Clinton eager to defuse email outrage as voter concern grows

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding at the Surf Ballroom Friday in Clear Lake, Iowa
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding at the Surf Ballroom Friday in Clear Lake, Iowa AP

The furor over Hillary Clinton’s private email server is slowly becoming a serious voter concern in the nation’s first caucus state, one the Democratic front-runner is trying hard to defuse during her visit to Iowa this weekend.

Saturday, the former secretary of State insisted voters are not bringing up the controversy as she holds town halls and campaigns around the nation. Friday night, Clinton used one of the summer’s biggest Iowa Democratic events, the multi-county Wing Ding dinner in this small northern city, to joke about the controversy and shift the blame to Republicans.

A big chunk of the audience of 2,100 cheered, but many did not.

People routinely said they weren’t familiar enough with the details. “I don’t know enough, but so far, there’s not much there,” said Everett Petersen, a Hampton farmer.

Some, though, were disturbed that the controversy was another in a long line of incidents and scandals involving the Clintons. Many wanted to hear more from her rivals.

“I don’t dislike Hillary, but Sanders is refreshing,” said JoAnn Beall, a Fort Dodge retiree, of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Clinton loyalists dismissed the email matter as partisan or media-driven.

She remains carefully managed in Iowa. Clinton read from a Teleprompter as she spoke. She visited the Iowa State Fair Saturday and unlike most other candidates, did not speak from the Des Moines Register Soapbox. Candidates usually speak for a few minutes and take questions from fairgoers.

Before touring the fair, Clinton was in a defensive mood with reporters.

“I’ve said in the past that, you know, I used a single account for convenience,” she said of the email server that was housed in her New York home. “Obviously these years later it doesn’t look so convenient.”

But, Clinton insisted, “I never sent classified material on my email and I never received any that was marked classified. So I’m going to let whatever this inquiry is go forward and we’ll await the outcome of it.”

She was pressed on whether the issue was becoming an important voter concern.

“It is never raised in my town halls,” Clinton said. “It is never raised in my other meetings with people.”

Reminded that voters at the fair are talking about the emails, she said, “This is the usual partisanization…of anything that goes on and I’ve been at this for a really long time.”

Friday night, she joked about the email server, saying she’d opened a Snapchat account, and "I love it. Those messages disappear all by themselves."

The audience roared.

Later, Clinton went after Republicans, who continue to probe the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Clinton was then secretary of State.

"You know what? It’s not about emails or servers either. It’s about politics. I will do my part to provide transparency to Americans," she said. Clinton tried hard to paint the controversy as little more than a Republican witch-hunt.

"That’s why I’m insisting 55,000 pages of my emails be published as soon as possible,” she said. “I’ve even offered to answer questions for months before Congress. I’ve just provided my server to the Justice Department.”

"But here’s what I won’t do: I won’t get down in the mud with them. I won’t play politics with national security or dishonor the memory of those who we lost.”

I won’t pretend that this is anything other than what it is, the same old partisan games we’ve seen so many times before

Hillary Clinton on Republicans’ Benghazi investigation

Clinton last week tried to cool the outrage over the emails, saying she’d turn over to the Justice Department the thumb drive and a server that has stored her email traffic since she left her cabinet post in early 2013. On Wednesday, a Colorado technology company that operated the server transferred it from a site in New Jersey to Justice Department custody, officials said.

Clinton turned over her official emails to the State Department in December 2014. In March, she told a news conference she simultaneously deleted more than 31,000 of personal emails

McClatchy has reported that U.S. officials first found classified information among Clinton’s State Department emails last May, long before the current controversy erupted. It’s unclear what she and her attorney did over the following weeks to fully secure the sensitive data, according to people familiar with federal probes into the situation.

McClatchy has also found that Clinton’s top aides are part of a federal inquiry and that two emails on her private account were later classified as “Top Secret.”

Clinton’s troubles were reflected this week in a new CNN/ORC Iowa poll, conducted August 7 to 11. It found she led Sanders, 50 to 31 percent. But when asked who is honest and trustworthy, Sanders gets 35 percent support to Clinton’s 28 percent. And they’re in a virtual tie when voters consider who best understands problems of people like them.

David Lightman: 202-383-6101, @lightmandavid

Each Democratic presidential candidate spoke for about 20 minutes Friday night. Clinton, Sanders and Martin O’Malley were all enthusiastically received.