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Mar 11, 2015 3:25 AM

Analysis: Clinton's email explanation won't placate critics

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) The message from Hillary Rodham Clinton: Trust me. But in a 21-minute news conference to address why she used a private email account as secretary of state, the favorite for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2016 did little to try to build that trust among those willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Granted, that may be a thin slice of America. Few people inspire more clear-cut devotion and antipathy than the former first lady, senator and diplomat. Still, as she nears the launch of her presidential campaign, Clinton might have used the occasion of a rare news conference to reach out, to make a special effort to refute claims that she's overly secretive and legalistically clever.

For instance, she might have taken up the suggestion of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who demanded Clinton ask a neutral arbiter to review the contents of her private email server.

But Clinton didn't.

She remained poised before a pack of reporters, giving no ground. The server will remain private. She said she had exercised her right to decide which of roughly 60,000 emails at issue were work-related and which concerned personal topics, such as her mother's funeral and her daughter's wedding. She deleted and did not archive those in the second group, she said.

In hindsight, she said, "it might have been smarter" to have used both a government email account and a personal account while secretary of state. At the time, she said, "it didn't seem like an issue." But she went on to defend her use of a private email server stored at her home, saying it was initially set up for the office of her husband, Bill, who served as president.

"I fully complied by every rule I was governed by," she said. The public, she said, must trust that she properly culled government emails from private and irrelevant messages.

Predictably, Republicans howled in protest. Democrats defended Clinton, if somewhat wanly.

"I thought she did fine, given the circumstances," said Jim Manley, a former media aide to Democratic senators. "But these issues are not going away."

Said South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison, "Most people can connect with the inconvenience of multiple email addresses, two or more cell phones, other devices. So for me, it's enough. But for those who are looking to find fault, it won't be sufficient."

Indeed, Clinton's defenders say nothing could placate her fierce critics, who flock to talk radio and websites that cater to conservatives. As first lady, Clinton once denounced a "vast right-wing conspiracy" bent on ruining her and her husband.

But Clinton made life easier for her critics in early 2009 when, upon assuming the State Department post, she took the unusual step of handling all her emails on a personal account and a private server. And by deleting the messages she deemed personal, she has no way to prove she gave the State Department's record-keepers every email having anything to do with government.

"Because only Hillary Clinton controls her personal email account and admitted she deleted many of her emails, no one but Hillary Clinton knows if she handed over every relevant email," Priebus said.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and a possible 2016 GOP presidential contender, called for an independent investigation.

Appearing Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show, Paul said, "She says, 'I didn't do the right thing but trust me now,' " he said. "My sense of trust is a little bit low."

Tuesday's news conference may well become nothing more than a footnote in the story of the 2016 presidential race. If Clinton is the Democratic nominee, as many expect, the handling of her State Department emails seems unlikely to turn would-be supporters against her. Most voters care little about the inner workings of federal agencies.

Yet the email issue feeds a narrative about her trustworthiness. Her husband lied about his affair with a White House intern, prompting House Republicans to impeach him. Bill Clinton survived his Senate trial, but Republicans continue to paint the couple as secretive and calculating.

Today's House Republicans are cranking up another inquiry into her handling of a deadly assault against U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya. She faces the very real prospect of becoming a candidate for president called to testify before a congressional committee.

"This whole issue and controversy comes down to trust," said Kevin Madden, a veteran Republican media adviser. "Scripted answers only addressing questions halfway won't do much to put the issue behind her."

Some Democrats shrug. Nothing will satisfy Clinton's critics, they say.

"There is such a pent-up wall of emotion between her and some people that if she sprouted wings and flew out of the room, it wouldn't change their minds," said Don Fowler, a longtime Clinton ally who was the national Democratic Party chairman during Bill Clinton's presidency. "That's just the nature of how people see her."


EDITOR'S NOTE Charles Babington covers politics and Congress for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/cbabington


Associated Press writer Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.


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