In two interviews over the weekend, Bill and Hillary Clinton both sought to link this year's ongoing email inquiry to what they described as the long-running string of baseless scandals and “accusations” they’ve been beating back since the ‘90s.
On Sunday, in a lengthy exchange on Meet the Press about the personal email account she used as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton invoked the scandals that dogged her husband’s administration. “During the ‘90s, I was subjected to the same kind of barrage,” she said. "And it was, it seemed to be at the time, endless."
While acknowledging, as she has stated repeatedly in recent weeks, that she takes “responsibility” for the questions raised about her personal email setup, Clinton added that she’s been “involved from the receiving side in a lot of these accusations” for decades.
“In fact, as you might remember during the ‘90s, there were a bunch of them. And you know, all of them turned out to be not true. That was the outcome.”
Clinton added that, in spite of the controversies — the Gennifer Flowers scandal, the “Travelgate” questions, and the Whitewater investigation — she was still elected to the U.S. Senate following her husband’s two terms in the White House. “When I ran for the Senate, the voters of New York — they overlooked all of that and they looked at my record,” she said, “and I was elected senator after going through years of this kind of back and forth."
"And it is, you know, it’s regrettable,” Clinton said. “But it’s part of the system."
At various points this summer, before her campaign began to engage more with the substance of the email inquiry, Clinton also likened the issue to the Republican-led congressional investigation into the Benghazi terrorist attack — both results, she said, of “the usual partisanization” of “anything that goes on” in presidential politics.
The majority of the Meet the Press interview was spent on questions about Clinton's emails.
Clinton dismissed the theory that she set up the private server in an attempt to evade Freedom of Information Act requests or congressional investigators:
"It's totally ridiculous. That never crossed my mind. And in fact, since more than 90% of my work-related emails were on the system, they are subject to FOIA or any other request. That's how the Benghazi committee got the emails even before we, you know, went through our exhaustive process."
She addressed a previously undisclosed email chain with David Petraeus, then commander of U.S. Central Command — which dates prior to March 18, 2009, when aides have long said Clinton began using her personal email account:
"Well, everything that we had access to was certainly out there... There was a transition period. You know, I wasn't that focused on my email account to be clear here."
She spoke about the server in her Chappaqua, N.Y., home, and the time it took for the account to be set up during the stated "transition period" in 2009:
"...It was already there. It had been there for years. It is the system that my husband's personal office used when he got out of the White House. And so it was sitting there in the basement. It was not any trouble at all. I know there are a lot of people who are questioning that. But the fact is that it was there. I added my account to it. It apparently took a little time to do that. And so there was about a month where I didn't have everything already on the server and we went back, tried to, you know, recover whatever we could recover. And I think it's also fair to say that, you know, there are some things about this that I just can't control."
And she said she took no part in the review of her correspondence, conducted by her attorneys last year, to sort her personal emails from her work-related emails:
"I wanted them to be as clear in their process as possible. I didn't want to be looking over their shoulder. If they thought it was work-related, it would go to the State Department. If not, then it would not."
In a separate interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria, which aired on Sunday, Bill Clinton also called these scandals a “regular feature” of presidential politics.
"It always happens. We're seeing history repeat itself. And I actually am amazed that she's borne up under it as well as she has,” he said. "But I have never seen so much expended on so little."
“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 investigation,” Bill Clinton said. “So this is just something that has been a regular feature of all of our presidential campaigns, except in 2008 for unique reasons.”
When Zakaria asked if the questions are really part of a “Republican plot” — calling back to Hillary Clinton’s infamous “vast right-wing conspiracy” charge in 1998 — Bill Clinton said no, because “a plot makes it sound like it’s a secret.”
"There are lots of people who wanted there to be a race for different reasons,” he said. "And they thought the only way they could make it a race was a full-scale frontal assault on her. And so this email thing became the biggest story in the world.”
On Meet the Press, when asked about her husband's comments to Zakaria, Clinton replied, "I love my husband, and you know, he does get upset when I am attacked. I totally get that. But we also get the fact that look, this is a contest."