Hillary Clinton used a CNN Democratic town hall event Monday in Iowa to pillory Donald Trump for “dangerous” rhetoric targeting Muslims, calling the GOP front-runner “shameful” even as her own behavior as secretary of state is under investigation by the FBI.
Clinton also refused to admit an “error in judgement” for keeping a private email server in her home, sending classified emails on unsecured networks and destroying more than 30,000 emails she said were purely “private.”
“I’m not willing to say it was an error in judgment because what — nothing that I did was wrong. It was not —- it was not in any way prohibited. And so …” she said.
Clinton appeared at the event along with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. Each showed up onstage separately and mostly took questions from the audience.
One of those questions was from an American Muslim woman who seemed almost cast for the role by CNN as counterpoint to Trump’s argument that Muslim immigration should be temporarily halted until safeguards are in place. Though garbed in a hijab, she was listed as an Air Force veteran and said she was a mother of three who wanted to know: “How can we make sure that the United States today is — that we protect the constitutional rights of all groups of people without marginalizing any one community?”
Hillary knew just what to do.
“One of the most distressing aspects of this campaign has been the language of Republican candidates, particularly their front-runner, that insults, demeans, denigrates different people,” Clinton said. “He has cast a wide net. He started with Mexicans. He’s currently on Muslims. It’s not only shameful and contrary to our values to say that people of a certain religion should never come to this country, or to claim that there are no real people of the Muslim faith who share our values, and to have the kind of dismissive and insulting approach. It’s not only shameful and offensive, which it is. I think it’s dangerous. And it’s dangerous in several ways.”
The New York Post, meanwhile, reported that, “The FBI is investigating whether members of Hillary Clinton’s inner circle ‘cut and pasted’ material from the government’s classified network so that it could be sent to her private email address.” The peril presented to U.S. security and secret operatives abroad might also be considered, by reasonable people, “dangerous in several ways.”
Host Chris Cuomo eventually got around to asking Clinton about the “email issue,” noting that the Des Moines Register newspaper said “when she makes a mistake she should just say so.” Clinton’s answer was classic Clinton.
“You know, I had no intention of doing anything other than having a convenient way of communicating, and it turned out not to be so convenient. So again, we’ve answered every question and we will continue to do so. But you know, maybe being faster, trying to scramble around to find out what all of this means, I probably should have done that quicker.”
Cuomo said: “You’re willing to say it was an error in judgment, you should’ve apologized …”
Clinton, waving her hands wildly as she paced the stage, replied: “No. I’m not willing to say it was an error in judgment because what — nothing that I did was wrong. It was not — it was not in any way prohibited. And so … But part of the problem, and I would just say this as, not an excuse but just as an explanation. When you’re facing something like that you got to get the facts. And it takes time to get the facts. And so when I said hey, take all my emails, make them public. That had never been done before, ever, by anybody. And so we’ve been sorting our way through this because it is kind of a unique situation.
“I’m happy people are looking at the emails. Some of them are, you know, frankly a little embarrassing. You know. You find out that sometimes I’m not the best on technology and things like that. But look, I think it’s great. Let people sort them through. And as we have seen, there is a lot of — you know a lot of interest. But it’s something that took time to get done.”
With the Iowa caucuses just seven days away, Clinton and Sanders played to their strengths, with Clinton emphasizing her experience and Sanders his leftist, insurgent message.
Much as the Republicans are divided between Establishment candidates and the base, the two leading Democrats separated along outsider-insider lines. Both Sanders and Clinton pitched themselves as the candidate “of the people,” willing to work with the other party to get things done in Washington. But the way they would go about it and the qualifications they touted for doing so were very different.
Clinton made little effort to hide her lofty place in the Democratic hierarchy, emphasizing her time as secretary of state and even presenting herself as having had something to do with the economic expansion during her husband’s presidency.
Not only is she trying to eliminate inequality, but she’s been doing it forever, Clinton noted.
“I think it’s fair to say I have a 40-year record in going after inequality,” said Clinton.
Her main departure from the Establishment character she is was a kind of spastic excitement she tried to show, perhaps trying to convince the youths swooning for Sanders that she still has vigor.
Sanders drew fierce contrasts to Clinton, embracing socialism and calling for a political revolution. He noted that while experience is important, it’s not the only thing that matters — citing the crises our nation faces today that are so serious “we need to go beyond Establishment politics” to solve them.
“We are touching a nerve with the American people who understand that Establishment politics just aren’t bold enough,” Sanders said.
Sanders was able to draw a strong contrast to Clinton on foreign policy — mainly the war in Iraq — and Wall Street.
Both candidates needed to bring their A-game Monday night, and they did. Clinton needed to show up and discuss her record, and do so in a way that didn’t alienate any potential Sanders voters. Sanders needed to continue his anti-Wall Street rhetoric and appear as the same genuine, personable and relatable candidate that many Democratic voters — especially millennials — are attracted to. Each succeeded.
Sanders’ refusal to distance himself from his leftism seems to be working. Ahead of Monday’s town hall, CNN’s Poll of Polls averages show Sanders inching ahead of Clinton in Iowa with 46 percent to 44 percent. Perhaps that’s in part because recent polling from Selzer & Co. shows that 43 percent of Democratic caucusgoers in Iowa say they would use the word “socialist” to describe themselves, which is bad news for Clinton.
Just moments before the town hall, both sides were playing the expectations game. Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, said his candidate needs to do well in Iowa, but doesn’t need to win there. Joel Benenson, chief strategist for the Clinton campaign, downplayed New Hampshire, arguing the campaign always knew that would be a tight race.