It’s the topic the nation just can’t cut out of its political conversation: Hillary Clinton’s emails.
In the days since Donald J. Trump became the first former U.S. president to face federal indictments, Republicans across the ideological spectrum — including not just Mr. prosecutors deem harmful — insistently brought up the eight-year controversy.
They have peppered speeches, social media posts and television appearances with fervent denunciations of the fact that Mrs. Clinton, a figure who continues to provoke deep-rooted backlash among the Republican base, has never been indicted.
The two episodes are vastly different legal cases, and Ms. Clinton was never found to have systematically or deliberately mishandled classified information. Yet Republicans have returned to the source with striking speed, aware that little more than the word “emails” can cloud the waters, broadcast their loyalties and shake up their base.
“Lock her up,” a woman chanted last weekend at the Georgia Republican Party state convention, where Trump sought to revive the problem of Mrs. Clinton’s email use. “Hillary has not been charged,” he said in a speech at the event. ‘She should have been. But she was not charged.”
During a campaign in North Carolina, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis slammed Mrs. Clinton’s email practices while being much more circumspect in alluding to Mr. Trump, his main rival for the Republican nomination.
Even former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has made criticizing Trump a central theme of his presidential campaign, recently said on NewsMadura that the Justice Department is “guilty of not indicting Hillary Clinton” while denying the facts. brought forward. to Mr. Trump as “damned”.
“The perception is that she was treated differently,” Asa Hutchinson, a former Arkansas governor, 2024 presidential candidate and Trump critic, said in an interview Monday. “Perception can become reality very quickly.”
Mr. Hutchinson, once a key Clinton antagonist from the home state of former President Bill Clinton — who helped guide impeachment proceedings against Mr. Clinton — said he saw a distinction between Mrs. had to deal with. But, he added, “If voters say it’s relevant, it becomes politically relevant.”
Taken together, the moment offers a vivid reminder of how the ghosts of the 2016 campaign continue to shape and scar American politics.
“Few politicians on the Democratic side of the aisle have drawn the ire of Republicans more than Hillary Clinton,” said Neil Newhouse, a seasoned Republican pollster.
Mrs. Clinton and her supporters have not forgotten the e-mail saga, of course. Following Mr. Trump’s impeachment, the episode serves as a symbol for many of them of a political system and a mainstream news media that often focuses on the superficial at the expense of the substantive.
Clinton supporters are now making flippant remarks about what they consider relatively weak and unsubstantiated allegations she faced about her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. And some are enjoying the fact that the man who crowed about “Crooked Hillary” faces a series of serious charges and the prospect of jail time if convicted.
Speaking Monday with the hosts of the Pod Save America podcast at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival, Ms. Clinton laughed when a host noted the tendency for some Republicans to draw parallels to her emails.
“When in doubt, right?” she said. ‘I find it strange, shall we say, to the point of the absurd, that that should be their only response. You know, they refuse to read the charges, they refuse to deal with the facts.”
On Friday, Mrs. Clinton posted an edited photo of herself on Instagram wearing a black baseball cap that reads, in pink letters, “BUT HER EMAILS.” That three-word phrase has become something of a shorthand among Democrats for frustration over the grief she received over how she handled classified correspondence compared to the backlash Mr. Trump faced for all the legal and ethical standards he violated while in office .
She posted a link to buy the hat for $32 on her political group’s website. (Asked about that decision, Nick Merrill, who served as Mrs. Clinton’s longtime spokesperson and remains an adviser, replied: “We’re seven years past what was widely considered, at worst, a stupid mistake. And reminding people that a piece of merchandise exists to raise money to preserve our democracy, I’m very comfortable with that.”)
There are many clear differences between the episodes in terms of content.
A year-long State Department investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server found that while it increased the risk of compromising classified information, “there was no compelling evidence of systematic, deliberate mishandling of secret information.”
The indictment against Mr. Trump, on the other hand, accuses him of not only mishandling sensitive national security documents found at his Mar-a-Lago club, but also deliberately obstructing the government’s efforts to recover them. He has been charged with 37 criminal charges related to such things as withholding national defense information and concealing possession of classified documents.
Robert K. Kelner, a Republican attorney and Trump critic who is a partner in the white-collar defense and investigations practice group at Covington & Burling, said Mr. Trump would most likely not have been charged if he had cooperated with the administration’s requests for back classified documents he had taken from the White House.
“There was a lot of criticism about the way the Hillary Clinton investigation was handled, but none of it, in my opinion, suggests in any way that the case against Donald Trump is baseless,” said Mr. Kelner.
Jack Smith, the special counsel who has sued Mr Trump, appeared to be anticipating efforts to bring up Mrs Clinton’s emails. The indictment cited five statements Mr Trump made during his 2016 campaign about the importance of protecting classified information.
For veterans of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign: The Republicans’ attempt to resurface their old boss’s email server to control the storage of boxes of Mr. Trump’s classified documents in a Mar-a-Lago bathroom and other places would be comical if their defeat in 2016 hadn’t been so painful.
“The best evidence that Trump’s actions are completely indefensible is that the Republican Party has not tried to defend it and is instead repeating seven-year-old, debunked attacks on someone who isn’t even in politics anymore,” Josh said. Schwerin, a former spokesman for the Clinton campaign. who had a recording of Mr. Trump pronouncing his name as his voicemail greeting for years after the 2016 election.
Mr. Merrill said if there was one word for “particularly acute hypocrisy,” it would now apply to Republicans.
For Republicans, “whether you believe she was arrogant or you believe she should be tried for treason for the risky position she put Americans in by sending correspondence about yoga or whatever,” he said, “Donald Trump has the most serious possible thing. It’s not a close call with him.”
“Republicans believe there is an uneven application of justice,” said former Representative Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican who, as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, investigated numerous Clinton episodes leading up to the 2016 election. He added admits: “What has Donald Trump done that was worse than Hillary Clinton? Nothing, nothing, nothing.”
Timothy Parlatore, a criminal defense attorney who left Trump’s legal team last month, said he did not believe Mrs. as vice president – should have been charged for their handling of classified information.
Mr. Trump’s Justice Department had four years to prosecute Mrs. Clinton and failed to do so. Mr Parlatore said Mr Trump no longer saw her as a threat – and instead called for an investigation into Mr Biden and his son.
“Here’s a big difference,” said Mr. Parlatore. “The Trump administration did not see Hillary as a presidential candidate. The Biden administration looks at Trump differently.”
For now, the most devoted Clinton supporters are following her lead and wearing “BUT HER EMAILS” hats as a badge of honor. They’ve been popping up at dog parks, soccer tournaments, and Pride events in recent days as something of a celebration of Mr. Trump’s merit.
In Boston, Rebecca Kaiser, a political consultant, has been wearing her “ONLY HER EMAILS” hat regularly since she received it as a gift the day before Mr. Trump was indicted on 34 counts of falsifying business records in Manhattan in April.
Since then, at Little League and football games, the grocery store, the beach, and on dates with her wife, Ms. Kaiser has worn the black hat with pink lettering, which she says served as a conversation starter about an election many other Democrats would do. rather forget.
“There are certainly people who notice the hat and very quickly avert their eyes,” Ms. Kaiser said. “There are other people who look at the hat and just roll their eyes. And frankly, I think there are a large number of people who have no idea what it refers to.”
Anjali Huynh contributed reporting from New York, and Neil Vidor of Columbus, Ga.