Democrats are rattled by the deepening furor around Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSuper PACs release ad campaign hitting Vance over past comments on Trump I voted for Trump in 2020 — he proved to be the ultimate RINO in 2021 Neera Tanden tapped as White House staff secretary MORE’s use of a private email account while she served as secretary of State.
They worry that the flap is just the latest example of the former first lady’s “bunker mentality” — a decades-long tendency toward secrecy that, more often than not, has blown up in her face.
Some within the party also contend that the controversy has been poorly handled by Clinton’s team, intensifying fears that she has not learned the right lessons from her famously fractious 2008 White House bid.
One Democratic strategist, who asked not to be identified, complained that the email embarrassment was a by-product of “a cadre of enablers around her, and no one has the strength to say to her, ‘We can’t do this.’ ”
Democratic nerves are even more jumpy, according to the strategist, because the story is breaking just as people are expecting Clinton to launch her presidential campaign.
“We’re probably a month or so away [from the campaign launch] and if this is not handled really well within the next three to six weeks, you’re going to see chatter among Democratic operatives saying, ‘Maybe we need another person in this race.’ And that is really problematic.”
Others within the party worry that the email story has been given additional room to run by Clinton’s failure to set out a clear rationale for her expected White House bid.
“The challenge for Hillary Clinton’s team is that Secretary Clinton has not been out making a positive argument about her candidacy,” said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons. “And so there is no alternative narrative for her friends and allies to rally around.”
The email controversy deepened Wednesday.
The House Select Committee on Benghazi sent out subpoenas for all emails from the clintonemail.com domain — the one apparently used by Clinton during her time as secretary of State — related to the fatal 2012 attack in the Libyan city.
Staff members’ personal email accounts were also subject to the subpoena.
A statement from a spokesman for the committee, Jamal Ware, asserted that the panel was now “in possession of records with two separate and distinct email addresses used by former Secretary Clinton.”
Some elements in the story are sure to keep the media salivating.
The Associated Press on Wednesday suggested that the Clinton team created its own email server at Bill and Hillary Clinton’s Chappaqua, N.Y., address, and that it may have been registered under the mysterious name Eric Hoteham.
More worrying to Clinton World, said Simmons, is that the story reminds people of the concerns they have about Hillary and former President Bill Clinton: that they are less than transparent about their business and political dealings.
In 1996 — before many people eligible to vote in the 2016 presidential election were born — President Clinton’s White House suddenly discovered records that had been subpoenaed two years previously as part of the Whitewater probe, pertaining to Hillary Clinton’s legal work in the 1980s.
Just last month it emerged that the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation had quietly lifted a ban on donations from foreign governments that had been in place during the time Hillary Clinton had served as secretary of State.
The two decades between those stories have been punctuated by numerous other controversies pertaining to the Clintons’ sometimes-opaque dealings.
The trait leaves some within the party scratching their heads.
“When you do stuff like this, man, you just raise a lot of concerns and red flags,” the Democratic strategist said. “It’s kinda weird.”
Others observers, especially those not ideologically aligned with the Clintons, are less forgiving.
“When it comes to the Clintons, this is par for the course,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University professor who specializes in political communications. “One does not use the words ‘Hillary Clinton’ and ‘transparency’ in the same sentence.”
The troubled relationship between Hillary Clinton and the media is also part of the storm.
Clinton has long believed that she doesn’t get a fair shake from the press. Her supporters often cite the 2008 primary campaign against President Obama as “Exhibit A.”
Clinton allies have been vigorously defending her in recent days, with some arguing the furor over the private email account is being over-hyped.
Democratic strategist Chris Lehane, who served in the Clinton White House, insisted that Clinton’s long career in the public eye inures her to some degree from damage from one-off missteps.
“An ancillary benefit of having been the focus of the Republican scandal-industrial complex for the last 20-plus years is that the public has become so conditioned to such partisan inquiries that there is a huge discount factor,” he said.
The Clinton-aligned group Correct the Record has insisted that she “followed State Department precedent with regard to the use of email.” Spokesman Nick Merrill has said that Clinton followed “both the letter and spirit of the rules.”
Merrill did not respond to an email from The Hill seeking comment.
Still, critical media commentary has extended far beyond the boundaries of conservative outlets.
New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote on Wednesday that, for both Bill and Hillary Clinton, “their permanent address is on the fault line where defiance meets self-destruction.”
Frank Rich of New York magazine, wondered, “What is the Democrats’ Plan B if their presumed presidential candidate falls by the wayside? Answer: None.”
That is the kind of talk that further adds to Democratic concerns and that leads some to insist that Team Hillary needs to right the ship — and fast.
“One of the biggest challenges is that the Clinton campaign has been ‘Ready for Hillary,’ ” said Simmons. “But people need to know what Hillary is ready to do.”