It was supposed to be so much easier for Hillary Clinton.

She had years to prepare for her moment. She had the team in place, the money raised and the vast network of supporters that is the back bone of team Clinton. They’ve run for president a combined three times, so they know what they are doing.

But her falling poll numbers are now inviting serious competitors to think about jumping into the race for the Democratic nomination. So what happened? Simply, it’s the tale of two phones.

When she was secretary of state, Clinton says she simply didn’t want to carry two phones. She chose to use a private server stored in her New York home instead of the official government email.

That is highly unusual. The reason it usually isn’t done is pretty simple: the general practice is that all government records are kept by the government.

That way, if a Congressional Committee or a journalist wants to look into what their officials are doing, they can request and sometimes get the records. In later years, they will be used by historians.

30,490 emails reviewed

There are some Republicans saying the reason she didn’t use her government account is because she wanted to be able to keep her correspondence secret.

Hillary Clinton's diplomatic legacy

If that was her intention, it went horribly wrong. She’s turned over 30,490 emails to the State Department. The staff there are now going through the 55,000 pages to see if they can be released. 

You might be thinking that is a lot of emails, but it turns out that’s less than half of the emails she sent and received as secretary of state.

She says her team found 31,830 emails that they deemed “private”. She says those were deleted and the server wiped clean.

Republicans have been screaming, "cover-up". It might be that those emails contained nothing more than her grocery shopping lists, but her opponents say if she had nothing to hide, why did those emails get deleted and why take steps to try and get rid of any record of them?

It’s just getting worse for her as this story develops. She repeatedly said she was confident that there was never any classified material on her server. An independent inspector general was given just 40 emails to look at and he found two did in fact contain "top secret" material.

Serious crime

Mishandling classified information is a serious crime in the United States. If charged and convicted, you can face up to 10 years in prison. The State Department says the emails were sent to the secretary and while the information was classified, it was not marked or labelled that way.

After insisting she would not let anyone see her server, the pressure has gotten so intense that she had to turn it over to the FBI. They are currently trying to find out if the deleted emails can be recovered.

This is a controversy that is not going away. It’s likely hurting her campaign more than it would any other candidate because she has the last name Clinton.

There is a narrative that underlies much of the media’s coverage of them. It is that they are overly secretive almost to the point of being paranoid. Wiping servers doesn’t help dispel that belief.

The polls are not going in her direction. In one taken in the critical state of New Hampshire, Senator Bernie Sanders, once considered a fringe candidate, is beating her.

In Colorado, 62 percent of the people asked say Clinton is not honest and trustworthy compared to 34 percent that believe she is. That is a problem for any candidate who is also facing a severe enthusiasm gap as her campaign gets under way.

You would be hard-pressed to find anyone in Washington that would have said Hillary Clinton wasn’t going to be the nominee for the Democratic Party months ago. That is no longer the case.

I’ve spoken to pundits who say that she still has time to recover. The election is, after all, very far away. She has time, but it isn’t unlimited and now that the FBI is involved, she can no longer control how soon the story goes away.

If we take Hillary at her word, all of this controversy was because she didn’t want the inconvenience of carrying two phones. In retrospect, she says that was a mistake. The question now is how much that mistake will cost her.

Source: Al Jazeera