Hillary Clinton's email dump won't stop Benghazi questions

Washington (CNN)The emails to 'H' don't contain a smoking gun, at least not yet.

That's hardly surprising since Hillary Clinton herself chose which emails to turn over to the State Department.
But the first batch of messages released from the now-notorious personal account that she used as secretary of state does make clear that this is one headache that will linger for the front-running Democrat's White House campaign.
"I just would like to see it expedited, so we could get more of them out more quickly," Clinton told reporters in New Hampshire on Friday, in an apparent sign her campaign wants to get the whole episode behind it as soon as possible. She is identified as 'H' in most of the messages.
    But that is unlikely to happen, and in some ways, the initial release of 300 emails -- from a total of 30,000 that Clinton gave the State Department to be made public in the coming months -- repeats a pattern familiar from the string of controversies and scandals that have dogged Bill and Hillary Clinton over the years.
    That's because her actions create plenty of fodder for critics to stoke suspicion and raise questions about her decisions and motives -- not to mention what some view as a penchant for secrecy in using a personal server in the first place.
    It's a vulnerability Republicans are already seeking to exploit by drawing comparisons to the era of dramas that scarred her husband's presidency -- from the row over her financial dealings in the so-called Whitewater affair to the firing of White House travel office aides through Bill Clinton's impeachment after an affair with an intern.
    Senior Republican leaders, including Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, are meanwhile trying to build a narrative that the email episode, added to questions about the financing of the Clinton family philanthropic foundation, is symptomatic of a pattern of obstruction and resistance to transparency from the Democratic power couple.
    He accused them of habitually try to play by a "separate set of rules" than other politicians.
    One of the former first couple's oldest critics, GOP presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, put the email flap down to an endemic culture of scandal in Washington.
    "We expect these charades and masquerades in USSR--not the USA," Huckabee said in a statement.
    Still, to the likely frustration of Republicans who have been chasing the Clintons for decades, there doesn't seem to be sufficient evidence in this first group of emails -- covering the period around the death of American ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in U.S. government facilities in Benghazi in 2012 -- to prove legal wrongdoing.
    Clinton asked her former department to release the emails back in March, after a furor erupted when it emerged that she used a private account, not a government one, while secretary of state. But she only handed over messages that she said were relevant to her work at the State Department. Private emails were wiped from her server, fueling Republican claims that Clinton has something to hide.
    Friday's disclosures show no sign that Clinton knowingly flouted the law or shared classified information on an insecure account.
    But that is not stopping Republicans from raising questions about the former first lady's ethics, honesty, character and judgment that are likely to continue throughout her campaign.
    "We will not reach any investigative conclusions until our work is complete, but these emails continue to reinforce the fact that unresolved questions and issues remain as it relates to Benghazi," said South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, who is leading a probe into the affair.
    Friday's release did ignite one minor new controversy: A piece of information in one of the emails concerning U.S. facilities in Benghazi that was not classified at the time has since been redacted by the FBI.
    White House spokesman Josh Earnest said classifying previously public information was not uncommon, but the decision could fuel Republican doubts over Clinton's insistence that she never handled classified intelligence on her private email account.
    Still, none of the emails released by the State Department on Friday appeared to offer much help to Republicans seeking to inject new life into the Benghazi controversy.
    "The release of these emails into the public record as Secretary Clinton had requested strikes a major blow against the Benghazi conspiracy theorists in the right-wing media and on Chairman Gowdy's committee," said Bradley Beychok, president of Media Matters for America, which is dedicated to debunking what it calls conservative "misinformation."
    The emails made public Friday also sketch a fascinating picture of Clinton's life behind closed doors at the State Department, of her interactions with staff and confidants and even her habits of listening to NPR.
    They reveal reams of email traffic between Clinton and her top staffers, glimpses of the former secretary of state's private life and even some unintended comedy.
    The trove reveals Clinton's habit of having gushing tributes from subordinates printed out.
    And it shows how senior State Department officials -- and even Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain, who later slammed the administration over Benghazi -- were moved by her steadiness in the hours after the killing of Stevens.
    "What a wonderful, strong and moving statement by your boss. Please tell her how much Sen. McCain appreciated it," McCain staffer Christian Brose wrote in an email to Clinton aide Jake Sullivan, who passed on the praise.
    The stark tragedy of Stevens's death is laid bare in one short email from Clinton to senior staffers after she learned of his fate from chief of staff Cheryl Mills.
    "Cheryl told me the Libyans confirmed his death. Should we announce tonight or wait until morning?" Clinton asked in an email.
    Another dispassionate email on Benghazi to Clinton from Mills read, "We recovered both bodies overnite and are looking at getting at statement out at 7am."
    When U.N. ambassador Susan Rice went on Sunday talk shows to say that the attack on the Benghazi consulate started "spontaneously" -- rather than being a planned terror attack -- Sullivan was busy passing along transcripts of the shows to Clinton.
    It was those remarks which first ignited controversy over Benghazi and later scuppered Rice's hopes of succeeding Clinton as secretary of state.
    Rice, now President Barack Obama's national security advisor, later told NBC News that Clinton had been simply too tired to go on the talk shows herself after a harrowing week.
    Later in the emails, there is a reference to the accident in which Clinton sustained a concussion, which prevented her from testifying on Capitol Hill about the tragedy.
    "I'll be nursing my cracked head and cheering you on as you 'remain calm and carry on!'" Clinton wrote to two senior aides sent to give evidence in her place.
    When one of the aides appears to be dreading the grilling, Clinton replied with a remark that sheds light on her attitude toward her own turbulent political career, after years of political scraps, crises, comebacks and feuding with what she once blasted as a "vast right-wing conspiracy" against her and her husband.
    "Well, what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger (as I have rationalized for years), so just survive and you'll have triumphed!"
    The emails also shed light on how Clinton and aides fumed over coverage of her tenure.
    State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland fired off a furious review of an article by a group of Wall Street Journal reporters that suggested that security lapses and misjudgments contributed to the disaster in Benghazi.
    "This is a real hit piece -- they intentionally twisted and misused info shared to help them understand how we work, while using Libyan sourcing as gospel. Totally unprofessional and egregiously inflammatory," Nuland wrote.
    And there's a new contribution to the rich Washington lore surrounding Clinton's former top spinmeister Philippe Reines, known for his testy tirades with Washington journalists.
    In one message, Reines said Wall Street Journal Reporter Monica Langley got up in his boss's face, sitting almost knee-to-knee with her in an interview.
    "I've never seen a Westerner invade her space like that," Reines said -- though he did praise the actual interview as "wonderful" and wished it had been on TV.
    Given that many thousands more emails remain to be disclosed, multiple moments of tension and even crisis will be revealed about Clinton's four-year tenure as secretary of state. And the drip, drip, drip of disclosures coming from the State Department is certain to provide more uncomfortable moments for her campaign team.