Hillary Rodham Clinton says that if she pursues the presidency again, it will be different this time around.
But revelations that she sidestepped the government email system as secretary of state suggest she may have a ways to go to make good on that pledge.
The controversy is pushing Clinton’s top advisers closer to formalizing plans to announce her candidacy in early spring, all but putting an end to discussions about holding off until later in the year, according to a person familiar with the operation. While a final decision has not been made, the team is actively discussing potential rollout options, including an announcement on a college campus or in a swing state.
A campaign announcement would be welcome news to many Democrats because it would give Clinton more resources to respond to fast-moving problems. Some in the party are frustrated that her team seemed ill-prepared to respond to the disclosures of her emails. Their clunky response, they say, is an indication that she needs to quickly step up her engagement in a campaign that is well underway, particularly in early primary states.
“Being here means she can say, ‘Here is what you’re hearing, here is my perspective on it,’ ” said Iowa state Sen. Jeff Danielson, a Democrat from Cedar Falls. “You don’t even get that chance if you’re not here going through that process.”
Clinton’s desire to put off a formal campaign announcement until this spring has left her operating with a skeleton staff. Her eventual team is expected to include new faces, including operatives who worked for President Barack Obama’s two White House bids, while excluding some of the advisers who were considered detrimental to her failed first run.
More hires are expected in the coming weeks, said the person familiar with the operation, who insisted on anonymity, lacking authorization to discuss the matter publicly by name.
Clinton’s team has long acknowledged that the 2008 campaign got caught flat-footed by the fast-paced, new-media landscape, and there are vows to be better prepared this time around. Advisers have also pledged to improve the Clintons’ notoriously tense relationship with the press and to take nothing for granted in any drive for the Democratic nomination, despite the lack of a strong challenger.
But if the nascent campaign’s initial handling of the email revelations is any indication, it’s hard to see much improvement on those fronts. And if the pattern holds, it could undermine Clinton’s efforts to argue that she represents the country’s future – already a challenge for a figure who has been on the national stage for decades.
“It just makes it look like she’s from a bygone era,” said Kevin Sheridan, a Republican strategist who worked for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign.
It took Clinton two days to personally respond to an initial report Monday by The New York Times that as secretary of state she had used only a private email address, not a government account, to conduct official business. Then, The Associated Press reported Clinton was operating her own email server, giving her a greater level of control over her communications.
Clinton skipped an opportunity to address the matter when she spoke to a friendly crowd Tuesday night at a gala for the Democratic group EMILY’s List. Instead, she waited until nearly midnight the following night to weigh in on Twitter.
“I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible,” Clinton wrote.
The State Department cautioned it could take several months to go through the 55,000 pages of emails Clinton turned over last year at the agency’s request. A Clinton aide said the trove represented 90 percent of her total online communications, though only she and her closest advisers can verify that.
Clinton advisers are furious over implications that her use of private email was a way to keep her communications out of public records. Aides say there was nothing illegal or improper about her actions and note that previous secretaries of state have also sometimes used private email.
In an incident that revived memories of Clinton’s poor relations with the media, longtime aide Philippe Reines got into an email dust-up this week with a reporter from Gawker who was examining whether Reines and another adviser had also used private email addresses at the State Department. Reines included media reporters from other news outlets in a lengthy emailed response that accused the reporter of “creepy methods.”
“If your lying liar pants on fire source worked with me at a federal agency as you and they contend, did you ask them to provide even a single email exchange with my using that account?” Reines wrote, according to a Washington Post reporter who said he was copied on the email.
There are scant signs that Democrats are pulling away from Clinton and throwing their support behind potential challengers, such as former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, ex-Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and Vice President Joe Biden. And many of Clinton’s backers insist there’s little chance the email revelations undercut her chances of winning the White House.
“I can assure you, come November 2016, if she becomes a candidate, there will be no one going to the polls thinking about these emails,” said former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Clinton ally.
AP writer Catherine Lucey in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.