Was Hillary Clinton's Email Press Conference Effective?

Hillary Clinton faced reporters for 20 minutes this afternoon to answer questions about the personal email account she used while serving as Secretary of State.

Secretary Clinton repeatedly came back to the same talking points: She had operated within the rules of the State Department and opted to use a personal account (and her own server) due to the convenience of carrying one phone instead of two.

But a key question continues to hang in the air, and today’s press conference did little to answer it: If Clinton’s team decided which emails to keep and which to delete, how can anyone know whether something work-related but embarrassing was deleted?

Clinton answered that, in part, by saying that State Department rules make it incumbent upon the employee to differentiate between personal and professional emails.

But Clinton also said she wouldn’t allow an independent investigator to review the content on her server—and that it wouldn’t matter anyway, because she recently deleted all of her personal emails on topics such as her daughter’s wedding and mother’s funeral.

That, more than anything, strikes me as odd. Other than preventing other people from ever being able to see them, why delete those emails? Could she not have reached an agreement with a trusted third-party—such as a reporter or respected former government official—to review the personal emails with a guarantee of confidentiality for all emails that truly contained no work-related content?

It’s possible that Clinton’s experienced team considered and rejected that idea, calculating that the potential risk of those emails becoming public was greater than the risk of being perceived as secretive.

Several people pointed out to me that her body language—specifically her lack of eye contact—was telling. I noticed her lack of eye contact too, but due to “Othello’s Error,” am reluctant to speculate on its cause. What seemed obvious, though, is that she didn’t exactly forge a warm connection with her interrogators. 

Hillary Clinton Email Press Conference

Just like Mitt Romney found out after his refusal to release several years’ worth of tax returns, narratives can be difficult things to reverse. In 2012, I wrote the following for Politico:

“Mitt Romney has already lost the tax debate. By not releasing additional returns, he has allowed his opposition to paint the worst case scenario onto him — that there are years he failed to pay any taxes whatsoever.”

Clinton is fortunate that it’s early in the campaign. This story is unlikely to stop her seemingly inevitable march to the Democratic nomination. But she must know that any future stories appearing to confirm a lack of transparency will take hold—and that her Republican opponents will be doing everything possible to exploit that. 

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.