Hillary Clinton is responsible for her choices. Bad choices. Dodge federal transparency and security rules for email. Take money from foreign countries that discriminate against women and seek influence over U.S. policy. Dispatch David Brock, Lanny Davis, and other professional dissemblers to discredit critics and fair questions.
Staggered by self-inflicted wounds, the former secretary of State reportedly plans to hold a news conference. This presents her with a choice between the right way and wrong way to manage a public-relations crisis in the post-Internet era, when the 1990s tactics of deflection, deception, and victimization are less relevant than a phone booth.
Option No. 1: The Right Way
Clinton strides confidently into the room trailed by aides carrying an email server once registered to her home. "President Obama gave me the honor to serve the American people as secretary of State," she says. "While serving in that office, I wrote and received thousands of emails. These emails belong to the American public, not to me. I am turning them over to the State Department—all of them."
Photographers inch closer to Clinton, their cameras whirring and flashing. "I recommend that a ruthlessly independent entity be selected to review the email to determine which ones are private, which ones should immediately be made public, and which ones fall under public-archive rules. My actions have damaged the public's trust in the integrity of my email cache. I'll take whatever steps are necessary to earn back that trust."
Reporters gasp. One starts to shout a question, but Clinton politely cuts her off. "I have more news," she smiles.
"The advisory board of the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Foundation has decided to return every donation received from foreign countries with less-than-ideal records regarding women's rights and/or terrorism."
"What about"¦ ?" a reporter shouts. Clinton nods and continues. "Furthermore, the foundation is considering whether to return all foreign donations, including the gracious gifts from upstanding allies like Canada. We'll make that decision in consultation with good-government groups, and let you know all about it. From this day forward, the foundation will accept no more foreign donations."
Clinton takes a sip of water. "While we appreciate the altruism behind these donations and are proud of the important work done on behalf of millions of people, the Clinton Foundation never should have accepted foreign money. That was a mistake. It was wrong and I am sorry. While the foundation and its donors did nothing wrong, even the perception of a conflict of interest must be avoided."
She smiles, nods at the cameras. "I think this is a bit overblown. But let's be honest: There would be no controversy had I made a different set of choices. My political enemies are attacking, but I'm the fool who gave them the opening," she chuckles. "The ends do not justify the means. Any questions?"
Reporters ask a few forgettable questions. Columnists praise her decision. Editors declare the controversy over. Republicans pout.
Option No. 2: The Wrong Way
Clinton strides confidently into the room and stands behind a lectern. Reading from a teleprompter, the former secretary of State delivers a long and detailed defense of her email system. Something about a misplaced desire to protect the sanctity of executive communications. Something else about "robust security," transparency, and accountability. Reporters roll their eyes and shift to the edges of their seats. Poised to pounce.
Clinton shifts blame to her staff and the White House. She chastises the media. She denounces her political enemies. "Any questions?"
Reporters shout. They jump to their feet. They trip over themselves asking questions. Clinton takes them all—every ugly question:
QUESTION: "Mrs. Clinton, in 2007, you said of the Bush administration: 'Our Constitution is being shredded. We know about the secret wiretaps, the secret military tribunals, the secret White House email accounts.' You called this 'a stunning record of secrecy and corruption, of cronyism run amok.'"
"You were absolutely right then, Mrs. Clinton. So why are you defending your secrecy? Why shouldn't the public assume corruption and cronyism has run amok?"
QUESTION: "You're right, Mrs. Clinton. The issue with the email is secrecy. Well, and rule-breaking. Cronyism and corruption are at issue with the Clinton Foundation. Can you tell us why you guys entered into partnerships with at least six banks that were under investigation, involved in litigation, or had been fined by government agencies and regulators? What do you suppose those banks expect in return?"
QUESTION: "Back to the emails, Mrs. Clinton. You claim one of your concerns was the security of the State Department email system. But security experts say your actions exposed your emails to hacking, and you're smart enough to know that. So what's the real reason for a secret, rule-breaking system?"
QUESTION: "You consider yourself a champion of women's rights. But you accepted millions of dollars from countries that treat women like dirt? Is there no line you won't cross to pad the foundation's endowment? If so, what is it?"
QUESTION: "How many emails did you send? Did you corresponded electronically with the president? With foreign leaders? And how many of those emails involved classified information? Exact numbers, please."
QUESTION: "I'm sorry, Mrs. Clinton. You didn't answer that last question. Did you use this secret, rule-breaking email account to transmit classified information with the president and foreign leaders?"
QUESTION: "I guess you're not going to answer that question. Let me try another: How often did you use the secret, rule-breaking email system to correspond with Clinton Foundation officials and donors?"
QUESTION: "If you allowed us to examine emails to and from foundation donors on this secret, rule-breaking email system, how many conversations would we find involving the discussion of favors for donors?"
QUESTION: "That last question angered you, but you didn't answer it. Try these two: Who told you this secret, rule-breaking email system was OK? Why do you keep telling us that Republicans do this, too? Even if you were right about that, don't you pretend to be better than the GOP?"
QUESTION: "Still no answers, Mrs. Clinton. Let me ask you this: Why are members of your inner circle—people who've worked directly for you and/or the foundation, fellow Democrats, people who love and are loyal to you—telling us to follow the money? Why are they warning us about worries over pay-for-play?
QUESTION: "Why are you doing this to yourself, Mrs. Clinton? Why shred your credibility like this? Why not just turn over all the emails and the server?"
QUESTION: ""¦ and return the foreign money." (Crosstalk) (Laughter)
QUESTION: "People are laughing at you."
QUESTION: (Crosstalk) " ...eroding trust in government."
QUESTION: "What are you hiding?"
QUESTION: "What are you hiding?"
QUESTION: "What are you hiding?"
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.