Critical email audit reinforces bad story line for Clinton

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a United Food and Commercial Workers International Union hall, Wednesday, May 25, 2016, in Buena Park, Calif.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a United Food and Commercial Workers International Union hall, Wednesday, May 25, 2016, in Buena Park, Calif. AP

A critical government report on her use of private email while secretary of state gives skeptical voters another reason to be leery of Hillary Clinton.

Clinton already is battling historically high negative ratings as she struggles to put away her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and turn her sights on Donald Trump. And while she argues that she did nothing wrong or unusual in using private email, a state Department audit said Wednesday that the former secretary of state had violated agency rules by using a private account to conduct official business.

Democrats and Clinton’s campaign said the revelation was not new, but the persistent stream of stories about Clinton’s email habit serves to feed a narrative of a secretive candidate who skirts the law.

Trump seized on the report at a campaign rally in California, calling Clinton “as crooked as they come” and charging that anxious Democrats were looking to swap her out with Vice President Joe Biden, who last October ruled out a presidential bid.

“Hillary Clinton has proved she will never uphold the rule of law and will never be honest with Iowans or the American people,” said Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann.

The Republican Party of Minnesota cited the report in a fundraising email.

The email furor is hurting Clinton among undecided voters, who make up about 15 percent of the electorate and might prove decisive in a polarized contest between two highly unpopular candidates.

Swing voters interviewed by McClatchy last week in the battleground state of Florida were rarely able to describe the content of Clinton’s email difficulties, but were adamant that her action is emblematic of something more troubling.

“Who knows what she’s been doing behind the scenes,” said Cassandra Holbrook, a deli counter worker in Bradenton.

To those voters – and others across the nation – the email issue is another example of Clinton’s caginess and a seemingly nonstop desire to write her own rules. It also reinforces the notion that she can’t be trusted, a key factor in her huge unfavorable numbers, which, like Trump’s, show her underwater.

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll showed Trump ahead by 42 to 41 percent when registered voters were asked whether the two could be trusted.

What that means for Republicans is they have one more weapon to use against her, an arsenal that got fresh ammunition with the inspector general’s audit that found Clinton and her team had ignored guidance that her email setup broke federal standards and could leave sensitive material vulnerable to hackers.

Not all of America is sick of the ongoing investigations into Hillary Clinton. Almost half of registered voters think the Benghazi investigation should continue. However, America is not split as cleanly on her use of a private email server. Lee Me

This detailed inquiry by an Obama appointee makes clear Hillary Clinton hasn’t been telling the truth since day one.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus

The 79-page document said Clinton did not seek approval to do her government work using private email and did not show that the server, or the BlackBerry device she used while in the Cabinet, met minimum security requirements.

The report said that on two occasions six years ago, State Department staffers had raised concerns about the email policy. No action was taken.

Clinton’s campaign says the audit showed that her email use was consistent with what past secretaries of state did.

“The inspector general documents just how consistent her email practices were with those of other secretaries and senior officials at the State Department who also used personal email,” said campaign spokesman Brian Fallon.

He added that Clinton’s use of personal email “was known to officials within the department during her tenure, and that there is no evidence of any successful breach of the secretary’s server.”

Clinton supporters noted that the audit acknowledged long-standing weaknesses in the agency’s use of electronic communication that predated her.

It’s time for Republicans to put an end to the political pursuit of Secretary Clinton and work on fixing the broader recordkeeping problems that have existed for many years.

Clinton supporter Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Yet the audit goes on to note that by the time of Clinton’s tenure, the department’s guidance was “considerably more detailed and sophisticated,” said Robert Cattanach, a former Department of Justice attorney who handles cybersecurity cases for the Dorsey & Whitney law firm.

He said the audit served to confirm that Clinton “was at best cavalier in ensuring the security of her private email server and mobile devices.”

The inquiries are far from over. Yet to drop is an FBI investigation into whether Clinton's use of the private email server put government secrets at risk. Clinton is expected to be interviewed, if she hasn’t been already.

While Republicans didn’t see the audit itself as a major campaign issue, they did agree it was another blow to Clinton’s already problematic image.

One report “may not be that much,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. But “to the extent that it adds to the narrative that she’s above the law, yes.”

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who has been neutral in the Democratic primary, acknowledged that the critical report gives those inclined to dislike Clinton new reasons.

What she has to do, he said, but what has proved impossible, is shift the narrative.

“She’s got to talk about what she’s going to do for the middle class. That’s where most of the swing voters are,” Tester said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Secretary Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders revisited some familiar issues during the Democratic debate on Wednesday night at Miami-Dade College in Miami, including Hillary's emails, Trump's candidacy, and each other's political campaign

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark

David Lightman: 202-383-6101, @lightmandavid