Hillary Clinton just had what was arguably her worst week since the Democratic convention thanks to the drip-drip-drip of news originating with her emails as secretary of State and her connection to the Clinton Foundation.
And the worst part is, Ms. Clinton seems totally clueless regarding the damage this is doing to her campaign. Or to her standing with the public. Or to her chances of winning in November.
The issue is not whether she did anything legally wrong — both the Clintons are lawyers, always careful not to cross that particular line. But — and there’s always a “but” with the Clintons — rather, it’s that it adds to the public perception that she’s not a straight shooter when it comes to playing by the rules and telling the truth.
Add to that her irrational refusal to hold a news conference all year, and it’s no wonder that even commentators who are certainly no fans of Donald Trump are chastising her for making her trust problem worse. She may be ahead in the latest national polls by anywhere from 3 to 10 points, but she could still come out a loser if she tries to run out the clock without answering questions at a news conference.
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The first drip of bad news came when it was reported that half of the big donors to the Clinton Foundation were big corporations or foreign governments. Arab nations have been particularly generous contributors. The potential for ethical problems for Ms. Clinton as America’s chief diplomat should be obvious.
Next day, the Associated Press reported that more than half the people outside the government who met with Secretary Clinton gave money to the Clinton Foundation, either directly or indirectly. At least 85 of the 154 people with private interests who got this access contributed to the foundation — to the tune of about $156 million overall. There was no smoking gun in terms of legal violations, but the intermingling of money and access creates a clear impression of pay-to-play politics.
The Clintons’ attempts at damage control have failed to stifle doubts. Former President Bill Clinton said the foundation will no longer accept foreign or corporate donations if Ms. Clinton wins the election. And he said he would step down from its board and would no longer raise money for the organization.
But the damage has already been done. If the connection to the Clinton Foundation is wrong for Ms. Clinton as president, why was it alright for her as secretary of State? And why wait until November to clean up her act? Keeping the door open sends a signal to contributors who want to curry favor with the potential next president that now is the time to make their bid.
Ms. Clinton should put an end to her unforced errors as a candidate. She should cut ties to the Foundation now and put an end to the streak of days without a news conference.
She may be the most thoroughly investigated and interrogated person in public life, both by the press and by members of Congress looking to trip her up. She’s shown that she’s self-confident and knows the issues well. She should have no qualms about stepping up once again, holding a news conference and dealing with the challenges head-on by taking questions from reporters covering her campaign.
Despite claims by detractors, neither the email controversy nor the Foundation records have disclosed any truly embarrassing or damaging information. But Ms. Clinton is letting her political enemies seize the narrative, and it’s not to her advantage.
The election is still 72 days away. More disclosures will almost surely be forthcoming. Donald Trump may yet alter his self-destructive style and make this race tighter. But Ms. Clinton could still blow it, unless she comes clean with the American public and works hard to repair her trust problem.