Alternate headline: Carville, Davis Unavailable for Presser. After a two-day blitz from the old Clinton attack dogs didn’t change anyone’s minds about the e-mail scandal, Hillary herself will hold a press conference to address the issue. Sometime. Soon. Probably:
Hillary Rodham Clinton will soon address the controversy over her use of a private email account at the State Department, and is likely to hold a press conference in New York in the next several days to answer reporters’ questions, according to three people close to the potential Democratic frontrunner.
The decision to address the issue, made in the last several days, comes amid a cascade of criticism following New York Times and Associated Press stories in the past week, reporting that Clinton had possibly violated State Department policy by channeling her emails through a private server housed in her suburban New York mansion. The pressure on Clinton has ratcheted up as critics, including some congressional Democrats, have called on her to publicly address the reports. That pressure only increased on Monday as a spokesman for President Obama told reporters that Clinton and the president had, in fact, exchanged emails using Clinton’s private email account during her tenure at Foggy Bottom from 2009 to 2013.
Apparently, today will be the day … for a “press availability”:
An “availability” is supposed to be less formal, but it might just end up being more limited. Democrats are sighing with relief, writes Emily Schultheis at National Journal, but they’d better not get too relaxed:
More than a week has passed since The New York Times reported that the former secretary of State conducted all of her official business on an unauthorized, homebrew email server. Even more time has elapsed since news that her family’s foundation was taking foreign donations.
Now, party operatives and strategists are welcoming the first signals they’ve seen from Clinton World, saying Clinton must speak publicly about these controversies if she intends to reclaim the news cycle before her expected campaign launch in April. Equally important, Clinton needs to calm the fears of Democratic supporters and donors who might be getting skittish about the strength of her campaign.
But Democrats acknowledge that while her actions will help, this planned press conference will not be the end of questions about her actions and motivations. In other words, even Clinton’s supporters realize the story isn’t going away.
No kidding. The stories aren’t going to go away, and Ron Fournier’s inside source says the two scandals are linked:
Hillary Clinton’s secret communications cache is a bombshell deserving of full disclosure because of her assault on government transparency and electronic security. But its greatest relevancy is what the emails might reveal about any nexus between Clinton’s work at State and donations to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation from U.S. corporations and foreign nations.
Under fire, Bill Clinton said his namesake charity has “done a lot more good than harm”—hardly a ringing endorsement. One of his longest-serving advisers, a person who had worked directly for the foundation, told me the “longtime whispers of pay-to-play are going to become shouts.”
This person, a Clinton loyalist and credible source, has no evidence of wrongdoing but said the media’s suspicions are warranted. “The emails are a related but secondary scandal,” the source said. “Follow the foundation money.”
There at least two problems with Hillary Clinton’s press conference strategy now. The first is that she’ll have to come up with a better explanation than what Clintonland has trotted out the last two days. Pointing fingers at Colin Powell and arguing that this is all just a figment of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” imagination won’t cut it; even Andrea Mitchell at MSNBC didn’t buy that nonsense from Carville, and Chris Wallace certainly didn’t from Davis. Howard Kurtz called the strategy “insulting” and “brazen.” In a press conference, reporters will ask questions, and there are plenty to ask from both scandals — even if a few might be tempted to toss softballs at Hillary, there will also be a few ready to get a YouTube moment that puts the former Secretary of State on the spot.
That brings us to Problem #2. Politico’s Glenn Thrush and Gabriel DeBenedetti state that Hillary is out of practice in dealing with the press, and that she “hasn’t personally interacted with reporters since she left the State Department.” That’s largely true, with one exception: her book tour last year. It turned into such an utter disaster that Democrats began asking themselves last summer whether they should start working on a Plan B for 2016, long before anyone knew about the shenanigans at the Clinton Foundation and the State Department e-mails. The hard truth Democrats have to face is that Hillary Clinton is a political mediocrity, one who can only win when not seriously challenged.
Worst of all, Hillary’s dithering — for a week-plus on the e-mail story, for weeks on the Clinton Foundation exposés — has heightened expectations, not just of her but of the press as well. She’s been hiding out while events unfold in her supposed area of expertise, foreign policy, without even a statement or white paper from her. Now Democrats are relieved that she’s popped out of her winter lair to see how long the scandal shadows have become, but they’re correct that this won’t solve the problem. It’s looking like Groundhog Day from last year’s book tour, and it’s looking like that for the rest of the cycle unless Democrats can find someone to replace Hillary on the ticket.
Update: I’m not the only one making Groundhog Day references. David Corn at Mother Jones is getting a bad sense of deja vu, too:
But though the president had indeed received blow jobs from an intern in the White House and lied about it, the Clintons, as with the other scandals, still felt persecuted by their enemies and the media. It’s a bizarre relationship: (more or less) liberal Democratic politicians at cross swords with the media often slammed by the right as biased in favor of the left. (One theory thrown about by Clintonites during Bill’s presidency was that reporters were gunning for him because as the first Baby Boomer president he was a generational peer of many in the Washington press corps, and the scribblers and broadcasters viewed him with envy and, consequently, were suckers for the rightwing attacks on the couple.)
A sense of persecution seems too often to shape how the Clintons respond when they are in trouble, even when that trouble is self-inflicted. This testy, overly sensitive, secretive, and aggressive approach to the rest of the political-media world didn’t help Hillary Clinton during the 2008 campaign. Her campaign claimed she was being victimized by a Barack Obama-loving media, while her aides hurled a host of unfounded accusations and criticisms against Obama and his team. As Davis had accomplished a decade earlier, Hillary’s emissaries to the media alienated many reporters with their odd combo of thin-skinnedness and fact-stretching aggression. Did her bad relations with the media undo her campaign? Probably not. But it sure didn’t help.
For six years, Hillary Clinton, her husband, and their crew have had time to ponder and perhaps entertain a different approach. Certainly, they know that many of the flaws of 2008 and earlier years should not be repeated (such as the hiring of Mark Penn and Dick Morris). Yet can they break free of the vicious triangle—the Clintons, their real enemies, and the media—and drop the paranoia (even if it is justified at times) and disrupt this decades-long cycle of dysfunction? It may well be that it’s just too late for this pack to learn new tricks. Which would mean we’re all doomed, in a lousy version of Groundhog Day, to watch and participate in this dispiriting dynamic ad nauseam until we mercifully reach Election Day—or, if she wins, the last day of Hillary Clinton’s presidency.