Guest Opinion: Clinton has questions to answer

Miami Herald, June 9
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Hillary Clinton is safely on her way to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia as the party’s presumptive nominee for president, but that doesn’t mean she’s clinched the deal with skeptical voters.

The former first lady is on the verge of becoming the first woman to be nominated for president by a major political party, a historic milestone worthy of celebration. It represents a testament to her energetic pursuit of the prize over almost a decade and her years of valuable experience in public service.

But there’s a downside that she can’t ignore. Clinton consistently scores badly on favorability ratings. One recent calculation puts her negative rating at 55.5 percent. Neither she nor her supporters should take comfort from the fact that Donald Trump does worse.

There is little she can do to persuade those who harbor irrational hatred for “the Clintons” — and they are legion — to come over to her side. But she’s kidding herself if she thinks her negative ratings are just a result of unfavorable or unfair press coverage, or that voters will be willing to give her a pass because she’s preferable to Trump.

She can start to deal with the questions voters have by working to clear up doubts about the private email controversy, which remains under scrutiny by the FBI. Clinton has tried to laugh it off as no big deal, but the 83-page report by the State Department Inspector General issued last month makes clear that this was not a mere oversight.

— The department had issued a variety of clear guidelines against using unofficial communications to ensure the proper preservation and avoid cybersecurity risks. Secretary Clinton ignored the guidelines.

— Officials were told to ask the department’s IT experts for help with sensitive communications outside the official network. Despite the fact that thousands of her messages contained sensitive material, the IG found no evidence that she ever asked for help.

—The department warned diplomatic posts to avoid conducting business on personal accounts. That message was sent out over Clinton’s signature — though she herself wasn’t following the rules.

At the very least, Clinton displayed careless disregard for standard practice in her email communications. Yes, Secretary of State Colin Powell did much the same during his tenure, but the guidelines were less strict at the time, and the department’s technology was weaker. Cybersecurity was less of an issue. It does not excuse Clinton’s behavior.

Eventually, the FBI will disclose the results of its investigation. We hope it’s soon. Americans deserve answers before the campaign nears the conclusion. But Clinton can help her own case, once and for all, by answering questions in a news conference focused on this issue.

Clinton has not held a real news conference in more than six months. What’s that about? She fends off criticism by pointing to the 300-plus interviews she’s done in that same period. But that’s not the same as taking questions from reporters in a news conference, a tougher format that makes it harder for officials to dodge the truth.

If Clinton has failed to get ahead of the email controversy, it’s because she hasn’t taken it seriously. She should. It’s not going away, and as long as it persists, so will questions about her lack of transparency and her unwillingness to talk straight to the American people.