5 Questions About the Hillary Clinton E-mail Controversy Answered

"With All Due Respect" hosts Mark Halperin and John Heilemann break down the most important points of the Clinton e-mail story.

How Dangerous Is E-Mail Scandal for Hillary?

On With All Due Respect Thursday, hosts Mark Halperin and John Heilemann devoted their entire show to the fast-moving Clinton e-mail controversy. 

With Republicans pouncing on the story that Clinton used a private e-mail account and server during her time as secretary of state, possibly in violation of the Federal Records Act, the Democratic frontrunner is facing her first significant bump on what could be a 2016 White House campaign. So far, the presumptive candidate's response to the revelations has been summed up in a single tweet in which she called for the State Department to make her e-mail correspondence public. 

Halperin and Heilemann took a moment to try and answer the most pressing questions that have emerged so far. 

1. Is this scandal more dangerous than others the Clintons have faced? 

Halperin: I mean, look, even assuming the worst, almost the worst facts, this is not Whitewater, for all the threat that that poses. This is not Lewinsky, but this is dangerous because of Twitter, and social media, and the ability of conservatives to whip things up. And it's dangerous because of the timing because she's about to announce for president. And it's dangerous because she has got less infrastructure around here now than she has for years and years.  

Heilemann: I think it's also dangerous because of this thing about the DNA that we are talking about. You think about the things that people, a lot of people, admire the Clintons and the Democratic Party, obviously. There are also things that make them uneasy. And there are things like secrecy, paranoia, playing by their own rules, not having an organization, and staff or people who will tell them when to do the right thing when they're about to do the wrong thing. There are a lot of Democrats who were really nervous about having her as the nominee in 2008. And deep down they're nervous about having her as their nominee in 2016. And this thing brings all those fears to the surface. 

2. In light of the tweet Clinton released on Wednesday night, what is Team Clinton's strategy is to deal with the controversy? 

Heilemann: First, it is surprising, right? We very rarely see the Clintons back down in any way, and so this—the notion that she felt as though she had to, or her people felt that she had to give some ground ... that is striking. So she is giving some ground. Secondly, she's buying time and hoping that this thing all just subsides. The Clintons, as you know, we both know, have seen their share of flaps. And a lot of them do blow over relatively quickly. I think part of her thinks that if she can buy some time for herself, this will kind of maybe fade from view and not be as threatening as it seems to her right now. 

Halperin: She has already lawyered up, David Kendall, who's worked with the Clintons a lot on scandals. I predict, based on one conversation I had today, that she is going to, if not lawyer up more, she's going to as she builds her campaign team there's going to be a pretty quick focus on who can a war room, who can be a master of disaster like Chris Lehane, and Mark Fabiani and Lanny Davis were for her husband, who can figure out a way to lead what now needs to be the classic Clinton defense war room posture, legal, communications, everything else.

3. Where does this story go next? 

Halperin: Well it's like a six-ring circus. I think the most important rings is the State Department—the AP and others [are] reporting they may take months to go through the e-mails and decide which to release. You also obviously have investigations on Capitol Hill. The new normal, I tweeted this yesterday, the new normal is the press will be sympathetic to Benghazi investigations by Republicans. That wasn't true a week ago. That's the new normal and it's bad for Hillary Clinton. 

Heilemann: We have talked a lot in the last few months about how smart it was and how important it was that Hillary Clinton is bringing in people from Obama world into her campaign, Joel Benenson, Jim Margolis, et cetera, et cetera ... But the truth is so far they're M.I.A. because there is no campaign, but also the truth is that deep down, six years, eight years later from the 2008 thing there is still distrust, enmity, bitterness between those camps. And there are people in that White House right now who feel as though she has screwed them over. 

4. Who is winning right now, Clinton's critics or her defenders? 

Heilemann: This is like Muhammad Ali against a bunch tin cans. The Republican side is winning, and winning pretty dramatically. You talked yesterday when you talked to David Brock about how, and you quoted a quote back to him where he said that the Clintons had an elaborate damage control operation. That was true back when David Brock said it in the early to mid-1990s. It is not true right now ... She has some defenders, right? But right now the Republicans are much more because they have been building for weeks and months now. They've been building their energy. They've known that she's public enemy number one. They have been waiting for this moment and now they are pouncing on it. 

Halperin: You look at these Republican groups, and I'd say this objectively, the Democrats, the DNC put out something today trying to push back saying Republicans have their own e-mail problems. The fact is that the stuff that's being put out by Boehner's office, by America Rising and by the RNC is high quality because it is based, more than the normal spin documents, in fact with a really smart explanation of what are the unanswered questions, and there are a lot of them. 

5. Will this scandal hurt Hillary Clinton's chances of being elected? 

Halperin: Yes ... And I don't want to be hyperbolic. I think she's still the most likely person to be elected president. But her chances go down, not just because of these two current problems, the foundation, which we've talked less about, but it's still for a lot of people a lot of big questions on that. But this e-mail thing where the unanswered questions are a lot bigger, but because of what it says about her readiness to do this, and the difficulty she is going to have of launching a presidential campaign. 

Heilemann: Let me go back to the thing I said earlier about the 2008 race, which you and I both know well. There were a lot of Democratic establishmentarians who were nervous about her and her ability to be a standard bearer. They thought she was too polarizing. They thought she couldn't carry red and purple states and they worried about her husband's personal life. None of those things actually exploded, and yet they found an alternative in Barack Obama. I think there are a lot of Democrats on the left and other places that are worried in different ways about Hillary Clinton now. This has now exploded, and for a bunch of Democrats who previously thought there's no use in standing in the way of an oncoming train, they are now going to look at this and think, I now have a pretext to maybe get in this race. That's why I think it materially affects her outcome. People like Elizabeth Warren will now start to think.

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