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The Riggs Report: Hillary’s warm-up act

Email spat is a preview of 2016

Depending on your political orientation, the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account during her Secretary of State tenure is either overblown media hype or a serious breach of government protocol. Either way, there’s little doubt that Clinton bungled the timing of her response.

By waiting more than a week to respond, Clinton was apparently thinking she could outwait the media; that reporters and editors would eventually move on to a story with more fuel. But her decision to stonewall backfired, especially when Sen. Dianne Feinstein, of California, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, urged Clinton to end her silence and address the issue.

In the end, Clinton’s tactic resulted in the email issue becoming a bigger story, since it played into the critical narrative that she must be trying to hide something and was emphasizing secrecy over disclosure. She ended up in a place no politician should ever be; behind the story, instead of in front.

Clinton’s explanation, once she did meet with the media, was that she used a private account for convenience and to avoid the necessity of carrying two phones. About half the emails, totaling about 30,000, she deemed as private and were therefore deleted.

Will voters believe her explanation? They are being asked to trust Clinton, since there is obviously no way to verify whether any of the deletions were related to government business or, more specifically, to the Republican-led investigation into the 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. That violence ended with the killing of U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens.

As for the atmosphere surrounding Clinton’s news conference, the Washington Post put it this way: “The circus is back in town.” The Post reporter noted that the issue revived memories of other controversies dating back to the Clinton White House of the 1990s, such as the Whitewater investment scandal.

The buzz now in Washington is that this whole incident is likely to speed up Clinton’s timetable for officially launching her presidential campaign; media outlets are now quoting sources as saying it is likely to happen by the end of next month. The thinking here is that having a campaign operation in place would mean the availability of a rapid response machine, in contrast to events of the past week.

Hillary Clinton is an experienced and savvy veteran of the cutthroat world of national politics, but that cuts both ways. Because of her background, and her perceived dislike of the political press, she faces very tough scrutiny. What happened this week with the email controversy, and the clumsy way it was handled, won’t be seriously damaging to her upcoming candidacy. But it does represent a preview of the grueling campaign ahead.