Hillary Clinton slogs through another email frenzy

(CNN)It was just another frenzied Friday in Clinton World.

Two apparent blockbuster revelations emerged in the email controversy hounding Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign. But on later inspection, they seemed to be much less damning than they first appeared.
The campaign's tortured relations with the press meanwhile took another disastrous turn with spokesman Nick Merrill lashing reporters for using "reckless, inaccurate leaks from partisan sources."
And through it all, the candidate herself sailed into a room at New York University, in her customary spot in the eye of the political storm -- apparently unperturbed and ready to reel off a wonk-heavy speech on tax and the economy.
    "Maybe the heat is getting to everybody," Clinton said, with more than a trace of contempt for the hysteria erupting around her at an unwelcome time as polls suggest her trustworthiness is taking a fresh battering.
    By the end of the day, the Clinton campaign appeared to have capitalized on media missteps to limit immediate new damage to her presidential hopes. But the dizzying catalog of revelations and campaign counter attacks was another sign that the festering fight over the private email server she used while running U.S. diplomacy will confound her presidential quest for months to come.
    It all started late on Thursday night with an apparent New York Times bombshell.
    The paper reported that independent inspectors general had asked the Justice Department for a criminal probe of Clinton's email use while secretary of state.

    Hitting back

    The Clinton campaign hit back hard, quickly getting the Times to soften the lead of its story to make clear the requested probe was not of Clinton herself, but into whether emails connected to her were mishandled. The distinction was important because the latter formulation of any eventual Justice Department inquiry could conceivably give Clinton personal distance from any wrongdoing.
    Throughout Friday morning, Clinton's press aides pushed back on the report, shipping reporters a tweet by former Nevada political pundit Jon Ralston that the Times failure to correct its story was "just so, so dumb."
    When the Times did decide to correct its story later Friday, it offered some critical vindication to Clinton, at least for the time being.
    "Here we are yet again correcting a story," Clinton's senior spokeswoman Karen Finney said on CNN.
    Clinton got in her own dig Friday afternoon just before her speech on middle class economics but did not take questions from reporters.
    She complained about "a lot of inaccuracies" in reporting on the emails and said she had repeatedly offered to testify before a congressional committee on the private server she used as secretary of state.
    As Washington digested the showdown with the Times, a rival paper, the Wall Street Journal, busted out its own email expose.
    The paper said that Clinton, despite her denials, had indeed emailed some classified information from her private account while secretary of state -- a possibility that could land Clinton in legal as well as political jeopardy.
    But again, the revelation turned out to be less immediately damaging than it had first seemed.
    In a letter to Congress, the inspector general for the intelligence community, Charles McCullough, said that some material Clinton sent from her server was indeed classified -- but was not identified as such.
    Because it was not identified, it is unclear whether Clinton realized she was potentially compromising classified information -- again offering her a possible defense.

    Turf war

    That opened the way for Finney to portray the whole affair as just a turf war between intelligence and State Department officials about what information should be kept secret.
    The Justice Department, meanwhile, clarified that it was considering a probe of Clinton's email practices, but not a "criminal" probe.
    As is so often the case in the myriad scandals, controversies and pseudo-scandals that have swirled around the Clintons for decades, the disclosures left the situation murkier than it had been before and clouded in a flurry of complicated details likely to confuse the average voter.
    And while there did not appear to be sufficient material to seriously damage or even doom Clinton's political career, there was just enough confusion to offer fresh ammunition for her enemies. The Clinton email episode also mirrors the 1990s Clinton scandals in the hyper partisan emotions it stirs -- and the way it never really seems to go away, but also never reaches a climax.
    The latest cycle of allegations and counter attacks from the Clinton campaign comes when there is an increasing focus on how the former secretary of state's character could complicate her presidential efforts.
    Three new opinion polls in swing states Iowa, Colorado and Virginia this week showed that Clinton was trailing several leading Republican candidates including Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker in a hypothetical match-up for the White House. While the general election is 16 months away, the polls pointed to a possible personal vulnerability for Clinton as majorities of voters in all three states said she was not honest and trustworthy.
    And the media fixation on such episodes claimed another victim -- any coverage Clinton could have expected for her big speech -- an economic argument she is putting at the center of her campaign.
    While most of her potential Republican rivals were content to let Clinton stew in the spotlight, the Republican National Committee used the latest spate of scandal fever to jab the Democratic front runner.
    Clinton has struggled for decades to shake off political attacks painting her as secretive, obstructive and dishonest -- and the email saga and rows over the source of foreign donations to her family's philanthropic organization have ensured a similar theme undercuts her 2016 presidential campaign.
    RNC chair Reince Priebus said that Clinton's "desire to play by her own rules" may have exposed classified information -- adding "a full investigation by the Justice Department is not just needed, but required."
    Republican political consultant Katie Packer previewed the way Republican candidates are likely to exploit Friday's drama as Clinton's email problem lingers.
    "In terms of the way the American people view her, they already have questions about whether she can be trusted. She has shown a propensity to lie when things get uncomfortable," Gage said.