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Clinton Says She Didn't Think Private Email Would Be 'An Issue'


Hillary Clinton faced the media today to answer questions for the first time about the private email account she used while secretary of state.


HILLARY CLINTON: Looking back, it would have been better for me to use two separate phones and two email accounts. I thought using one device would be simpler, and obviously it hasn't worked out that way.

BLOCK: After a week of stories about these emails, let's just say there was some pent-up demand. So many reporters tried to cover Clinton's news conference that they didn't all fit. And, of course, this is getting the attention it is because Clinton is widely expected to announce within weeks that she is running for president.

We're joined now here in the studio by national political correspondent Mara Liasson and also White House correspondent Tamara Keith. And, Tamara, let's start with you. What else did Hillary Clinton say about why she used - exclusively used a private email account instead of a State Department account?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: She said she just didn't want to walk around with two BlackBerrys. And at the time she said State Department rules allowed her to use a personal email address for official business as long as those messages were retained for this historical record. She said there were about 60,000 emails in total from that time when she was Secretary of State, and about half of them were work-related, about half were personal. But she insisted none of them contained any classified information. The State Department has a system of diplomatic cables for classified communications. Late last year Clinton says her team reviewed all of these emails and turned over all of the ones she says were related to State Department work.

But she says they deleted the rest - those that were determined to be personal, including emails about planning Chelsea's wedding and yoga routines. Separately today, the State Department said it would take several months to review all of the emails it now has from Clinton, and that when they're done reviewing them, those emails will be posted on a publicly available website. Clinton insisted at this press conference that she is confident in the whole process.


CLINTON: I feel like once the American public begins to see the emails, they will have an unprecedented insight into a high government official's daily communications, which I think will be quite interesting.

BLOCK: Now, Tamara, the news conference was held at the United Nations. It was announced only a few hours before it started. How did all this come about?

KEITH: Clinton was scheduled to speak at the U.N. to commemorate the 20th anniversary of this very famous speech she gave in Beijing where she said, human rights are women's rights, and women's rights are human rights. And this was supposed to be part of sort of a choreographed ramp-up to her all-but-certain presidential campaign. But then the controversy over these emails became all-consuming. She's been silent on it for a week, aside from just one tweet. And it got to the point where she had to come out and say something. Getting into the U. N. is pretty challenging if you aren't credentialed, so reporters had to go through this security gauntlet. But even so, it was packed. She called on seven reporters, and from start to finish, the press conference lasted 20 minutes. So there's still going to be some pent-up demand.

Also after the press conference, the head of the select committee investigating Benghazi came out and said he's going to have to call her to appear before the committee.

BLOCK: Well, let's bring NPR's Mara Liasson into the conversation. Mara, we heard Hillary Clinton today saying this was all just about convenience - didn't want to carry two devices when she could carry one. If you talk to folks within the National Democratic Party, what are they saying about this?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, they've been pretty worried about this, and that's why you heard Democrats like Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin saying, please come out. Put this to rest. Your silence is hurting you. This really was the first test of presidential character for Hillary Clinton - was a test to see what she'd learned from the past, how transparent she would be. And Democrats that I've talked to after this press conference said she did pretty good. She wasn't defensive. She didn't look like she was angry at the press. However, she didn't say that she'd release her server to an independent third party. If that's the bar, she isn't going to meet that, and she can't meet that. And most Democrats think that she will be able to defend that because those are her personal emails. Jeb Bush - other prominent potential presidential candidates have private email accounts and decided on their own, just like Hillary Clinton, what to release.

But this is something that isn't going to go away. As Tam just said, Trey Gowdy said he's going to be calling her. As a matter of fact, I think he tweeted that he was going to call her at least twice before the presidential election.

BLOCK: Tamra, you are just back from a weeklong trip to Iowa.


BLOCK: The early caucus day - what did you hear from Democrats while you were out there about this?

KEITH: There was certainly some eye rolling from Democratic activists I spoke with, as in, oh, really, this is happening? But most people I spoke to said that they were eager for her to jump in and officially start running for president. Now, of course, these activists are true believers. One described herself as wearing rose-colored glasses. But to a person they turned it around, and instead of criticizing Clinton, criticized the Republicans, turning to that idea of the vast right-wing conspiracy that Clinton first talked about back in 1998.

And these Democrats - they're seeing Republican candidates coming to the state all the time - or prospective candidates - and they have no one to get behind. They want someone - preferably, many of them want Clinton - someone to jump in and say they're running for president.

BLOCK: And Mara, the sense you're getting about this long-term - does this story stick? Does it have legs?

LIASSON: Well, I think it will have a certain amount of legs. The irony is that this speech and the other speeches she's given in recent weeks - the one to the Silicon Valley women's group, EMILY's List at the Clinton Initiative, today at the U.N. - they were all about women and girls. This was supposed to set the table for her campaign, which was going to be announced pretty soon. It's been overwhelmed by the email story. For those of us who've covered the Clintons for a very long time, this is a sense of deja vu because the controversy overwhelms everything else.

But I think what the bottom line of this tells her is that she has to get her campaign set up pretty fast. She needs a spokesperson to answer questions about things she doesn't want to talk about like the emails and that can free her up to make presidential-candidate-level comments like she did today when she poked the Republicans about their letter about Iran. That's what a presidential candidate does. So I think you saw her today being a de facto presidential candidate, but without the structure to support her that allowed this controversy to basically fester for more than a week.

BLOCK: And Tamara, one last thing. Apart from the transparency questions about which emails were preserved and which weren't, there were also security questions raised about whether by having an exclusively private email accounts, security - the security of these documents was questionable.

KEITH: She insisted that they had not been hacked and that it remains a secure and also that nothing classified was sent out over this email account - that anything classified would have been...

BLOCK: In those cables.

KEITH: ...In the wires - in those cables. But it's her word, and I think that a lot of skeptics out there are not convinced.

BLOCK: OK, NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Also, national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks to you both.

KEITH: You're welcome.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.