Everyone in Washington is talking about Hillary Clinton’s email controversy – except Democrats in Congress.
The mere mention of Clinton’s travails sent Democrats scrambling to avoid commenting, if they answered questions at all.
“I’m not up to speed on it. I’m really not,” Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, who runs the Senate Democrat’s campaign committee, told reporters. “Check back.”
“I don’t know enough about what those rules are, honestly, to comment,” said North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.
Clinton is under the deepest scrutiny she’s faced since leaving government amid revelations that she used private – rather than official – email during her tenure as Secretary of State. The development raises questions about her compliance with government transparency rules and comes at a time when she’s the unquestioned front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, even though she hasn’t announced a campaign.
The controversy is leaving Democrats on Capitol Hill in a tough spot as they seek to avoid defending a questionable practice without further complicating Clinton’s political prospects. For now, many are simply pleading ignorance when asked to comment.
“I must admit I’ve been busy with other things around here like Prime Minister Netanyahu and things like that. So I haven’t looked at it yet,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland. “I have a snow day tomorrow so I’ll have a chance.”
“You know, I don’t know enough to respond,’ said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, who may challenge Clinton for the Democratic nomination, also declined to comment, giving up a chance to tweak a potential 2016 rival.
“I only know what I read in the newspapers so I just don’t’ know a whole lot about it. That’s about all I can say,” he said. “I just told you, I only know what I read.”
When CNN tried to ask Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who some liberals are hoping will challenge Clinton for the 2016 nomination, a staffer shielded her and deliberately blocked the senator from answering.
Warren climbed into an elevator without looking up.
In the House, liberal stalwarts like Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, and Rep. Sander Levin, D-Michigan, declined to weigh-in. Levin simply said “no” when asked if the controversy would hurt her campaign.
When CNN attempted to ask a group of moderate House Democrats about Clinton at a press conference where they were unveiling a new policy agenda, Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis made it clear he and other members wouldn’t bite.
“That has nothing to do with the American prosperity agenda. It may be a great question for political pundits, but we’re here to talk about the new Dems American Prosperity agenda,” Polis said sharply.
Pressed further about this story stepping on Democrats’ messaging, Polis kept to his own, saying “we encourage Hillary Clinton and any other Democratic presidential candidates to adopt our prosperity agenda as part of their economic platform.”
New York Rep. Steve Israel dismissed the controversy as one amped up by the GOP.
“Where there is a Clinton, there are Republicans trying to manufacture or amplify crisis or scandal. That’s what they do here,” he said.
“Pretty soon we’ll have a special investigative committee for every action that Hillary Clinton takes. There will be a special select committee on her breakfast, her lunch and her dinner and what she had in between. Just add this to the list,” he added.
But the few Democrats who actually took questions about the issue said it was time explain what happened.
Vermont Democratic Rep. Peter Welch told CNN, “She’s going to have to give an answer to it.”
Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Connecticut, was the only Senate Democrat to stop and answer multiple questions. He said it was a “legitimate issue” but also stood up for Clinton.
“I’m sure she’s going to have to answer questions to make clear she has properly disclosed all the emails that might have existed on her private server,” the first term senator said. “Listen, I think there is going to be a political infrastructure built up over the next year and a half around tearing her down and this fits conveniently into that motivation.”
Asked if it that means this is only about politics Murphy said no.
“I’m not suggesting there isn’t an issue here,” Murphy responded. “But if she has disclosed the emails and the content of the emails, I’m not sure there is much more of a story. I hope that we’re going to look at her record as Secretary of State as a means of measuring whether she’s worthy of people’s votes.”
Murphy said it’s just one question Clinton needs to answer and there will be many more that will come.
“I think every bit of her life has and will be overturned. I think there are very few questions that have not been answered,” he said. “This is a legitimate issue but I think she’s answered most of the questions that I have but she’ll never provide enough answers for Republicans.”