NEW YORK — Hillary Rodham Clinton acknowledged on Tuesday that her use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state was a “mistake” and apologized directly for it, uttering words that many of her allies have waited to hear from her in hopes she can quell a controversy that has dogged her presidential candidacy for months.
“That was a mistake. I’m sorry about that. I take responsibility,” Clinton said in an interview with David Muir of ABC News broadcast Tuesday evening. “And I’m trying to be as transparent as I possibly can.”
Her remarks came a day after she told the Associated Press that she did not need to apologize, saying, “What I did was allowed.”
And in an interview with Andrea Mitchell of NBC News last Friday, Clinton, asked if she was sorry, allowed only that she was “sorry that this has been confusing to people and has raised a lot of questions,” but insisted that there were “answers to all these questions.”
For weeks, several of Clinton’s advisers had privately said they hoped she would acknowledge a mistake in clearer, blunter terms.
But others on her team, saying they were bound by the constraints of a complex situation, with several investigations underway, argued that Clinton was limited in her ability to defend herself.
For her part, Clinton had long insisted that the controversy was a news media fixation and argued that voters had not raised it with her on the campaign trail. At a Democratic dinner in Iowa last month, she joked about the iPhone application “Snapchat,” whose pictures delete themselves, in an allusion to her e-mails. A few days later, when a Fox News reporter asked if she had wiped her server of data, Clinton quipped, “What, like with a cloth or something?”
But Clinton’s standing in public opinion polls has suffered amid continuing reports about her private e-mail server and whether it contained classified information.
In recent days, Clinton’s aides have signaled that she planned to address the e-mail controversy more openly, and with a tone of humility rather than defensiveness.
In an Aug. 26 news conference, Clinton said she understood why people had questions about the e-mail arrangement, which she said came about as a matter of convenience so she could carry only a single mobile device. She said she took “responsibility” for the decision to use the private server and said it would have been better to have used a private e-mail only for personal matters and an official one for work.
Last week, Clinton’s aides showed a video of that news conference to a New Hampshire focus group of independents and Democrats, according to a Democrat briefed on the focus group whose account was confirmed by a person in her campaign. Participants said they wanted to hear more from Clinton about the issue. The focus group also showed that the e-mail issue was drowning out nearly everything else that Clinton was hoping to communicate to voters.
Clinton herself has complained to friends, as has her husband, former president Bill Clinton, that nothing has been able to penetrate the e-mail noise.
Hillary Clinton has turned over 55,000 pages of e-mails to the State Department, which is reviewing them to comply with lawsuits related to Freedom of Information Act requests. After sorting through the remaining 31,000, which Clinton deemed personal and not work-related, she deleted them. She has been adamant that she sent no material that was marked classified at the time.
Several of Clinton’s allies have privately compared her resistance to using the word “mistake” to her similar reluctance to say she had erred in voting to support the invasion of Iraq in 2002 when she was a senator. That vote dogged her in the 2008 presidential primary, but Clinton resisted calling it a mistake for months, despite entreaties from many liberals.