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NYT: Hillary 'Taken Aback' By Email Scandal, Strongly Resisted Apologizing

What's most fascinating about this New York Times story, which ran over the weekend, isn't that it depicts Hillary Clinton as unapologetic and calculating. It's that the Times spoke to at least six sources within her inner circle who helped paint the unflattering portrait, charting Hillary's halting journey from obstinately refusing to apologize to finally issuing an insincere mea culpa as her email scandal continued to spiral.  Reporter Maggie Haberman summarized the campaign's dysfunctional internal debate in one tweet:


They're…not very good at this, are they?  The paranoid, arrogant instincts emanate from the very top:

Hillary Rodham Clinton did not want to apologize. For months, when advisers or friends gently suggested she say she was sorry for using a private email address and server while at the State Department, Mrs. Clinton would reply that her actions had been within the law and that the controversy was being manufactured by her political opponents and journalists. Apologizing, she argued, would only legitimize it. On Tuesday, she relented. In an interview with ABC News, Mrs. Clinton said using a private email had been “a mistake,” adding: “I’m sorry about that.” The tortured path to what some of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters saw as an overdue and essential step is the story of a presidential campaign in flux, adapting to unanticipated challenges it was not entirely prepared to handle – and of a candidate whose instincts, over a tumultuous lifetime in politics, have repeatedly guided her toward digging in, not giving in, when under attack…Pleas [to apologize] from friends and advisers became more fervent almost a month ago, according to interviews with a half-dozen people with direct knowledge of the discussions, most of whom insisted on anonymity to discuss private conversations.

I can't believe I'm asking this, but did the Clinton camp actively leak this story?  Regardless, we now know that Hillary finally softened her stance as her polling position continued to erode, and after her staff presented her with the findings from focus groups they'd conducted on the controversy.  (Focus groups are a staple of her campaign, it seems).  Even when presented with empirical evidence that a new approach was needed, Mrs. Clinton resisted offering a clear-cut apology over several iterations:

Early the week before Labor Day, the campaign organized two days of focus groups with voters. And on a call with the candidate afterward, a group of her top aides presented Mrs. Clinton with the results: They showed that the cacophony of coverage about her email was drowning out her campaign’s central message...But Mrs. Clinton did not quickly – or easily – arrive at the word “sorry.” In an interview with NBC News on Sept. 4, Mrs. Clinton seemed taken aback when asked if she would apologize to the American people. (So, too, were several of her strategists, who thought the question dramatically overstated the significance of the email controversy.) In the moment, Mrs. Clinton said only that she was sorry if some people were confused by it. On Monday, in an interview with The Associated Press, Mrs. Clinton showed some contrition, but also said she didn’t need to apologize – because her email use “was allowed.” Frustration reached a fever pitch among some of her supporters, who sounded an alarm in calls to Clinton campaign aides.

The most incredible thing about this passage is that Clinton and her top strategists were "taken aback" by pointed questions on the email affair, which they still consider to be a distraction and a footnote.  This is political malpractice.  Even if Team Hillary launched her campaign holding the mistaken belief that her private, unsecure email server and its tangled nest of ethical, legal, and national security ramifications really was a non-issue, months of heavy coverage should have disabused them of that notion.  As the media and Congressional investigators exposed a string of lies Hillary had told about her improper scheme (in additional to court-ordered document releases), the FBI got involved, at the behest of two nonpartisan Inspectors General. Experts say she's violated "clear cut" rules, as the chattering class buzzes over what legal and political consequences may await.  There's strong evidence that top secret material was compromised, as well as dozens of classified emails that were classified at the time they were sent and received -- stark departures from the rolling excuses Clinton has offered as previous explanations fall apart.  A recent national Quinnipiac poll asked respondents what words came to mind upon hearing the name of various presidential candidates.  For Hillary, the top three terms voters listed were "liar," "dishonest" and "untrustworthy."  Amid sliding poll numbers, a growing credibility gap, intense media scrutiny, and a 
federal investigation, the Clinton campaign was caught off guard by challenging questions?  That crosses the line from counter-productive insularity into shocking ineptitude.  Of course, a simple apology -- especially one surrounded by a blizzard of obfuscation -- misses the point.  It doesn't matter whether or not Hillary Clinton is sorry, which she reportedly isn't.  What matters is her actual conduct. Last week, journalist Ron Fournier wrote a National Journal column asking, "Sorry For What?" and listing 19 questions Clinton still must answer.  A sampling:

1. While apo­lo­giz­ing in an ABC in­ter­view on Tues­day, you said, “What I had done was al­lowed; it was above­board.” You must know by now that while the State De­part­ment al­lowed the use of home com­puters in 2009, agency rules re­quired that email be se­cured. Yours was not. Just nine months in­to your term, new reg­u­la­tions re­quired that your emails be cap­tured on de­part­ment serv­ers. You stashed yours on a home-brewed sys­tem un­til Con­gress found out. Why not ad­mit you vi­ol­ated policy? Why do you keep mis­lead­ing people?

5. Who au­thor­ized the de­le­tion of 31,000 emails from your serv­er? Who car­ried it out? Were they ap­proved to re­view and se­cure clas­si­fied doc­u­ments?

6. The pub­lic and Con­gress has no right to see your truly per­son­al email. Do you con­sider email about your fam­ily’s found­a­tion to be per­son­al? Can you guar­an­tee that none of the de­leted email in­volved the Bill, Hil­lary & Chelsea Clin­ton Found­a­tion or its donors?

7. You said you didn’t have time to think about your email sys­tem when you star­ted at State, but it ap­pears you put a lot of thought in­to it. You said you did it for the con­veni­ence of hav­ing one device, but we found out later you car­ried at least two. You also said it was for you and Pres­id­ent Clin­ton to email each oth­er, but we now know he has only emailed once in his life. Why can’t we get a straight an­swer about why you cre­ated an un­au­thor­ized, un­pre­ced­en­ted email in­fra­struc­ture?

10. You emailed your Middle East en­voy, George Mitchell, so­li­cit­ing a “reply” to your “per­son­al email.” He re­spon­ded with what is a now clas­si­fied sum­mary of his dis­cus­sion with Italy’s for­eign min­is­ter. Did you not know that type of head-of-state com­mu­nic­a­tion is in­stantly clas­si­fied? What were you ex­pect­ing to hear from Mr. Mitchell?

11. Re­mem­ber get­ting an email about the map­ping of North Korea’s nuc­le­ar pro­gram, which has since been marked clas­si­fied? Why didn’t you raise any red flags in­tern­ally, or do you think this type of in­form­a­tion should be le­git­im­ately un­clas­si­fied?

Will Hillary Clinton submit to a detailed interview on these points, preferably under oath?  Perhaps she can provide some much-needed answers on these matters, since the aide who set up and maintained her server has decided to plead the fifth.  Meanwhile, thick clouds still hang over Hillary's presidential bid.  Her prohibitive frontrunner status is now being seriously questioned, as ascendant rival Bernie Sanders has opened up double-digit leads in both Iowa and New Hampshire. And then there's this:

The company that managed Hillary Rodham Clinton’s private e-mail server said it has “no knowledge of the server being wiped,” the strongest indication to date that tens of thousands of e-mails that Clinton has said were deleted could be recovered. Clinton and her advisers have said for months that she deleted her personal correspondence from her time as secretary of state, creating the impression that 31,000 e-mails were gone forever. There is a distinction between e-mails’ being deleted and a server being wiped. If e-mails are deleted or moved from a server, they appear to no longer exist on the device. But experts say, depending on the condition of the server, underlying data can remain on the device, and the e-mails can often be restored.

One of Fournier's questions essentially boiled down to, "what are you hiding?"  With the FBI on the case
and the now-infamous wipe job appearing less comprehensive than initially thought, we may have answers to that question sooner or later.  That prospect alone guarantees that the corrosive drip, drip, drip of this story will stretch ahead for weeks and months to come.  No wonder the Democratic establishment is beginning to experience flop sweat. I'll leave you with an early review of Hillary Clinton's new focus-grouped effort to convey warmth and authenticity:

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