WASHINGTON - Democrats scrambled on Tuesday to contain the fallout for Hillary Clinton, their favoured 2016 presidential candidate, after allegations she inappropriately used her personal email for work while secretary of state.
The Clinton camp quickly sought to discredit a New York Times report published late Monday that said her exclusive use of a personal email account from 2009 through 2013 and a lack of email preservation may have run afoul of the Federal Records Act.
The report got wide play, largely because it fuels a political narrative from Republicans that Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, are obsessed with secrecy and seek to play by a different set of rules.
Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill, however, said Clinton had followed both the "letter and spirit of the rules" while she was secretary of state.
The State Department also defended Clinton, with spokeswoman Marie Harf saying, "There was no prohibition on using a non-state.gov account for official business, as long as it's preserved."
Democratic lawmakers and party loyalists tried to cast Clinton's use of personal email as nothing unusual. They noted that previous secretaries of state, including Colin Powell, used personal accounts. They also pointed out that when Republican George W. Bush was president, senior adviser Karl Rove had used an address through the Republican National Committee to conduct some business.
A National Public Radio report said Chuck Hagel had not used an official account when he was defence secretary.
It is unclear what the damage from the report will be. The rules governing high-level officials' emails have been in flux in recent years, so it is far from certain that any formal action will be taken against Clinton.
But it does provide ammunition for critics, especially for a congressional committee investigating the events surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, attack against a US diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, in which the US ambassador to Libya was killed.
Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican congressman who chairs the House Select Committee on Benghazi, said the committee learned recently that Clinton had used more than one personal email address.
"The fact is the State Department cannot certify they have produced all of former Secretary Clinton's emails because they do not have all of former Secretary Clinton's emails, nor do they control access to them," he said.
Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah said the House Oversight Committee, which he chairs, will work with the Benghazi committee "to further explore Hillary Clinton's use of personal emails while at the State Department."
Jeb Bush, a front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination who recently released a trove of emails from his time as Florida governor, demanded transparency.
"Hillary Clinton should release her emails. Hopefully she hasn't already destroyed them," said Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell.