement of her New York home.

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The strategy has caused grumblings within her campaign and led to the persistent image that she is dishonest. 

This week, Clinton is catching new flak for unnecessarily mischaracterizing FBI Director James Comey’s comments to suggest that she never misled the public.

“Director Comey said my answers were truthful, and what I've said is consistent with what I have told the American people, that there were decisions discussed and made to classify retroactively certain of the emails,” Clinton said in a weekend interview on “Fox News Sunday.”

In fact, Comey rebuked several of Clinton’s claims point by point in testimony on Capitol Hill last month and only claimed that she didn't lie during a three-hour closed-door interview with the FBI. The FBI chief repeatedly specifically refused to say whether she lied to the public.

The misstep has has been repudiated by multiple fact checkers, but in part been overshadowed by Republican nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE’s continued bickering with the parents of a deceased American soldier who was Muslim.

Spokespeople for Clinton’s campaign have doubled down, claiming over the last two days that the former secretary of State’s description of Comey’s testimony was accurate.

But aides to Clinton have at times seemed desperate to move on from the email controversy and acknowledged to The Hill that they were confused by her latest remarks.   

“I think there are a number of supporters who want her to give a different answer so that even if it doesn't put it to bed, it sounds more sincere,” one longtime Clinton aide said, adding that Clinton is “not coming off well.”

Those in her orbit chock it up to Clinton's stubbornness. After all, it took Clinton a full six months after news broke about her email issue to finally apologize for it last September, despite weeks of prodding from her aides.

“I think when it comes to this, she's just being stubborn,” the longtime aide said. 

Another former aide thought it erred on the “careless” side.

“Especially knowing that every utterance on the topic is going to be thrown into the crucible,” the former aide said. 

The good news for Clinton and Democrats is that the latest blowback over the email controversy has largely been overshadowed by Republican nominee Donald Trump’s latest controversy: his feud with Khizr and Gazala Khan, the Muslim parents of a U.S. Army captain killed in Iraq.

All the same, the missteps have offered Trump crucial opportunities to throw shots at Clinton’s trustworthiness.

“While Clinton continues to happily mislead the voters, Clinton’s lies are being exposed for what they are,” Trump’s campaign gloated on Monday, as fact-checkers began to pounce.

Trump’s campaign pointed reporters to the criticism again on Tuesday, noting the multiple fact-checks and scrutiny of her “outright lies.”

Clinton’s campaign may not be losing supporters due to the ongoing email fracas, said one ally, but it is hardly helping her gain them.

“She's definitely making some feel a little less motivated,” the ally said.

Clinton has faced a persistent obstacle in gaining the public’s trust, with roughly two-thirds saying she’s neither honest nor trustworthy, according to recent polls.  

It’s unclear how much of that trust deficit can be reversed by Election Day. But misstatements such as the one this weekend certainly aren’t helping.

“It is precisely this aversion to simple apologies and taking responsibility that has dogged her and her husband over the years,” said Grant Reeher, the director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University, in an email to The Hill. “These new statements, referencing things taken out of context, are reminiscent of ‘it depends on what the meaning of the word 'is,' is,’ by Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonShould the Rob Porter outcome set the standard? Make the compromise: Ending chain migration is a small price to legalize Dreamers Assessing Trump's impeachment odds through a historic lens MORE during the Lewinsky scandal. 

“True, she's been attacked from the Right, but this problem is largely a bed of her own making, with help from her spouse.”

In some ways, Clinton’s responses betray the same instincts as Trump, who has repeatedly extended controversies that could have been quelled in a day or two. The GOP nominee has prolonged the ongoing spat with the Khan family for multiple days, a tactic that echoed his previous insistence that a tweet with seemingly coded anti-Semitic language was merely portraying a sheriff’s star.

“Both Trump and Clinton feel like they are playing defense, and that is a dangerous position to be in for a politician who is handling scandal, because you want to be selectively offensive,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor at the University of Houston who studies political scandals.

“You need to control the narrative.”

For the most part, those in Clinton's orbit are resigned to the fact that not much can be done about the email controversy at this point. 

One Clinton friend called the reaction to Clinton's comments — including a rating of four Pinocchios from fact-checkers at The Washington Post, their highest grade for untruthfulness — “a knee-jerk reaction” that would come out of this regardless of what she said. 

“This is all Republicans have and all they go back to as they attempt to distract from Donald Trump's problems,” the friend said.

Clinton should not bring up the topic proactively, the friend added, but “keep answering the questions when people keep bringing it up.”

At this point, “it's not a curable problem,” added Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons.

“There is no new information to offer. There is no explanation for this that will appease Joe Scarborough and Bill O'Reilly,” Simmons said, referring to hosts on MSNBC and Fox News, respectively. 

“Her challenge is to give people something to vote for,” he said.