Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton said yesterday that she was sorry that her use of a personal e-mail account while secretary of state caused confusion, in her most contrite comments yet about an issue that is plaguing her White House bid.
Clinton, the Democratic front-runner ahead of the November 2016 presidential election, did not apologise for her own behaviour but said she was wrong not to use a government e-mail account when she was serving as the nation’s top diplomat.
“At the end of the day I am sorry that this has been confusing to people and has raised a lot of questions but there are answers to all these questions,” she told MSNBC in an interview.
Clinton has faced steady criticism from political opponents since it emerged in March that she used her own e-mail account on an unsecured private server in her New York home for official business, rather than a government-issued e-mail address.
“I certainly wish that I had made a different choice and I know why the American people have questions about it,” Clinton said. “I take responsibility. I should have had two accounts, one for personal and one for work-related.”
Doubts over Clinton’s trustworthiness have damaged her poll numbers, allowing liberal Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to narrow the gap with her as the first nominating contests for the election approach early next year.
Clinton said that while she should have behaved differently, she had done nothing wrong.
“It was allowed and it was fully above board. The people in the government knew that I was using a personal account,” she said.
The former secretary of state interview on MSNBC was only her third on television since the start of her campaign in April.
That’s far fewer than just about all of her Democratic and Republican rivals, who are tripping over one another to get coverage.
Her team promised more would follow.
“She wants to be transparent. She wants to answer any questions about Benghazi, which was the original scope of this investigation,” Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon told MSNBC. “But also her e-mail she has said is fair game, she’s willing to answer any questions about that.”
Clinton knows that the journalists following her to the US island territory of Puerto Rico are less concerned, for now, with the candidate’s detailed proposals to improve the economy or fight climate change.
It is her use of a private e-mail account and home server in lieu of the official government e-mail system while she served as top diplomat from 2009 to 2013 that is dominating the Clinton news cycle.
The Department of State, to which Hillary Clinton already turned over 30,000 official e-mails in late 2014, has publicly released thousands of them in the interests of transparency.
Many contain information that has been retroactively classified, raising questions about whether Clinton was inappropriately sending and receiving highly sensitive material, and whether sufficient security measures were in place to protect her server from hackers.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is examining the server, which she eventually handed over after months of refusal, to determine whether the arrangement has compromised secret government data.
Three committees in Congress, which is controlled by Republicans, have launched aggressive investigations and have called on Clinton employees to testify, including her adviser Jake Sullivan and her long-time adviser and lawyer Cheryl Mills on Thursday.
Clinton herself testified October 22 before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which is investigating the deadly 2012 attacks in Libya.
The committee, denounced by Democrats as a partisan propaganda tool, has broadened its probe to include Clinton’s e-mails.
That hearing will take place nine days after the first televised Democratic primary debate, set for October 13.
In March, as the scandal emerged, Clinton played down the hacking risk, assuring Americans that no classified information had been transmitted via her e-mail account.
That tone soon changed. She has recognised that voters have legitimate questions, admitting last week that, in retrospect, deciding to not use government e-mail “clearly wasn’t the best choice”.
Warning signs have emerged in New Hampshire, where her approval rating has slid and polls show liberal Senator Bernie Sanders running neck and neck against her.
The state holds the second nominating contest in the nation, after Iowa, and a victory there could help pave her path to the nomination.
Adding to the Clinton concern is Vice-President Joe Biden, who has begun publicly discussing the prospects of jumping into the race.
“The most relevant factor in my decision is whether my family and I have the emotional energy to run,” Biden, who lost his son Beau to cancer in May, said on Thursday, implying that he would be able to compete should he run.
In August, Clinton became the first major candidate to put up television campaign advertisements in Iowa and New Hampshire.
And five months before the first primaries, her team told CNN on Thursday that millions more dollars would be spent on ad campaigns in September and October.