SALINAS, Calif. – Hillary Clinton is telling voters not to trust Donald Trump. But a new government report about her usage of a private email server as secretary of state is complicating that message.
The sharp rebuke from the State Department’s inspector general, which found Clinton did not seek legal approval for her homebrew email server, guarantees that the issue will remain alive and well for the likely Democratic presidential nominee for a second summer.
The new report comes at a particularly challenging time for the Clinton campaign, as she faces a two-front war against presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump and primary rival Bernie Sanders.
Already, Clinton faces questions about her trustworthiness, with months of polling showing voters give her low marks for integrity.
It’s a narrative that Trump has been eager to encourage. In the early weeks of his general election campaign he’s dubbed Clinton “Crooked Hillary” – a moniker intended to underscore questions about integrity.
And he’s focused on the scandals of her husband’s administration, insinuating that questions still remain about those controversies.
“She had a little bad news today, as you know. Some reports came down, weren’t so good,” Trump told thousands of supporters packed into the Anaheim Convention Center. “Not so good. The inspector general’s report – not good.”
Sanders made no mention of the inspector general report during a rally in Cathedral City, near Palm Springs, choosing instead to point to polls that show him faring better against Trump than Clinton inhypothetical matchups.
“The inspector general’s report speaks for itself. We have no additional comment,” said campaign spokesman Michael Briggs.
Though he’s declined to turn the email inquiries into a pivotal issue during the primaries, Sanders has spent months questioning Clinton’s record on economics, foreign policy and even social issues including same-sex marriage.
While she’s a mere 78 delegates from capturing her party’s nomination, Clinton been unable to edge her primary rival out of the race – or win over his most passionate backers.
Protesters backing Sanders greeted Clinton at a rally in Salinas, Calif., on Wednesday with signs reading “Hillary 4 Jail.” Former President Bill Clinton, campaigning separately in New Mexico, ended up in a 30-minute debate with a 24-year-old Bernie Sanders supporter, who asked a question about the president’s record on welfare.
Clinton avoided questions about the report at her campaign events on Wednesday, ignoring reporters who tried to press her on the issue.
Her campaign cast the report as little more than a rehash of existing information about her email set-up, saying the finding showed that problems with record retention dated back years at the department.
They eagerly highlighted that other officials failed to follow department policy by using a personal account to conduct government business – specifically Republican Colin Powell, who used a personal email account, but left them in a government server at the end of his tenure.
“As this report makes clear, Hillary Clinton’s use of personal email was not unique, and she took steps that went much further than others to appropriately preserve and release her records,” spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement.
But the new information released by the State Department does call into question some claims made by Clinton herself, most notably her argument that she appropriately preserved her correspondence and that she was happy to “talk to anybody, anytime” about the matter.
Clinton and her aides declined to be interviewed for the investigation by the State Department. She’s said she made a mistake by setting up server in her New York home and that she never sent or received anything marked classified at the time.
Republicans seized upon those inconsistencies on Wednesday.
“This report underscores what we already know about Hillary Clinton: she simply cannot be trusted,” said House Majority Leader Paul Ryan, in a statement.
What worries Democrats more is what may be coming. The FBI investigation into whether Clinton’s use of a private server caused her to mishandle classified information is still ongoing. Officials recently interviewed Clinton’s top aides, including former chief of staff Cheryl Mills and deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin.
Clinton aides say she has not yet been interviewed by the agency, though she’s repeatedly promised to co-operate with the investigation.
A federal indictment would cause serious damage to her campaign.
At least a few Democrats hope that voter’s uneasiness with Clinton will be outweighed by their dislike of Trump. Polling shows him preforming little better than Clinton. In a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted earlier this month, 42 per cent of Americans rated Clinton more trustworthy, while 40 per cent said Trump.
“Hillary has said it was a mistake to use private email, and has apologized for it,” said longtime Clinton aide Paul Begala. “Meanwhile Donald Trump is promoting wild, cynical, noxious conspiracy theories about Vince Foster’s suicide. Has anyone asked him to apologize for that?”