Franken: Hillary’s strategic retreat

  • Saturday, August 15, 2015 4:37pm
  • Opinion

It’s classic Clinton strategy: In the 20 years-plus that I’ve covered them, I’ve dealt countless times with their legal-political tactics (or is it the other way around?) of digging in and hoping the controversy goes away, then when it doesn’t, retreating when few are looking, and hoping once again that the issue either fades or can be finessed when it comes up months later. Usually when it does, it is dismissed as “old news,” with a possibility that we in media, with our tunnel vision, are single-mindedly focused on the big story of the moment and don’t have time for this.

So it is with the infamous private email server that Hillary Clinton utilized when she was secretary of state. By now, we all know that she bypassed the government system for her own. In March, when that was reported, she finally held a news conference to reluctantly deal with an issue that was already hitting her in her longstanding weak spot: her credibility.

She had grudgingly released to the State Department the emails she and her advisers determined needed to be turned over to avoid controversy … note that she chose which ones. Furthermore, they would not be handing anyone her server because the rest of her communications on it were non-official, personal stuff, like family matters.

Besides, she went on, she had wiped the server clean. So the family matters would no longer be there for prying eyes to see, even when the family runs the Clinton Foundation and even when questions have persisted about foreign donations to their charities while she was secretary of state. That was then.

The next day I was among those on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program who agreed that, if ordered to, she certainly would turn over the server or else. And four months later, persistent Republican House committee investigators and equally persistent attorneys in various court cases have, in fact, forced her hand. In true “know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em” fashion, her spokesman declared: “She directed her team to give her email server that was used during her tenure as secretary to the Department of Justice, as well as a thumb drive containing copies of her emails already provided to the State Department. She pledged to cooperate with the government’s security inquiry, and if there are more questions, we will continue to address them.”

Note that the announcement came as those of us in the tunnel-vision media were singularly preoccupied with all thing Donald Trump. So the decision, significant as it is to Hillary Clinton — whose trustworthiness ratings in polls are pretty dismal — is nevertheless a concession made in the darkness, outside the glare of our obsession with The Donald.

But a huge consideration remains: Remember, she saw to it that the server had been wiped clean. Are federal agents able to use sophisticated forensic technology to recover the stripped data, or is it gone forever? By now there are so many questions about the thousands of entries she deemed personal, and still more about her emails with close aides and friends, which also might add to the swirling controversy.

But for now, Hillary Clinton has faced reality and turned over her server. We have no way of knowing whether it contains material that is legally difficult or politically troublesome. Her campaign immediately belittled the whole matter as “nonsense.” We don’t even know whether we’ll ever know.

It’s doubtful, however, that these maneuvers will solve one of the fundamental problems of her candidacy, her credibility. If she’s the nominee, her campaign may have to rely less on perceptions of her character and more on emphasizing the wackiness of her Republican opposition. But that’s over a year away, enough time for the Clinton forces to hope, true to form, that the issues go away. Or that they find some other way to obfuscate.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN

More in Opinion

An array of stickers awaits voters on Election Day 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The case for keeping the parties from controlling our elections

Neither party is about to admit that the primary system they control serves the country poorly

Voters fill out their ballots at the Challenger Learning Center in Kenai, Alaska on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Voter tidbit: Important information about voting in the upcoming elections

Mark your calendar now for these upcoming election dates!

Larry Persily (Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: State’s ‘what if’ lawsuit doesn’t much add up

The state’s latest legal endeavor came July 2 in a dubious lawsuit — with a few errors and omissions for poor measure

The entrance to the Homer Electric Association office is seen here in Kenai, Alaska, on May 7, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion file)
Opinion: Speak up on net metering program

The program allows members to install and use certain types of renewable generation to offset monthly electric usage and sell excess power to HEA

Gov. Mike Dunleavy signs bills for the state’s 2025 fiscal year budget during a private ceremony in Anchorage on Thursday, June 25, 2024. (Official photo from The Office of the Governor)
Alaska’s ‘say yes to everything’ governor is saying ‘no’ to a lot of things

For the governor’s purposes, “everything” can pretty much be defined as all industrial development

Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. board members, staff and advisors meet Oct. 30, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The concerns of reasonable Alaskans isn’t ‘noise’

During a legislative hearing on Monday, CEO Deven Mitchell referred to controversy it’s created as “noise.”

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: Crime pays a lot better than newspapers

I used to think that publishing a quality paper, full of accurate, informative and entertaining news would produce enough revenue to pay the bills

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo
Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom addresses the crowd during an inaugural celebration for her and Gov. Mike Dunleavy at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Jan. 20, 2023.
Opinion: The many truths Dahlstrom will deny

Real conservatives wouldn’t be trashing the rule of law

Gov. Mike Dunleavy discusses his veto of a wide-ranging education bill during a press conference March 16 at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Governor, please pay more attention to Alaskans

Our governor has been a busy guy on big issues.

Priya Helweg is the acting regional director and executive officer for the Region 10 Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
Happy Pride Month

This month is dedicated to acknowledging and uplifting the voices and experiences of the LGBTQI+ community

A roll of “I voted” stickers sit at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Juneau in 2022. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Strengthening democracy: Native vote partners to boost voter registration

GOTNV and VPC are partnering to send over 4,000 voter registration applications this month to addresses and P.O. boxes all over Alaska

Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
Former President Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower after he was found guilty of all counts in his criminal trial in New York on May 30.
Opinion: Trump’s new fixers

Fixers from Alaska and elsewhere step in after guilty verdict