Clinton defends on email probe, but political challenge remains

Clinton gave an interview responding to reports that she paid a State Department IT specialist to manage a private email server for her while she was Secretary of State. 

Charlie Neibergall/AP
In this Aug. 26, 2015 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks in Ankeny, Iowa. Clinton said Sept. 4, her use of a private email system at the State Department wasn't the "best choice" and acknowledged she didn't "stop and think" about her email set-up when she became President Barack Obama's secretary of state in 2009.

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton struggled on Saturday to tamp down a stubborn controversy over her email usage while serving as United States Secretary of State, especially given reports that she paid a State Department IT specialist to manage a private email server at her suburban New York home.

Mrs. Clinton, who served as US Secretary of State for four years, stopped short of an outright apology for her email unorthodoxy on Friday, when she told NBC News that she could’ve handled the email situation better, but that the system never put national security at risk since no sensitive topics were discussed on the alternate system.

“There was so much work to be done. We had so many problems around the world,” Clinton said. “I didn't really stop and think, what kind of email system will there be?"

The FBI is looking into whether foreign spies were ever able to crack the unofficial server. Clinton’s interview and the revelations about dual income flows for her IT manager come amid Congressional investigations into the deadly 2012 Benghazi attacks as well as her email protocols. Clinton herself will go before the panel in October.

Republicans contend that Clinton’s assertions on her email server won’t appease polls that suggest that many Americans are questioning her trustworthiness as she seeks the Democratic nomination for president next year.

“There's a widespread belief in her capability to do the job she is running for,” Washington Post senior political writer Chris Cillizza wrote in April. “There's also widespread distrust in her personally.  People admire her but don't know if she's honest.”

But in some ways, the handling of the server also touched on the Clintons’ proclivity for melding private and public responsibilities. Two of her top aides have served Clinton in both civilian and official roles, sometimes at the same time. Federal regulations allow such transference, but caps outside payments to government employees to 15 percent of their annual income.

Along those lines, The Washington Post reported that Clinton had privately paid a State Department IT specialist, Brian Pagliano, for maintaining the personal server in the New York home Clinton shares with her husband, former President Bill Clinton. Mr. Pagliano last week evoked his right to not incriminate himself to beg out of a Congressional inquiry into the topic. Congress may give Pagliano immunity in order to convince him to answer questions about his role in maintaining the server.

Clinton, in her Friday interview, attempted to stay above the political fray, even as she chastised Republican frontrunner Donald Trump for dangerous “loose talk” on the campaign trail about, among others, her top aide, Huma Abedin. Clinton said her candidacy is rooted in solving problems that “keep families up at night.”

“I think you can come with your own ideas and you can, you know, wave your arms and give a speech, but at the end of the day, are you connecting with and really hearing what people are either saying to you or wishing that you would say to them?" she said.

But Clinton’s political problem is real, given some skeptical polls and the fact that the FBI remains concerned that the server may have been compromised. The question the FBI is trying to answer is whether the private email server,, may have been hacked by foreign enemies.

“The security community is focused on … the possibility that an unofficial, unprotected server held the communications of America’s top foreign affairs official for four years, leaving all of it potentially vulnerable to state-sponsored hackers,” Wired’s Andy Greenberg wrote earlier this year.

For her part, Clinton has reassured voters that she didn’t endanger national security with her email routing scheme, as she traversed the globe as America’s top diplomat.

"I am very confident that by the time this campaign has run its course, people will know that what I've been saying is accurate," Clinton said in the Friday interview. "They may disagree, as I now disagree, with the choice that I made. But the facts that I have put forth have remained the same."

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