Hillary Clinton remained silent when questions arose about potential conflicts of interest over her foundation’s decision to accept foreign donations. She waited days to respond – and then only by Twitter – after it was revealed that Clinton also used private email to conduct government business.
Time and time again, the likely front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president has chosen to stay silent as controversy mounts.
Clinton, 67, a candidate in waiting, is trying to find the right balance as she prepares for a second presidential run.
“There’s no question she’s going to have explain these decisions,” said P.J. Crowley, a former State Department spokesman under Clinton.
Clinton has long had a tenuous relationship with the media, especially when she was first lady, and the strategy to deal with the latest revelations isn’t particularly a new one for her.
It’s too early to determine what the impact will be, since some of the issues are still unfolding. But a McClatchy-Marist poll on Friday found that potential Republican presidential rivals have inched closer to Clinton in 2016 matchups. The former secretary of state, senator and first lady fell below the crucial 50 percent level of support in one-on-one match-ups against Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker, and was barely above that benchmark against Rand Paul, Rick Perry and Ted Cruz.
“It hurts her if she’s seen as hiding something,” said Andrew Kohut, founding director of the Pew Research Center.
The Republican National Committee keeps a tally of the number of days since Clinton’s last press conference and interview. It notes that 40 other Democrats have said more about the disputes than Clinton. And on Monday, it calculated that her staff has declined to comment on a variety of issues 59 times. A Clinton spokesman did not respond to requests for comment for this story on Monday.
“The biggest challenge she has is the debate is being framed by her critics,” said Kevin Madden, a Republican consultant who worked for 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
In recent days, even her supporters are starting to call on Clinton to say more.
This weekend, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called on Clinton to explain why she used a personal email account to conduct government business while secretary of state.
“What I would like is for her to come forward and say just what the situation is, because she is the pre-eminent political figure right now,” Feinstein said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I think she needs to step up and come out and say exactly what the situation is.”
In response to a question, Feinstein said: “I think from this point on, the silence is going to hurt her.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a Clinton supporter, said on Monday she expects Clinton to say more about her emails as soon as this week.
“I’m fairly certain it will be soon,” she said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “And I think that’s very important.”
Clinton has given two public speeches in the last week, but she did not address the issues while appearing at an event held by Emily’s List, a group that backs Democratic women who favor abortion rights, or speaking to students at the University of Miami about the rights of women and girls.
On Monday, Clinton joined her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, philanthropist Melinda Gates and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai to unveil a report on women and girls at an event for No Ceilings, a program the Gates Foundation and the Clinton Foundation funds that promotes opportunities for girls. But she said little about anything else.
Former President Bill Clinton, who also appeared at the Miami event on behalf of the Clinton Global Initiative, addressed the acceptance of millions of dollars in donations from foreign governments, including during his wife’s State Department tenure. “I believe they do a lot more good than harm,” he said.
John Hudak, a fellow in governance studies at the Brooking Institution, a center-left policy research center, said Clinton appears to be relying on surrogates, including her husband, to speak for her as part of what he calls a “test drive” for dealing with the media during the 2016 campaign.
In 2008, Clinton’s campaign got “easily distracted” by issue after issue, which hurt her, Hudak said. He said her approach now is more conducive to the campaign of “an effective presidential candidate.”
Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported the Clinton Foundation began accepting more foreign donations after Clinton left the secretary of state’s office, raising questions about potential conflicts of interest.
Last week, The New York Times reported that Clinton used a personal email account to conduct government business during her four years at the State Department, which violated Obama administration guidance.
In mid-February, McClatchy reported that more than 40 percent of the foundation’s top donors are based in foreign countries. The charity has received millions of dollars in donations from foreign governments, businesses, individuals and non-governmental organizations around the globe, according to an analysis of 10 years of contributions by McClatchy.
In December, Clinton turned over 55,000 pages of personal emails to the State Department after her aides reviewed them and selected which pages to hand over.
After the furor dominated headlines for two days, and a House committee investigating a fatal 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, subpoenaed relevant emails, Clinton issued a statement via Twitter after 11 p.m.
“I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible,” she tweeted.
Kathy Sullivan, a Democratic activist who was a Clinton co-chair in New Hampshire in 2008, said Clinton is doing the right thing by not responding to every issues being raised, some of which she called ridiculous.
“I don’t want someone who is not yet a candidate to respond to every story, every attack, everything that comes up,” she said. “We are in the silly season.”