The State Department released another batch of emails from Hillary Clinton’s private server Wednesday amid growing controversy around her handling of classified information during her tenure as secretary of state. The scandal has seen her approval ratings drop in polls, and Clinton has yet to find a way to move beyond the cycle of email-related scrutiny.
One of Clinton’s biggest struggles so far has been appearing authentic and likable to voters -- something she also struggled with during her 2008 campaign. To win over voters, she has scheduled more media appearances, like her interview with Lena Dunham last week, and the former secretary of state’s husband has taken a more public role in her campaign recently, appearing at some events on the campaign trail and in an interview Tuesday with Erin Burnett of CNN.
But the email scandal has continued to hound her campaign, and her press coverage has been dominated by persistent concerns about her decision to use a private email server during her time as the nation’s top diplomat, despite the fact that little information has been discovered in the released emails.
“I don’t think Democrats care about the email scandal. What they do care about is that she’s fumbling it like a rookie,” Republican strategist Ford McConnell said. “One way you can tell they’re in trouble is the fact that they’ve had to put Bill Clinton on the campaign trail this early."
As the State Department combs through Clinton's emails, it has been releasing them in batches, and with Wednesday's dump, the department has still released only about 37 percent of the missives. Out of the thousands of emails that the State Department has released so far, the majority involve mundane communications between Clinton and her staff or Clinton and others in Washington about daily activities. The latest batch of emails includes a significant number that reference Benghazi, the location in Libya of the 2012 attack on an American diplomatic compound that has been at the center of the security concerns in Clinton's emails. There are also references to news reports and other White House officials.
For the first few months of the controversy, Clinton refused to apologize for her choices regarding the personal email server. Since then she has apologized but has still typically avoided the topic when possible. In an interview Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Clinton said she thinks the email ordeal is largely out of her hands at this point.
"Well, it is like a drip, drip, drip," she said. "There's only so much that I can control. But what I have tried to do in explaining this is to provide more transparency and more information than anybody that I'm aware of who's ever served in the government.”
Many voters have seen the email controversy, and Clinton’s reluctance to answer questions about it, as a sign that the candidate may not be trustworthy. She has suffered major declines in polling over the past few months, and especially in favorability -- a potential worrying sign for a candidate who entered the race as the presumptive nominee. However, some experts contend that the focus on Clinton’s emails is simply a function of partisan politics and early primary months.
“If this is a scandal, then there was always going to be a scandal, because there’s nothing there,” David Karpf, an assistant professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University in Washington, said. He said much of the momentum of the email story has come from Republicans eager to see Clinton fail. U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, who heads the House Select Committee on Benghazi, has clashed with Clinton over her emails. “There’s this partisan push by Trey Gowdy’s committee that has created a wave of negative publicity,” Karpf said.
House majority leader Kevin McCarthy confirmed that battle in an interview Tuesday when he said that the Benghazi committee deserves credit for Clinton’s dropping poll numbers, prompting a rebuke from Clinton’s campaign.
Strategists maintain that Clinton's best bet is to continue answering the media's questions and try to turn the conversation to more policy-oriented issues as the Democratic presidential debates approach. But while the race remains a showdown between Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has been gaining ground on her, the emails are likely to stay in the public eye. Wednesday's batch, which includes 3,849 new documents and more than 6,000 pages of emails, may prompt more questions for Clinton that she will need to figure out how to address.