Hillary Clinton’s Path to ‘Sorry’ Involved Pleas from Supporters and a New Hampshire Focus Group

Hillary Rodham Clinton
AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo

Hillary Clinton did not want to apologize for her decision to use a private email server while Secretary of State. She was finally convinced to do so over the last week after aides ran a focus group and later directed her friends to speak directly to the candidate about the need to shift her approach.

The New York Times reports on what it calls the “tortured path” toward an apology, one that seemed long overdue to many observers, including some of Clinton’s own nervous donors. The turnaround that resulted in her using the S-word for the first time this Tuesday actually began last week when aides set up a focus group of Democrats and Independents in New Hampshire.

The focus group was shown an interview Clinton had done with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, one in which Mitchell twice asked Clinton if she was sorry or had regrets. The results from the focus group indicated that Clinton’s standard answer, i.e. in retrospect this wasn’t the best choice, was not satisfying to her potential voters. On the contrary, people in the focus group wanted to hear more about the email and didn’t seem to be listening to anything else she said.

Meanwhile, Clinton’s supporters were getting nervous. The Times reports today, “Frustration reached a fever pitch among some of her supporters, who sounded an alarm in calls to Clinton campaign aides.” But the campaign aides were not the ones telling Clinton to stay the course. Over her August vacation it was Bill Clinton who was telling Hillary she had nothing to apologize for. Many of Clinton’s aides didn’t feel comfortable contradicting that advice or her own apparent inclination to follow it.

Finally, Clinton’s aides directed her friends and supporters to talk directly to the candidate. Those personal conversations were apparently the last straw. In an interview that aired Tuesday night, Hillary told ABC News‘ David Muir, “That was a mistake. I’m sorry about that.”

Clinton world may hope that the apology offered after six months of bad press and worse polls will put an end to the story. Unfortunately, there are several reasons to think the story will drag on for months to come. First, the release of Clinton’s emails by the State Department will likely continue in to next year. And with each release come new questions and a new total of the number of emails judged to contain classified information.

Second, the FBI is investigating the security of Clinton’s server and is believed to be looking for evidence it was hacked. Finding that evidence will depend on being able to restore the data that was wiped from the hard drive (or drives). The whole process could take weeks or months to complete and it’s impossible to know where it might lead. It’s still unlikely Clinton will be criminally investigated but her aides or others involved might not be so lucky.

Finally, the fact that her former (privately paid) IT specialist is pleading the 5th suggests some questions may never be answered at all. And that suggests, like the IRS story involving Lois Lerner, the story could be one that slowly fades but never really go away.


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