Clinton camp on defense about her trustworthiness

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Washington (CNN)A month after launching Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy, with every moment of her announcement video and reintroduction tour to voters carefully crafted, her campaign team now finds itself consumed by fending off a familiar, yet far more elusive, adversary: The Clinton legacy.

As she visits Nevada on Tuesday and calls for a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally, her advisers are trying to keep old fires from becoming political obstacles with staying power. Questions about donations to the family's foundation, along with Bill Clinton's defiant comments this week, have alarmed Democrats who hoped she could start her campaign on fresh footing.
Aides to Clinton still insist she will run the race on her own terms without distraction from whirlwinds of controversy. Yet strategists acknowledge sufficient concern by an erosion of trust and credibility that they are forcefully fighting back. One way is through a new blog, "The Briefing," which is notably not devoted to Clinton's platform for 2016, but rather simply fact-checking attacks against her.
"While we will not be consumed by these kinds of attacks, we will also not let them go unchallenged," John Podesta, the campaign chairman, said in a message intended to allay any worry among supporters. "That's why we are building a new one-stop shop to provide the facts about Hillary Clinton's positions and her record."
    It's a key challenge of her candidacy: Shoring up her perceptions of trust and credibility.
    The campaign, through its own surveys and focus groups with voters, is closely studying a decline in her approval since she entered the race last month. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday found only a quarter of registered voters said they viewed her as honest and straightforward, down 13 percentage points from last summer. But she still fares stronger when facing a Republican rival.
    But a central question facing Clinton in her second presidential bid is whether she and her new team of advisers can answer questions and fight allegations openly -- in a far different media climate -- without reverting to a familiar Clinton defensive crouch that all criticism is automatically partisan and no legitimate inquires could exist.
    As Bill Clinton's first televised interview of the campaign still reverberated Tuesday, several top Democrats told CNN they were taken aback by his tone and they wondered anew whether his words could be a detriment to his wife's campaign. Some Democrats said they cringed when he brushed aside questions about collecting $500,000 for delivering a speech by saying: "I've gotta pay our bills."
    "There is no doubt in my mind that we have never done anything knowingly inappropriate in terms of taking money to influence any kind of American government policy," Bill Clinton told NBC News in Nairobi. He also criticized what he characterized as "political" attacks on the foundation.
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    His comments raised more skepticism of the charges included in a book that was released on Tuesday, "Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich."
    Inside the Clinton campaign headquarters in Brooklyn, aides were widely pleased with the disciplined rollout of her announcement tour and the campaign's aggressive rebuttals to the book, written by conservative author Peter Schweizer.
    But now, advisers acknowledge they are bracing for an even more challenging -- and uncertain -- second month of her campaign.
    Clinton could be called as soon as May 18 to testify before the House Select Committee on Benghazi in its investigation of the attacks that killed four Americans on Sept. 11, 2012. She also will be questioned over the use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state.
    It will be an unusual scene for a presidential candidate: Raising her right hand and swearing an oath to testify during a televised congressional committee. The proceedings have already taken a partisan tone on both sides. Podesta fueled Democratic suspicion in his message to supporters this week, arguing the inquiry by Republicans is part of a "two-fisted strategy to try to undermine her."
    To be sure, Clinton's trust and credibility are at the forefront of the Republican campaign against her. Republican presidential candidates are spending less time trying to link Clinton to Obama these days than they do raising questions about whether she's trustworthy.
    "I think that Bill Clinton is saying what Hillary Clinton has said on many occasions: 'Just trust us,'" Carly Fiorina said as she announced her candidacy Monday. "Trust is earned through transparency."
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    Republicans are hoping to take a page from the winning Democratic playbook of 2012: Define Clinton in a negative light early by chipping away at her credibility. It's similar to how the Obama campaign rushed to define Mitt Romney, which stuck with him for the duration of the race.
    Clinton advisers downplayed that comparison. They said the trust question was not simply about whether voters trusted Clinton, but whether they trusted her to do the right things for them.
    Democrats close to Clinton believe the best antidote to the Republican attacks is to step up her own campaign and begin to aggressively outline what she stands for and why she wants to be president. She has intentionally downsized the early stage of her campaign, holding only a handful of appearances.
    The only stop on her public campaign schedule this week is in Nevada on Tuesday, leaving her Republican critics to fill the vacuum of silence.