WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton might have deleted messages, but the e-mail and server troubles haven’t been wiped from her campaign. Instead they seem to be going viral.
A federal judge in Washington on Thursday is set to hear arguments in one of the four major lawsuits brought by groups seeking information from the private server Clinton used when she was secretary of state.
Court papers filed this week in a separate case revealed that 305 of the e-mails that passed through Clinton’s private server have been flagged for more scrutiny because they might be classified. The federal government took possession of her server last week amid a Justice Department review of possible mishandling of classified documents.
The staying power of the saga has Democrats acknowledging that e-mail and server questions will continue to dog Clinton throughout the campaign if she is picked as the Democratic nominee. Some longtime supporters are aggravated that yet another Clinton campaign is being sidetracked by a self-inflicted wound.
The story is also fueling speculation that others — including Vice President Joe Biden — will get into the race.
“It is a problem,” Representative Michael Capuano, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in an interview. “She must know that.”
The e-mail story has metastasized into a sprawling narrative with multiple government agencies, inspectors general, and members of Congress seeking data about her server or reviewing her electronic messages. The sheer number of players guarantees that new revelations will continue to surface.
Clinton is scheduled to testify before the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Oct. 22, where members of the panel will quiz her about her “e-mail arrangement,” according to the committee.
“It’s going to keep going through this election, through November 2016,” said Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist who is not part of Clinton’s campaign.
If she’s the Democratic nominee, Republicans will make the e-mail saga a theme of their attack. “She gave them ammunition,” Trippi said in an interview. “They are going to use it. Period. There is no taking the ammunition back. She provided it.”
Clinton again answered questions about her server during a testy news conference Tuesday afternoon in Nevada. “What I did was legally permitted, number one, first and foremost,” Clinton said.
Clinton has also shifted the way she talks about whether classified material passed through her private server. It was initially set up at her home in New York, outside the federal government’s information technology security system.
“There is no classified material,” Clinton said in March. “So I’m certainly well aware of the classification requirements and did not send classified material.” Now she qualifies the statement, saying that none were “marked” classified.
So far the State Department has released three batches of e-mails from Clinton’s four years at secretary of state. Of the e-mails released, 62 were redacted because they were determined to be “confidential” by government officials reviewing her correspondence. One e-mail was redacted because it was found by reviewers to be “secret,” a higher level of classification.
Clinton’s team has said that information can be upgraded to classified after it was initially sent — and that such was the case for the vast majority of the now classified e-mails. “Some e-mails that weren’t secret at the time she sent or received them might be secret now,” said Clinton’s campaign communications chief Jennifer Palmieri .
Palmieri, along with other Clinton surrogates, made the case that government agencies can disagree about what is classified and what isn’t.
Additional batches of Clinton e-mails are slated to be released at the end of every month through January, just before the Iowa caucuses are set to be held, per a court order. With each batch, is the potential for the public to learn about additional e-mails sent via the private server that the federal government says is classified.
It is a point the Clinton campaign conceded, noting that in addition to the State Department a number of other intelligence agencies are reviewing e-mails before they are released.
Clinton took a lighter tone on a separate part of the e-mail saga last weekend, joking about the fact that she deleted — or tried to delete — the e-mails on her private server that were not work related. “You may have seen that I recently launched a Snapchat account,” she said in Iowa. “I love it . . . messages disappear all by themselves.”
Supporters note that Clinton continues to have a commanding lead for the Democratic nomination in national polls — and she also beats the GOP rivals in head-to-head matchups.
But her “trustworthiness” numbers are falling, leaving an opening for other heavy-hitting contenders to consider the race. Fifty-seven percent of respondents agree with the statement that Clinton is not honest and trustworthy, according to a national poll conducted by Quinnipiac University in the end of July. By comparison, 53 percent agreed with the statement when the university asked the question in the end of April.
The name most frequently mentioned as a new contender is Biden. Key donors haven’t heard from the vice president, a sign that he’s not that close to a launching a campaign.
Republicans are delighted with the talk that the Democratic field could expand.
“Why not just dust off Dukakis?” said Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, during an interview on Fox News Sunday.
Michael Dukakis, the former Massachusetts governor and 1988 Democratic nominee for president, said in an e-mail that he’s “not sure” that he’s ready for another run. A hurdle, he said, would be convincing his wife Kitty. “I might just end up in the divorce courts of Norfolk County if I suggested another national campaign!” he said.
Plus, the couple is backing Clinton.
Annie Linskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.