Hillary Rodham Clinton’s email scandal and questions about her integrity bubbled to the surface of the Democratic presidential race Tuesday, as rival Lincoln Chafee refused to vouch for her honesty and trustworthiness.
The jostling among contenders in the Democratic contest has been cordial compared to the raucous name-calling on the Republican side, and Mr. Chafee struggled not to break decorum when he challenged Mrs. Clinton’s character and judgment.
The former Rhode Island governor said that Mrs. Clinton, the front-runner for the party’s presidential nomination, had suffered “self-inflicted wounds” and had to answer questions about her exclusive use of private email for official business as secretary of state, possibly breaking laws on handling classified documents.
“The rules were clear when she came in about using separate devices. Now she has to answer the questions,” Mr. Chafee said at a breakfast roundtable with reporters in Washington that hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
He also pointed to foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation while Mrs. Clinton was America’s top diplomat, which potentially posed a conflict of interest.
These issues have hit Mrs. Clinton in the polls, with more than 50 percent of voters nationally saying they don’t think she is honest and trustworthy, though she still enjoys a huge lead in the Democratic primary race and remains the odds-on favorite to win the nomination.
At the breakfast, Mr. Chafee dodged a reporter’s question about whether thought Mrs. Clinton was honest and trustworthy.
“She has a record of accomplishments and high intellectual contributions to public service, and we’re in a primary and I’m going to focus on issues and judgment calls, and that’s what we’ll be doing over the course of the primary campaign,” he said. “That’s the way it should be.”
Pressed for an answer, he said Democratic voters would render the final verdict on Mrs. Clinton’s character.
“We’ll talk, I’m sure, about lapses of judgment,” said Mr. Chafee.
He said that Mrs. Clinton possibly handling classified material on her private email account and the decision to pocket foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation “are subjects that we should be talking about in the campaign and who’s best to represent the Democratic Party when all the dust settles. That’s the way it should be.”
Mrs. Clinton has been dogged on the campaign trail by questions about her unusual email arrangements as secretary of state, which shielded her official correspondence from inquiries by Congress and from public requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
She has insisted that she followed the rules and used a private email account only because, she said, it was more convenient for her than juggling two smart phones, though photos and news accounts later showed she had been quite adept at that task.
The email also has become a focus of the House Select Committee on Benghazi that has sparred with Mrs. Clinton and the State Department over access to her email records.
House Speaker John A. Boehner on Tuesday urged Mrs. Clinton to “come clean” and turn over the private email server she used to the State Department’s inspector general.
“Despite evidence to the contrary, Secretary Clinton continues to maintain that she never had classified email,” Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, told reporters at a weekly press conference on Capitol Hill.
“Now, let’s not be fooled here. Secretary Clinton is a former senator, a former secretary of state, she knows exactly how classifying material works,” he said. “At this point, the best thing for Mrs. Clinton to do is to come clean and just turn the server over to the IG at the State Department.”
Mrs. Clinton handled at least four emails that should have been labeled as classified documents, according to a report by the inspectors general for the State Department and the intelligence agencies. The matter has been referred to the Justice Department for investigation.
Her email may have never been archived or available for public viewing if not for the House select committee investigating the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Nearly two years after she left office, and after congressional investigators learned about her account, she turned over about 30,000 messages that she deemed official business to the State Department and erased another 32,000 messages that she deemed personal.
At some point, she wiped clean the email server kept in her home in Chappaqua, New York, preventing any of the messages from being recovered.