Clinton emails inject Obama's administration into 2016 fray
WASHINGTON (AP) Hillary Rodham Clinton's use of private email has thrust the Obama administration into the 2016 presidential campaign fray, forcing the White House to defend or at least explain the former secretary of state's conduct.
Since the revelations surfaced this week, the Obama administration has been pummeled by endless questions about Clinton, who hasn't formally announced a run. In the absence of an official campaign to defend her, the White House press secretary has been put in the awkward position of being a de facto Clinton spokesman and the most public voice speaking on her behalf.
Further entangling the Obama administration, Clinton announced in a late-night tweet Wednesday that she wants her emails released. She asked the State Department to vet the 55,000-plus pages she handed over, leaving the diplomatic agency with the intensely politicized task of determining which can be made public.
The State Department said it would review the emails as quickly as possible but cautioned it would take some time.
The email saga has developed as the first major test for how the White House and President Barack Obama's administration will deal with Clinton's likely campaign and the inevitable questions that will only get louder as 2016 approaches.
Did Obama know Clinton was conducting government business on an email system run out of her home? Did anyone at the White House raise objections? What about the security concerns? Who paid for the email server was it the taxpayers? Are other Cabinet secretaries doing it, too? Or did Clinton get special treatment?
The White House has sought to thread the needle, defending its own technology policies without explicitly accusing Clinton of violating them. While trying to avoid doing political damage to Clinton, the White House has put the onus on her aides to explain exactly what happened.
"If in fact Secretary Clinton's team did what they say they did and that is reviewed her email, collected all of her personal email that was related to her official government work and turn that over to the State Department so that they could properly preserve and maintain it that would be consistent with the Federal Records Act, and that's the president's expectation," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday.
Questions about Clinton's emails consumed the majority of the daily White House briefings on Tuesday and Wednesday, and at the State Department, it was no different. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf began by rebutting facts she said had been misreported before she answered a litany of Clinton inquiries in her televised briefing.
"A couple of points and I will answer all of your questions I promise," Harf said. "And then I'm sure there will be many more."
At the White House, top aides have been in contact with Clinton's team to clarify specific facts that the White House is likely to be asked about. The White House also reached out to Clinton's team ahead of Tuesday's press briefing to advise them of what the White House planned to say, said a senior White House official, who requested anonymity to discuss private conversations.
"It's almost impossible for the White House to give firm answers because there's just too much you don't know," said Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush's former press secretary. "It's an extraordinarily delicate dance they have to do to not throw someone overboard, but not get anyone in the White House in deeper trouble."
As it navigates the often fuzzy line between Clinton's political ambitions and her record in the Obama administration, the White House has sought to differentiate between personal questions that only Clinton can answer and legitimate questions about the federal government's operations and policies.
In a preview of what's to come, a House investigative committee subpoenaed Clinton's emails on Wednesday for its investigation into the Benghazi, Libya, attacks. Democrats have dismissed the probe as a politically-motivated fishing expedition.
Yet the grilling at the White House will only get worse if and when Clinton becomes a declared candidate. While she's likely to tout her close relationship with Obama during the Democratic primary, in a general election Clinton would face intense pressure to find ways to distance herself from the president, putting Obama's aides in the uncomfortable position of choosing sides.
"The real issue depends on whether they want to help her or hurt her," said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based Democratic strategist. "The best they can do is probably to say nothing."
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