Apologies are not Hillary Clinton’s forte. At least that’s what Clinton’s allies and top campaign aides think, according to the hacked emails from campaign chairman John Podesta. The emails posted online by WikiLeaks this week show their frustration over her unwillingness to apologize for using a private email server to communicate while she was secretary of state, an issue that has plagued her campaign since it was made public in March 2015.
FBI Director James Comey said that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring a case against Clinton, but he called her handling of classified information “extremely careless.” While many Democrats have criticized Clinton’s campaign staff for their handling of the email server controversy, these messages make clear that the candidate herself was the one resisting apologizing for it.
In one email exchange from September 2015 between Podesta and Neera Tanden, a longtime Clinton ally and president of the liberal advocacy group Center for American Progress, Podesta suggests that Tanden email Clinton to advise her to apologize. “Why get hung up on this,” he wrote. “Tell her to say it and move on.” Tanden seems completely baffled at Clinton’s resistance to say sorry publicly. “This apology thing has become like a pathology,” she wrote.
In a separate email chain with Podesta three days before, Tanden also wrote that apologies are Clinton’s “Achilles’ heel.” Before Podesta had a chance to respond, Tanden followed up: “I mean, what is really the big deal to say I made a mistake with not having two emails and I’m sorry.”
These messages back and forth came after Clinton made a half-hearted apology in an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “I am sorry that this has been confusing to people and has raised a lot of questions,” she said at the time. Just doing this interview made communications director Jennifer Palmieri email that “I actually cried a little bit with relief.” It took almost another week until Clinton relented and called her private email server a “mistake.”
The leaked emails show that even the initial lukewarm apology took several weeks of prodding from Clinton’s top aides. On Aug. 7, the campaign principals went endlessly back and forth editing a statement from Clinton admitting that her email setup while secretary of state was a “mistake.” Clinton’s director of speechwriting, Dan Schwerin, added that he hoped the statement could “be followed in the coming days by more fulsome comments on camera.” But that statement was never released and it was nearly a month before Clinton agreed to address the issue on camera.
Of course, many if not most politicians resist admitting they were wrong. Donald Trump rarely says he’s sorry for anything, though he was forced into a big apology earlier this week. But Clinton’s reluctance to publicly apologize can come with political consequences, as she learned during her 2008 campaign against Barack Obama. The issue then was Clinton’s vote for the Iraq War. It was not until she published her book “Hard Choices” in 2014 that Clinton finally admitted: “I got it wrong. Plain and simple.”