Hillary Rodham Clinton says there is an obvious reason so many Americans are skeptical of her trustworthiness: It's the handiwork of what she once termed the "vast right-wing conspiracy" against her and her husband.
Drawing from a familiar Clinton family playbook, Clinton told CNN in her first national interview as a 2016 presidential candidate that the dim perception that voters have of her honesty and trustworthiness is the result of being "subjected to the kind of constant barrage of attacks that are largely fomented by, and coming from, the right."
"This is a theme that has been used against me and my husband for many years," Clinton said. "I mean, people write books filled with unsubstantiated attacks against us, and even admit they have no evidence." But, she said, reporters cover the attacks as if they are legitimate news. "So of course that is going to raise questions in people's minds," Clinton said.
It's a defense that is certain to further antagonize Clinton's Republican critics, who were quick to issue a statement. The interview, said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, showed Clinton "is unwilling to shoot straight with the American people and refuses to take responsibility for her actions," and "only reinforced why a majority of Americans find her untrustworthy and dishonest."
But Clinton's comment may play well with voters in the early caucuses and primaries. In a telephone poll conducted for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics in late May, nearly three-quarters of likely Iowa caucus voters interviewed said the controversies surrounding Bill and Hillary Clinton don't show a pattern of unethical behavior, but that the Clintons "just get a bad rap."
Clinton's interview with CNN in Iowa City on Tuesday was a milestone for a candidate who had been carefully avoiding such interaction with the national news media. As rivals conduct one interview after another and seek out media exposure, Clinton has kept interaction extremely limited since launching her campaign nearly three months ago.
Clinton's decision to start doing interviews comes amid a surge of support for Democratic rival Bernie Sanders, the more liberal senator from Vermont whose frank talk on the campaign trail is proving popular with voters. It also follows an optics debacle for the Clinton campaign over the Fourth of July weekend, when reporters trying to cover the candidate as she marched along at a parade were corralled by campaign staff in between ropes that moved along the parade at a distance from her.
"I just have a different rhythm to my campaign," Clinton said, when asked about her reluctance to sit for interviews. "I'm not running my campaign for the press. I'm running it for voters."
She addressed some of the issues she has avoided talking about on the campaign trail. She said the work of the embattled Clinton Foundation should continue if she becomes president. "I have no plans to say or do anything about the Clinton Foundation other than to say how proud of it [I am] and that I think for the good of the world, its work should continue," Clinton said.
Clinton also repeated that she did nothing wrong by conducting government business on a personal email account while secretary of State. "Everything I did was permitted by law and regulation," Clinton said. She even suggested some good has come out of the controversy, as reporters now pick through the 55,000 government emails she sent on that account.
"I think it's kind of fun," Clinton said. "People get a real-time, behind-the-scenes look at what I was emailing about and what I was communicating about." She joked about one particular email that reflected her considerable difficulty getting a fax machine to function. It was "a secure fax machine, which is harder to work than the regular," Clinton said.
During the interview, and at an earlier Iowa forum with voters, Clinton offered a glimpse of how she would be attacking Republicans on the issue of immigration. She said that although Donald Trump's comments deriding Mexican immigrants were particularly outlandish, every Republican candidate was on the "spectrum of hostility" toward immigrants.
"They don't want to provide a path to citizenship," Clinton said. "They range across a spectrum of being either grudgingly welcome or hostile.... I am 100% behind comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship."
Clinton did, however, say the "sanctuary city" of San Francisco made a serious mistake in not turning over to federal authorities a detained man who was in the country illegally and had previously been deported five times. After his release by local authorities, he killed a 32-year-old woman, authorities say.
"Any city should listen to the Department of Homeland Security, which as I understand it, urged them to deport this man after he got out of prison another time," Clinton said. "I have absolutely no support for a city that ignores strong evidence that should be acted on."
Amid plans by the Treasury Department to put a woman on the $10 bill, Clinton also declined to offer ideas of who that woman should be. (Some of her supporters would like it to be Clinton.) But she did suggest the more widely used $20 bill may be the more appropriate place for a woman to debut on American paper currency -- and that whoever that woman is should not share the space with a man, as is planned for printings of the $10 bill.
"That sounds pretty second-class to me," Clinton said. "A woman should have her own bill."