- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2016

Hillary Clinton so far has been able to skate through the Democratic presidential primary without having to truly confront what ultimately may be her biggest hurdles to the White House: numerous scandals and controversies that have taken a back seat in her tooth-and-nail fight with Sen. Bernard Sanders.

Mr. Sanders decided early in the race to virtually ignore his opponent’s still-unfolding State Department email scandal, foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation and other politically treacherous issues that could spell trouble for the former first lady as she heads toward a November showdown with the Republican nominee.

What Mr. Sanders was unwilling to do, political analysts say, is exactly the type of brutal political attack Republican front-runner Donald Trump specializes in. It’s unclear whether full-blown assaults on Mrs. Clinton’s private email server, the Clinton Foundation and other scandals will be effective enough to stop the former secretary’s march to the presidency, but what is clear is that the Clinton campaign must prepare for the kinds of tough questions and attacks it has avoided for the past year.

“I think Trump certainly will, through innuendo and outlandish overstatement, try to make the argument that the emails and the Clinton Foundation are discrediting, and maybe even disqualifying of Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University who specializes in presidential politics. “It depends whether he has just that right dagger thrust that she can’t overcome. Certainly it’s something that her people need to be thinking about because he’s very, very good at it.”

Mr. Sanders — who now has little realistic path to the Democratic nomination but has vowed to remain in the race all the way through the Democratic Party convention in July — seems to recognize Mrs. Clinton’s political vulnerabilities yet is unwilling to exploit them.

In the first Democratic presidential debate last year, he famously said he wouldn’t discuss Mrs. Clinton’s “damn emails” and has stuck by that position throughout the campaign, even as he fell far behind the former first lady in the delegate race.
But last week Mr. Sanders warned that the Clinton campaign must prepare for an opponent who certainly will not be so generous.

“The Republican Party will have dozens of oppositional researchers. … They will go after Hillary Clinton, by the way, in ways that I have never, ever gone after Hillary Clinton. I mean things like the Clinton Foundation or things like the email situation,” he said in an interview with MSNBC. “I don’t talk about that. I have never talked about it one word in this campaign. I suspect very much that Donald Trump and the Republican Party will go after her in many, many ways that we have not.”

An FBI investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s private email server is ongoing. During her time as the head of the State Department, Mrs. Clinton opted to use a personal email account rather than a State.gov address, and hundreds of messages that passed through that account now are marked classified.

Aside from the email scandal and FBI investigation, there also are questions about whether foreign donors gave money to the Clinton Foundation in the hopes of influencing Mrs. Clinton’s decisions while she was at the State Department.

Those and other controversies seem to have had an effect on voters’ perceptions of Mrs. Clinton. Polls consistently have shown Democratic voters consider Mr. Sanders much more honest and trustworthy than his opponent, and Mrs. Clinton herself has acknowledged she has a trust deficit that must be addressed during the course of a general election campaign.

But Clinton supporters dispute the fact that she’s gotten a free pass over the past year. They say Republicans in Congress and other critics have leveled exactly the kind of attacks Mr. Sanders has been unwilling to mount.

“Senator Sanders and his team may have tried to avoid raising some of this stuff, but Republicans, both on the campaign trail [and] in Congress, sure haven’t,” said Clinton backer Jim Manley, director of the communications practice at QGA Public Affairs and former spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. “And I have no doubt that is going to continue, with Donald Trump throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Hillary Clinton. … These issues are not going away. The Clinton campaign is going to have to deal with them in the most transparent way possible.”

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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