Keeping Public Schedule, Clinton Stays Silent on Emails

Keeping Public Schedule, Clinton Stays Silent on Emails
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NEW YORK -- With controversy surrounding Hillary Clinton and her expected presidential campaign, the Democratic frontrunner has kept up her big, planned public appearances. 

But she has remained stubbornly silent about the source of that hubbub: mounting questions about her private email account as secretary of state and foreign donations to her family’s foundation -- apparent blemishes on two major roles expected to define her second foray as a presidential candidate. 

As pressure builds from Democrats urging her to publicly address the email issue in particular, Clinton’s public events, which would have otherwise built momentum for her expected campaign launch next month, have become overshadowed. 

Over the past week, the former senator and first lady has spoken to supportive crowds at events in Washington, D.C., Miami and Manhattan, without engaging the public directly or going off-script.

Instead, surrogates, lawmakers, and White House officials have had to answer for her, fielding questions about transparency, rule breaking, and motives. 

On Monday, for example, Clinton appeared at an event spotlighting the Clinton Global Initiative’s No Ceilings project, which highlights advancements -- and obstacles -- for women and girls around the world. Several guest speakers, including current and former female heads of state, referred to their host fondly as “Secretary Clinton.” Daughter Chelsea was the master of ceremonies, and former President Bill Clinton sat in the front row. 

The event made a fitting backdrop for someone hoping to become the first woman president of the United States.  

“There has never been a better time in history to be born female,” Clinton said, opening a program that featured women entrepreneurs and scholars from places as far-flung as Haiti and Afghanistan. Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai appeared via Skype to urge leaders around the world to “aim higher.”  

Through Monday’s program and a Tuesday speech at a U.N.-sponsored female empowerment gathering (also in New York), Clinton is marking the 20th anniversary of a landmark speech she gave as first lady at the World Conference on Women in Beijing.  

Her appearances in recent weeks have been women-centered, foreshadowing presidential stump speeches and campaign initiatives. Honored at an EMILY’s List event earlier this month, Clinton asked an admiring crowd, “Don’t you someday want to see a woman president?”  

But even those who would unequivocally answer yes are urging Clinton to address the controversy surrounding her exclusive use of private email while serving as the country’s top diplomat.  

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Clinton’s silence would soon become harmful. “She needs to step up,” the five-term lawmaker said in an interview with NBC News. “She is the leading candidate, whether it be Republican or Democrat, to be the next president.” 

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she thinks Clinton will address the issue this week. “I’m fairly certain it will be soon,” she told MSNBC on Monday. “And I think that’s very important.” 

Clinton tweeted last week that she wants the public to see her emails, and that she has asked the State Department to release them. (Having not yet officially launched a campaign, she often weighs in cautiously, and briefly, on hot topics through Twitter.) She has not mentioned the issue since that tweet.

Meanwhile, it seems, everyone but the central figure in this controversy has been fielding questions over the past several days. In an interview with CBS News over the weekend, President Obama said he learned about the private emails and private server from press reports. 

On Monday, White House Spokesman Josh Ernest said the president had exchanged emails with Clinton via her private address, “but he was not aware of her personal email server or that she was using it exclusively for all her business.” 

If needed, Clinton would be open to a “neutral” probe of her emails beyond a current State Department review, according to longtime friend and attorney Lanny Davis. Ernest said that though he didn’t think an independent review would be necessary, the White House wouldn’t object to one.

National Democrats have come to Clinton’s defense by arguing that she didn’t break any laws, and also noting that two of her potential Republican rivals, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, used private accounts while serving in public roles.

But Walker raised concerns about Clinton dealing with highly classified information through a private account that potentially could have been compromised. "I think that’s the bigger issue . . . the audacity to think that someone would put their personal interest above classified, confidential, highly sensitive information that’s not only important to her but to the United States of America," he told the Weekly Standard. "I think it is an outrage that Democrats as well as Republicans should be concerned about.” 

But some Democrats are worried that Clinton’s handling of the issue, and the foundation donations, raise another set of questions about her campaign management and style of politics. (In Miami over the weekend, Bill Clinton defended the donations taken while his wife was serving as secretary of state, saying “I believe we have done a lot more good than harm. … And I believe this is a good thing.”)

David Axelrod, Obama’s former top adviser, told MSNBC on Monday that the episode "should be a warning sign to her and her operation: They need to be more nimble, more forthcoming, and in instant-response mode -- not in rope-a-dope mode.” 

But others have rallied to her defense, attempting to blame the media and conservatives for ginning up the controversy. 

“All of this is just the same cockamamie stuff that we go through,” Democratic strategist James Carville, a longtime Clinton ally, told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “This is never going to end. We’ve lived with this for 20 years. We’ll live with it the rest of the campaign. It’s all about nothing.” 

Republicans, and even Democrats who want Clinton to clear the air, disagree.

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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