After several weeks of relative dormancy, the story of Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server surged back into the news Tuesday night, with a trio of stories that suggest things are going to get worse before (or perhaps if) they get better for the former secretary of state’s 2016 campaign.
Here’s what we learned:
1. The State Department has, on the record, disputed Clinton’s claim that her handing over of her e-mails was standard operating procedure, according to reporting from The Washington Post. In fact, State contacted Clinton in the summer of 2014 upon learning that she had exclusively used a private server to conduct business during her time as the nation’s top diplomat. Asked about the discrepancy in Iowa on Tuesday night, Clinton told the Des Moines Register: “I don’t know that. I can’t answer that.”
2. The FBI has succeeded in recovering work and personal e-mails from Clinton’s server. That raises at least the possibility that the 50 percent of her e-mails that Clinton deleted as private could be combed through to ensure that the judgments made by her lawyers were the right ones.
3. More State Deparment e-mails related to the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi, Libya, were turned over to the Republican-led congressional committee investigating Clinton’s actions that day.
Any one of those stories is bad news for Clinton. The three together make for a toxic mix in a narrative that has already cost Clinton dearly in her bid for the Democratic nomination and the presidency. A new Bloomberg national poll shows her with a single-digit lead over Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, and with less than four in 10 voters viewing her favorably.
The biggest problem for Clinton comes from The Post story, because it directly contradicts a central pillar of her pushback on the e-mail story. She has, since the private server came to light in March, insisted that the collection of e-mails from State was totally normal and the sort of thing that they did for everyone. “When we were asked to help the State Department make sure they had everything from other secretaries of state, not just me, I’m the one who said, ‘Okay, great, I will go through them again,’” Clinton said on “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
Except not. According to The Post report, State learned of Clinton’s exclusive use of a private e-mail server in the summer of 2014 and immediately contacted her to learn more about the setup. That came months before the department made a similar request of other past secretaries.
So, someone is not telling the whole truth here. Clinton’s turning over of her e-mails was either standard operating procedure — and therefore not evidence of anything out of the ordinary or suspicious — or it wasn’t.
Remember, too, that this latest gap — or discrepancy — in her recollection of the events surrounding the server comes after months in which Clinton has struggled to get her story straight. When the news first broke, she said she used a private server solely out of convenience. She recently apologized for doing so. She initially said that there was no need to turn over the server to a third party investigator; she was eventually forced to do just that.
Time after time, the story Clinton has tried to tell has been contradicted — in ways large and small — by reporting about the e-mail server. She hasn’t been able to put the story behind her because the story keeps evolving.
Clinton is breaking the first rule of crisis communications: Get EVERYTHING out all at once, take the hit and move on. Her approach, which is to give ground on the story only when her position becomes untenable, has already turned what looked like a coronation for the Democratic nomination into a potentially competitive race. It now threatens to do even more damage.