Hillary Clinton has been dealing with questions about her decision to exclusively use a private email server while serving as secretary of state for much of the past 17 months. You would think that, in all of that time, she would have found a handful of workable answers to the inevitable questions that decision raises. She hasn't.
The latest example came Friday in Washington when Clinton spoke and took questions at a gathering of the National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists. When asked by NBC's Kristen Welker to explain why she keeps saying that FBI Director James B. Comey said all of her statements had been "truthful" even though that isn't what he said, here's how Clinton responded.
What Clinton appears to be saying is that Comey said that everything she said to the FBI was truthful (he did) and since she said publicly exactly what she said to the FBI, therefore everything she said was truthful. Her excuse for conflating the public and the private comments was accidental elision; "I may have short-circuited it" in the explanation to Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday," Clinton said.
The Washington Post's Fact Checker looked into Clinton's claim and Comey's words. Here's what they found:
FBI Director James B. Comey did tell Congress: “We have no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI.” But lying to the FBI is a criminal act; it’s a rather low bar for truthfulness.
Clinton continues to twist this statement by Comey into a line that suggests the FBI declared that her public remarks on the email issues were truthful. But Comey repeatedly refused to confirm that when pressed by lawmakers: “That’s a question I’m not qualified to answer. I can speak about what she said to the FBI.”
The Fact Checker awarded Clinton Four Pinocchios for that line of logic.
The problem for Clinton is that her explanation relies entirely on the willingness of the public to trust her on the assertion that she told the FBI exactly what she said publicly. First off, that's almost impossible to know. Second, we have some evidence that contradicts Clinton's claim. Most notably, the idea — which she reiterated Friday — that she never sent anything marked classified from her email account. Comey has testified before Congress that she did. Here's his exchange with Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who chaired the House Select Committee on Benghazi:
GOWDY: Secretary Clinton said there was nothing marked classified on her emails either sent or received. Was that true?
COMEY: That’s not true.
GOWDY: Secretary Clinton said, “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material.” Was that true?
COMEY: There was classified material emailed.
So, there's that.
This is by now a very familiar pattern with Clinton when it comes to her email server. She simply refuses to acknowledge any misstep or wrongdoing beyond an initial poor decision to exclusively use a private email server for "convenience" sake. She continues to provide legalistic answers that touch the truth but aren't entirely the truth. As I have written many times before, a campaign is not a court. Public opinion is a different thing than the law. Clinton has never grasped and seems to still not grasp that.
Her ongoing poor handling of the email issue may not matter because she is running against someone in Donald Trump who has proven uniquely unable to keep the spotlight off of him. But it suggests that if Trump could ever get his act together, Clinton still carries considerable vulnerabilities as a candidate.