Yesterday, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was forced to reach out to her supporters to reassure them that all the news they’ve been hearing about investigations of the candidate’s emails was nothing to worry about. As Politico reported, campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri fired off a 700-word missive that insisted that the latest bombshells to explode during this summer from hell for the former secretary of state was mere noise they should ignore. Her goal was to keep donors and activists repeating their main talking point: “there is absolutely no criminal inquiry into Hillary’s email or email server.” Clinton loyalists have been conditioned to think of all of her scandals as political attacks from the “vast right wing conspiracy” against the former first family. Yet clinging to the presumption of innocence afforded all those under investigation by the authorities isn’t the ideal stance for a presidential candidate. It may be difficult to believe that the Justice Department of a Democratic administration will ever treat her the way they would anyone else in this position and slam her and her aides with indictments. But at some point the Clinton camp is going to have to realize that denial is not going to be enough to keep her leaky ship afloat.
For now, the Clintonistas are sticking to their story that claims that her awful poll results about trust and the rise of an implausible rival has nothing to do with the email scandal. Yet the news this week that Senator Bernie Sanders has already overtaken Clinton in New Hampshire and is beginning to move within striking distance in Iowa should have shaken her. If that wasn’t bad enough, the fact that Gallup shows her net favorability at its lowest point since December 2007 makes it clear that her assumptions about an easy win are falling apart.
The standard explanation for the Sanders surge is that voters are bored and that Democrats want a semblance of a race. Even Sanders’ big crowds and increasingly good poll numbers can be explained away if you believe Democrats will choose Hillary once it’s clear that his candidacy is more than a symbolic protest. But the drip-drip-drip of scandal is eating away at her confidence.
It might have been possible for her campaign to browbeat the New York Times into backing down from its initial story last month about a criminal probe into the email scandal. But this week Clinton was forced to turn over her email server and a thumb drive to the FBI. Even worse, the Inspector General for the Intelligence Community told Congress that at least two of the four emails that were discovered on her wiped home server were classified as being “top secret,” making the possession and transmission of such information a potential crime.
It should be remembered that the explanation for the initial news about the investigation was that it was not Clinton but her aides who were being investigated. But now that we know that Huma Abedin, Clinton’s “shadow” and “keeper” is being put under the legal microscope and lawyering up, the problem can’t be treated as tangential to the candidate.
Though Palmieri told Clinton backers not to read too much into these stories, Clinton is in real peril. But her problems must be separated into two categories.
The first is legal jeopardy. It almost goes without saying that if this were anyone other than a Democratic icon that was being probed, indictments, and public humiliation would be a certainty, as figures like former CIA director David Petraeus could tell Clinton. There seems little doubt that Clinton violated rules and that she and her aides mishandled classified information because of her obsessive desire for secrecy. We can grant her a presumption of innocence and assume there was nothing incriminating in the emails that were deleted and/or wiped from her home server about Benghazi or even the conflicts of interest resulting from donations to the Clinton Family Foundation from those who dealt with the State Department. But the technical violations of security regulations are in and of themselves serious and would, at the very least, be enough to get an ordinary official’s career destroyed.
It is possible that career prosecutors in the Justice Department who are already thinking about their futures after President Obama leaves office might pursue these violations with a vigor they might not have had earlier in his administration. Nor should we doubt the integrity of the FBI personnel who will be working on this case. But it is also hard to believe that Attorney General Loretta Lynch or President Obama will permit the Department to torpedo Clinton with indictments in an election year.
But even if we take it as a given that the criminal probes will go nowhere as long as the Democrats are in power, the political fallout from this can’t be dismissed. It may be that most of those who are already Clinton supporters will simply put their fingers in their ears and ignore the awful news about their candidate no matter how bad it gets. But the erosion in her support is real. Sanders isn’t being embraced by more Democrats because most of them really want a socialist rather than to elect our first female president. Democrats may not listen to anything Republicans say about her, but even they know that virtually everything she said about her emails in her March press conference was a lie.
The more the public sees of Hillary and the more they hear about her behavior, the less they trust or like her. Democrats may think it’s her turn and assume that the enormous amounts of money she and her husband have amassed will, along with their ruthless campaign attack machine, demolish all opponents in her way. But as the news about the server, the security violations, and the government investigations show that she is her own worst enemy. And that is a problem that denials from her staff can’t fix.