Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton ended her 244-day run without a news conference Friday, taking questions on topics ranging from her email scandal to her friendship with African-Americans before a crowd of black and Latino journalists in Washington.
Clinton apologized anew for using a private email server during her time as secretary of state but she stood by her position that she’d never transmitted information marked classified and defended her controversial claims that FBI Director James Comey had said her statements on the scandal were truthful.
It was the third time in a week that she’s insisted on that version, though fact-checking sites have pointed out that Comey has contradicted Clinton’s statements on the emails, both in a July 5 nationally televised statement and in subsequent testimony before the House of Representatives.
In a line delivered half-jokingly, Clinton allowed that she might have “short-circuited” in an interview Sunday on the issue for Fox News: “I have said during the interview and on many other occasions over the past months that what I told the FBI, which he said was truthful, is consistent with what I have said publicly.”
The campaign of Republican nominee Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee immediately released statements Friday portraying Clinton as a liar who’d failed to take the opportunity to “come clean about her secret email setup.”
Clinton spoke before a packed crowd at a Washington hotel where the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists held a joint convention, the nation’s largest gathering of media professionals of color. Convention organizers said they’d also invited Trump but that he’d declined.
Clinton’s appearance began with brief remarks rehashing the platform laid out at the Democratic National Convention last week. Some of her flourishes – such as invoking the names of several black and Latino civil rights figures – elicited grumbles about pandering from audience members.
Given the venue, most of the questions posed to Clinton focused on issues important to black and Hispanic voters.
When asked what Trump’s popularity said about racism and xenophobia in the electorate, Clinton said the bigger issue driving the Trump movement was “the real pain many Americans are feeling because the economy has left them behind.”
A Latina reporter noted that President Barack Obama is sometimes criticized as the “deporter in chief” and asked Clinton how her record would differ. Clinton reiterated her campaign pledge of comprehensive immigration restructuring with a path to citizenship and said her administration would not be “deporting hardworking people and break up families.”
Perhaps the most buzzed-about question came when Kevin Merida, a former Washington Post editor who now heads ESPN’s The Undefeated site, asked Clinton to recall her most meaningful conversation with an African-American friend.
Some audience members called the question provocative, with the potential to assess the diversity of the candidate’s brain trust. Others saw it as too soft, even irrelevant, at a time when officer-involved shootings and high incarceration rates are of more concern to black voters.
Either way, Clinton certainly appeared caught off guard, first blurting out, “Oh, my gosh,” accompanied by a small laugh. She then named several African-American friends, women in particular, and drew laughs from the audience when she described how “they’ve supported me, they’ve chastised me, they’ve tried to expand my musical tastes.”
Perhaps the biggest applause came after a Washington Post reporter gave Clinton a subtle reprimand for her lack of news conferences, issuing a request on behalf of the press corps: “We encourage you to do this more often.”