THE BLOG
05/29/2016 07:45 pm ET Updated May 30, 2017

True Danger Signs in Clinton Email Flap

Jim Urquhart / Reuters

There will be no criminal charges against Hillary Clinton in the flap over the use of her private server for State Department business. There will be no finding that Clinton broke any federal laws in using her private server. There is no evidence whatsoever that Clinton jeopardized national security by the use of her private server. The never-ending, House-controlled GOP investigating committees have not found and will not find any new improprieties in the email flap. But that won't stop yet another committee from trying mightily to manufacture them. The point will be made again and again that former Secretary of State Colin Powell also used his private email server during his stint at State. The point will also be made that the protocols about the use of a private email server to conduct official government business were tightened after Clinton's state Department tenure.

Any other time, this would render the issue of Clinton's emails a non-issue. However, this isn't any other time. What Clinton did or didn't do with her emails and what she knew or didn't know about their use, was never the issue. The issue is Clinton in the White House. The GOP attack line is that Clinton is shady, untrustworthy and, less charitably, a serial liar. This has been ramped up just enough by the State Department inspector general, finger pointing at Clinton for being sloppy and careless in the use of her emails and not telling the truth about it. This is fed by a media that salivates at the mere hint of any Clinton scandal.

None of this is really new stuff, and there's no foreseeable possibility that this could derail Clinton's campaign. This doesn't mean that there aren't danger signs in the email controversy. The first is the danger that it could reinforce the very widespread notion that Clinton is prone to shade the truth about embarrassing or compromising issues. When the email flap broke in March 2015, polls did show two things. One is that a lot of people were paying attention to it and that they didn't like it, or, in far too many cases, her. It was at this point that the Clinton negatives began to march upward. The negatives were not just among Republicans. That was predictable. However, many Democrats and independents also began to mumble doubts about her too.

This was the point that the label of "dishonest" and "untrustworthy" became a regular feature of the GOP's talking points about Clinton. It also was embedded in much of the chatter from the media and public about Clinton. At every turn, Clinton had to hear shouts from some in the media about her emails and what this said about her integrity. It got so bad that Bernie Sanders tossed out a great throw-away line in a debate about being sick of talking about "those damn emails." The issue, though, wasn't going to go away. The fresh report from the inspector general that raised a cloud over Clinton's truthfulness about the emails made sure that it stayed front and center.

The second danger is that the issue could continue to rear its head as a distraction during the general election showdown with Trump. The few times that Trump doesn't try to hammer her with it, others will, and Clinton will have to take precious time out to again answer questions about what she did and why she did it with her emails.

This poses the greatest danger of all. That is that the campaign will be the kind of campaign that Trump revels in. This is a campaign of muckraking, dirt and mud-slinging, personal insult, insinuations and character assassination. Trump has tried to do that with his attacks on Bill Clinton as a serial sexual abuser, and worse, a rapist. The aim was to get Hillary into a public media shouting match with him over the tawdry allegation. Hillary hasn't take the bait. But there will be more to come.

The aim, as always, is twofold. One is to plant the seed even deeper in the general public that the Clintons are the personification of sleaze. The other is to blur, ignore and flat out dodge any real talk about tax reform job growth and the economy, health care, wealth and income inequality, civil rights, environmental concerns and criminal justice reforms. These are the issues that any election should be about, and what the media and the public should care about. But when you have a candidate who can throw a big ballpark curve on sex and emails, then the temptation to obsessively chatter on about this could prove too irresistible to pass on.

Clinton will do everything she can to try to take the high road and let the inspector general's reports speak for themselves; that is to say that there was no law breaking involved and move on. The danger is that others will do everything possible to make sure she can't.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is How "President" Trump will Govern (Amazon Kindle) He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.