Clinton Controversies Drag On as Next Phase of Campaign Begins

Questions about the Clinton foundation, e-mails, and the Benghazi committee are set to linger through summer.

Candidate Controversy: Which Story Is More Damaging?

Hillary Clinton is facing a convergence of controversies and questions, old and new, that are likely to drag through the Democratic nominating convention into the general election and offer Republicans a ready-made framework for attacks.

A Wall Street Journal report this week is bringing renewed scrutiny of the Clinton Global Initiative, founded by her husband, and raising questions about whether Clinton would be able to disengage from the tangled personal and business ties of former President Bill Clinton and the family's foundation. A Republican-led House committee is aiming to release its report on the 2012 attack  on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, in July, as both party conventions are getting underway. The FBI, meanwhile, is working to conclude an investigation into her use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state.

“This kind of stuff isn't going away any time soon, and I hope the campaign is going to move aggressively to deal with it in the most transparent way possible,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and former top communications adviser to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

Clinton's style typically is to hunker down for as long as it takes for storms to pass, a stark contrast to presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. While he faces a challenge in trying to unify his party and defends his shifting stances on topics from foreign policy to taxes, Trump responds by sitting for back-to-back television interviews, staying on the offensive no matter the controversy.

Clinton, who's been in the national spotlight since her husband was elected president in 1992, has been under little pressure to respond to questions about the foundation, the FBI investigation, or Benghazi in the Democratic nomination race. Her challenger, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, has said explicitly that he's not interested in raising those issues. That suggests both campaigns read Democratic voter sentiment as set on Clinton's long public history and, barring a new revelation, the controversies won't change many minds.

But in making the case for his own candidacy, Sanders has argued that that Republicans won't be reticent about tackling the e-mail investigation or the Clinton foundation, and persistently highlights surveys showing him outperforming Clinton against Trump.

The most recent questions surrounding the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation stem from a report about its subsidiary Clinton Global Initiative helping set up a $2 million financial commitment in 2010 to a for-profit company part-owned by people with ties to the Clintons. The Journal also said Bill Clinton endorsed the company for a federal energy department grant. One of the part-owners of the company, Energy Pioneer Solutions Inc., is a woman whose longstanding personal friendship with the former president has been a source of intrigue and speculation in political books and tabloids.

Clinton's campaign didn't respond to requests for comment, and the foundation rejected any suggestion that there was any conflict of interest.

“No funding from the Clinton Foundation went to finance this or any other commitment, and CGI has no role in implementing commitments that our members pledge,” the foundation said in a statement, describing the Clinton Global Initiative as a “marketplace” for participants to find funding.

Manley said he doesn't blame the Clintons for sometimes being “a little too cautious,” given “that they've been burned so many times by bad reporting and outrageous allegations.”

“It's natural in these kind of situations to try and starve the oxygen out of it by trying to avoid it,” he said. “But whether right or wrong, these issues aren't going away.”

Rodell Mollineau, a Democratic consultant based in Washington, said the Clinton campaign should be well prepared for the questions and controversies that will be raised in the campaign.

“In the hyper, 30-second news cycle world we live in, I think you need to craft appropriate responses,” Mollineau said. “Any campaign, not just this campaign, needs to get out ahead of stories.”

Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist and veteran of the presidential campaigns of John Edwards in 2008 and Howard Dean in 2004, said, “The Republicans will use all of it—Benghazi, e-mails, the Clinton foundation.”

Still, he said, Clinton has a long history of rebounding from attacks.

“Trump has his style and she has hers,” he said. “I might handle it differently. But it's worked for her. She succeeded, became a senator, became secretary of state.”

Tracy Sefl, who served as an adviser a pro-Clinton super-PAC that promoted her 2016 run before her campaign's official launch, said Clinton is no stranger to overcoming scrutiny.

“She is more familiar with it than anyone,” she said.

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