Bill Defends Hillary Over Email Controversy

With the Democratic presidential field largely devoid of inter-party attacks — Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have largely stuck to wooing their own supporters, rather than taking pot-shots at one another — all the attention and coverage that's demanded by a presidential primary has been siphoning into a familiar area: the email story. And now, her former-president husband has leapt into the fray: Bill Clinton spoke out about Hillary's emails in an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria, which is scheduled to air on Sunday. And based on an excerpt posted by CNN on Saturday, he's none too happy to be talking about it.

It'll be interesting to see the full interview, but based on what's available already, Clinton employs some of that classic, authoritative smooth-talking, keen on tamping down any speculation around the ongoing controversy. His take on the whole matter — which can't help but be marred by claims of bias, but is still instructive given his own political history — is that the issue is being propped up to try to damage Hillary's image as much as possible, prior to a potential general election contest. When Zakaria asked Clinton why he thought the polls were tightening, he replied as follows, with a knowing smirk: "I think you know why."

I think you know why. I think you know why. 1992, I received a call — in '91, before I started running for president — from the Bush White House, from a man I knew, he said "we've looked at the field, you're the only one who can win. The press has to have someone every election, we're gonna give them you. You better not run." So all of a sudden, something nobody thought was an issue, Whitewater, that turned out never to be an issue, winds up being a 70 million dollar investigation. And all the hammering happened, and you ask voters "do you really believe this amounts to anything?" "No." "But do you trust him as much?" "No. There must be something."

Clinton insisted that this was a regular feature of "our" presidential campaigns, though it's not entirely clear whether he meant American presidential campaigns in general, or just Democratic campaigns — he did say that "ever since Watergate, something like this happens." He also said that 2008 was an exception for "unique reasons," although considering some of the hysterical treatment and wild conspiracy theories President Obama weathered, that might be deliberately overlooking some things.

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Ultimately, though, he argued that the ongoing email controversy amounts to little more than political gamesmanship, because the Republicans "don't want to run against her."

I'd rather it happen now than later. And it was always gonna happen. The other party doesn't want to run against her, and if they do they'd like her as mangled up as possible. And they know that if they leak things, say things, that is catnip to the people who get bored talking about what's your position on student loan relief, or dealing with the shortage of mental health care, or what to do with the epidemic of prescription drugs and heroin out in America, even in small towns in rural America, or how are you gonna get jobs into coal country given how much they've lost in the last 20 years.... I've never seen so much expended on so little.

Whatever you might think of Clinton, his laid-back yet authoritative demeanor on this subject shows why he continues to be one of the purest definitions of "politician" in modern American history. His rhetorical skills, even to this day after years out of office, are on par with anyone the Republicans could trot out right now, and he could probably give anyone on the Democratic side a run for their money, too. That's not to say he never fouls up now and then — he did his reputation some real damage during the 2008 campaign, by virtue of some offensive and petty comments he made about Obama. But up against the current Democratic field, and in any possible general election scenario, he figures to be a strong and effective advocate for Hillary's campaign.