The controversy around Hillary Clinton’s emails has been blown out of proportion, Bill Clinton has said in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

CNN released parts of the interview with the former president – who has been referred to as a “secret weapon” for his wife’s campaign – on Saturday. It was scheduled to air on Sunday, and it covered everything from the scandal over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state to the rise of the Republican presidential frontrunner, Donald Trump.

The surprising part of the interview came when Clinton gave a half-hearted endorsement of his wife while seeming to undermine his own judgment of US politics.

Asked if Trump – who he described as master brander – could be the Republican nominee for president in 2016, Clinton said: “I think so.”

As Zakaria could be heard saying “Wow”, Clinton backtracked: “I mean, I don’t know. I don’t understand any of it very well. Look, I’ve been out of politics a long time. I haven’t run for office in 20 years.

“I love my foundation,” he continued. “I’m proud of Hillary. I’ll do what I can do to help her, but I am not the best pundit anymore. I don’t have a good feel for this. All I know is what I think is good for the country.

“I think Hillary would be a great president but I have … I have no confidence in my political feel anymore. I’ve been out of it a long time and I’m not mad at anybody. I’m just happy to be here.”

The former president was much more confident when speaking about the controversy surrounding his wife’s emails.

According to Clinton, the extra scrutiny that frontrunners like Hillary Clinton receive from the press is “a regular feature of all of our presidential campaigns”.

“The other party doesn’t want to run against her,” he said. “And if they do, they’d like her as mangled up as possible.”

Clinton said other candidates were able to avoid scrutiny by continuously talking about things that are “catnip to the people who get bored talking about” candidates’ positions on serious issues. He also expressed surprise over how well his wife was handling the situation.

“I actually am amazed that she’s borne up under it as well as she has,” he said. “I trust the people. I think it will be all right. But it’s obvious what happened.

“She said she was sorry that her personal email caused all this confusion. And she’d like to give the election back to the American people. I think it will be all right. But it’s obvious what happened.”

He added that politics was like a contact sport and those vying to be the next president could not complain about the blows they suffered. He would not, however, go so far as to describe questions about Hillary Clinton’s emails as a “Republican plot”.

“A plot makes it sound like it’s a secret,” he said. “There are lots of people who wanted there to be a race for different reasons. And they thought the only way they could make it a race was a full-scale frontal assault on her. And so this email thing became the biggest story in the world.”

On 7 October, Bill Clinton is expected to headline a fundraiser for his wife in Michigan for which tickets start at $500. Those who contribute $2,700 or more, it has been reported, will get a photograph with the former president.

This article titled “Bill Clinton says Hillary would be ‘great president’ despite ‘this email thing'” was written by Jana Kasperkevic in New York, for on Saturday 26th September 2015 21.40 UTC

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