UNITED NATIONS—While Democrats defended Hillary Clinton and the answers she offered to the controversies swirling around her nascent campaign, many found one word uttered by their expected presidential candidate troubling: "convenience."
In her opening statement to reporters before taking questions, Clinton said she had "opted for convenience" when choosing to bypass the State Department's official, authorized email and instead use a personal account and a private server. She didn't want to carry two mobile devices, as so many officials in Washington regularly do to keep personal and official communications separate.
"Looking back, it would have been better if I had simply used a second email account and carried a second phone, but at the time, this didn't seem like an issue," she said, clearly aiming to convey dismay that anyone would think this controversy warranted attention at all.
Several Democrats, even those who rushed Tuesday to support Clinton after the press conference, said that rationale and her team's messaging strategy wouldn't quiet her critics.
"I don't know if I'm more concerned about the 'convenience' [explanation] than I am about the almost arrogance of the way this has been handled by her staff and the secretary," said Boyd Brown, a Democratic National Committee member from South Carolina. "It could have been handled better—a little less flippant than it was."
Another Democrat, a progressive strategist, noted if "convenience" was the explanation for Clinton's choice of email accounts, that could have been addressed immediately, rather than waiting until more than a week after The New York Times first broke the news.
"Her gingerly coming out and saying that it was all for convenience eight days later was a little bizarre," the Democrat said. "If it was all for convenience, this could have been answered in a tweet."
Longtime Democratic aide Jim Manley agreed, saying the former secretary of State's word choice will cause her problems going forward. "I think some folks are going to have a problem with that particular word," he said. "I think she handled everything as well as can be expected, but if you are asking me whether she can put all of this behind her after one 21-minute press conference the answer is no."
Other Democrats—including some who would only speak on the topic if they were not named—argued that Clinton's stick-to-the-talking-points approach left something to be desired.
"It made me cringe," said one Democratic operative. "No, it wasn't the worst press conference—she didn't lose her cool, she didn't lash out. It just felt so stiff and so structured and so orchestrated that it's almost like she was caught off-guard. "¦ There was a human element that was missing."
Still, the network of Clinton defenders went into full force after the press conference, with David Brock releasing a statement saying Clinton sufficiently explained that she was being transparent with her work-related emails.
Brad Woodhouse, president of the Brock-owned Democratic opposition research firm American Bridge, posted similar sentiments on Twitter: "Questions are asked and answered," he tweeted.
Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf said Clinton made clear what was private and what wasn't: "They did everything they were required to do—I don't know why anyone would have a problem with that."
But Brown said the bigger problem is that the email story as a whole is a major "distraction" for Democrats when Clinton and the party should be talking about bigger and more important things.
"Emails don't put food on people's tables and they don't fix America's infrastructure—and they sure as hell don't reform Wall Street," he said. "It's a continuous sideshow that we have to put up with. Sadly I don't see it changing."
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