Former secretary of state dismisses idea that she set up a private email server to protect herself against accountability in planned presidential run
Hillary Clinton has denied that she set up a private email server in an attempt to bypass public accountability for her actions as secretary of state with a future presidential run in mind, dismissing the idea as a “totally ridiculous … conspiracy theory”.
With her poll numbers continuing to plummet, Clinton subjected herself to a lengthy interview on NBC News’ Meet the Press on Sunday. She held tight to the by-now familiar formula in which she expresses a combination of contrition and combativeness regarding the long-running saga over her decision to set up a private email server while serving as America’s top diplomat.
“Of course I take responsibility,” she said. “It was my choice, it was a mistake back when I did it, and I’m trying to do the best I can to answer all the questions.”
At the same time, she dismissed the ongoing dispute as “another conspiracy theory”, alluding to her earlier battles over what she then called the “vast right-wing conspiracy” against the Clintons when her husband was in the White House.
“In the 90s I was subjected to the same barrage and it seemed at the time to be endless,” she said, “but then when I ran for Senate people were more concerned about what you are going to do for us, and I trust the voters to make that decision this time around too.”
Clinton’s increasingly intense efforts to clear the fog surrounding her over the email server furor are simply explained: her standing among voters continues to tumble.
In the latest poll, from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal and released on Sunday, her lead over the Vermont independent senator Bernie Sanders was down to just seven points, assuming Vice-President Joe Biden were to throw his hat into the ring. Clinton was on 42%, Sanders on 35% and Biden on 17%.
It is an indication of how far Clinton has fallen that in June she commanded a whopping 60-point lead over Sanders. It is against this backdrop of dramatic poll figures that Biden’s supporters continue to press him to leap into the race.
“You’ve taken a hit in the polls,” Chuck Todd of Meet the Press said.
“I have,” Clinton responded, candidly.
Clinton said her woes over her email server had been a “drip, drip, drip” that was impacting her.
“There’s only so much I can control,” she said.
At several points in the interview she stressed her own lack of technical prowess as an explanation for what had happened. At one point she used that argument to try and explain a flippant remark she made last month that led her to be widely criticised for being sardonic over a serious matter.
On that occasion, asked in Las Vegas whether she had wiped her email server before handing it to the FBI, Clinton replied: “What? Like with a cloth or something?”
On Sunday, she offered an apology … of sorts: “I know I was a little bit sarcastic in one exchange with the press – I’m sorry guys! – but I’m not a technical expert.”
The frustration of that lack of control over public perception is clearly getting to Clinton’s husband, as much as anybody around her presidential campaign. In an interview broadcast by CNN on Sunday he let rip, blaming much of the kerfuffle on the vicariousness of the news media.
“I have never seen so much expended on so little,” he snapped.
Hillary Clinton is trying to walk a more nuanced path – accepting that the public has a right to express its concern about her private email behaviour while dismissing the concern as conspiracy theory.
When asked about her husband’s remarks, she said: “I love my husband. He does get upset when I’m attacked.”
She added: “But this is a contest. It’s fair game for people to raise whatever they are going to raise. They are not giving this job away. You have to get out there and earn it and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
On a rueful note, she added: “If I had to do it again, I would have used a separate email account. I did it for convenience, and it turned out not to be that at all.”