Why the e-mail scandal will continue to overshadow Clinton’s campaign

Why the e-mail scandal will continue to overshadow Clinton’s campaign

HILLARY CLINTON has been on a high since the party conventions in July. While Donald Trump continued the slump that began at his own shambolic convention, the Democratic nominee has risen to the top of almost every national and swing-state poll. But Mrs Clinton is too flawed a candidate to enjoy an easy ride to the White House for long: 60% of Americans think she is untrustworthy. She was bound to stumble; equally predictably, this has been precipitated by the undying scandal over her e-mail habits as secretary of state.

On August 22nd, it was revealed that the FBI had collected 15,000 more pages of e-mails in its investigation into Mrs Clinton’s use of a private server for work-related e-mails. They are in addition to the 30,000-odd pages she had already handed over to the FBI in 2014. In July the agency concluded she had been “extremely careless” in her use of a private server but should not be charged with any offence. It has said it doesn’t believe the new batch, which it found in various computer archives and on Mrs Clinton’s server, had been “intentionally deleted”. But this will not save the Democratic nominee a deal more trouble.

The additional e-mails came to light in one of several lawsuits being aimed at Mrs Clinton by Judicial Watch, a right-wing group that wants to make her e-mails public. A district judge has scheduled a September 23rd hearing on when to release the latest batch, which suggest some, at least, could be made published shortly before the election.

Perhaps even more damaging however, was the release, the same day, of hundreds of e-mails written to and by Huma Abedin, a close Clinton aide; some show that donors to the Clinton Foundation had uncomfortably good access to the State Department during Mrs Clinton’s time there. The e-mails were published by Judicial Watch, which obtained them via a law suit. They show that the Clinton Foundation—which has long looked like a potential liability for Mrs Clinton’s campaign—tried to nudge the secretary of state into helping it out. They include, for example, a request by Douglas Band, a worker from the organisation, for Mrs Clinton to meet Bahrain’s crown prince, whose family has given millions of dollars to the foundation. “Good friend of ours”, wrote Mr Band. A meeting was set up.

In one of the e-mails Ms Abedin said the request had also been made through official channels; in other e-mails she repeatedly states that donors must go through these channels. The e-mails show that on many occasions, donors did not get what they wanted. And they provide no explicit evidence that Mrs Clinton gave preferential treatment to the family foundation’s donors. But at the least they have revealed embarrassingly friendly links where there should have been none. 

On August 24th, the Associated Press, a news agency, published a story in which it said that its analysis of State Department calendars showed that at least 85 of 154 people from private interests that Mrs Clinton had met or talked to while she was secretary of state gave money—as much as $156m in total—personally or via groups, to the Clinton Foundation. Mrs Clinton told CNN the story was “a lot of smoke and there’s no fire.” AP, she said, had “looked at a small portion of my time” as secretary of state and had concluded that meetings with various figures were connected to the foundation rather than their work. 

The problem for Mrs Clinton is that it is not enough for her to be exonerated of serious (or even any) wrongdoing. Arguably, she already has been by the FBI over her e-mails. So long as her opponents can find any fresh morsel of the scandal to keep it alive they will be able to remind voters why so many do not trust her. Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, is doing this. “Hillary Clinton seems incapable of telling the truth,” he said in a statement. There will be plenty more attempts to portray Mrs Clinton as deceitful before November. Steve Bannon, Mr Trump’s new campaign manager, is a co-founder of the Government Accountability Institute. Its work produced a book, “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich.”

Long distracted by scandals of his own, Mr Trump has also piled in. The Clinton Foundation, he declared, was “the most corrupt enterprise in political history”. He called for the foundation to be shut down, and for a special prosecutor to be appointed.

More modestly, on August 22nd, Bill Clinton sent an e-mail to Clinton Foundation workers and supporters saying the organisation would stop accepting corporate and foreign donations if Mrs Clinton became president and that he would step down from the board. That is a good idea; he should have made the changes effective immediately.