There’s no longer any doubt that the Democratic presidential contest has devolved into a blood feud as many supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders are openly praying that former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will be indicted for using a private email server to handle sensitive government communications during her four years at State.
As The New York Times reported over the weekend, some Sanders supporters are holding out for an “eleventh hour miracle” in the form of a federal indictment that would knock Clinton out of the contest and pave the way for a Sanders nomination.
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Clinton is just 73 delegates shy of locking up the presidential nomination, even in the surprising event she narrowly loses to Sanders in the June 7th California Democratic primary. Yet the State Department Inspector General’s report last week that skewered Clinton for willfully violating departmental email protocol has fueled the Sanders campaign’s fantasy that a related FBI investigation will lead to an indictment and a quick end to Clinton’s candidacy before the July convention in Philadelphia.
“If there’s any chance of her getting indicted, they shouldn’t even consider her for the nomination,” 21-year-old Zachary O’Neill of Escondido, California, told The Times. “We can’t have a criminal in the White House.” Others offered similar views that squared with Republican attacks on Clinton’s honesty and integrity.
Even if Clinton dodges that bullet, an energized and increasingly optimistic Sanders said on Sunday that the damning IG report should give hundreds of “super delegates” cause for concern -- and reason enough to switch their allegiance at the convention from Clinton to Sanders.
Some pundits have made the point that Clinton would not qualify to lead a cabinet position given the email report…but she could still be president.
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Clinton currently claims 1,769 pledged delegates and 541 “super delegates” or party officials, leaving her within easy hailing distance of the 2,383 delegates needed to secure the nomination. Sanders, by contrast, has garnered 1,499 pledged delegates but only 43 super delegates from states where he performed well in primaries and caucuses.
In an interview with CBS’s Face the Nation, Sanders showed restraint regarding Clinton’s email problem, but he made the point that Democrats should acknowledge that he would be the stronger nominee to take on Donald Trump this fall.
“That is something that the American people, Democrats and delegates are going to have to take a hard look at," Sanders told moderator John Dickerson in discussing the IG’s report ."But for me right now, I continue to focus on how we can rebuild a disappearing middle class, deal with poverty, guarantee health care to all of our people as a right."
The State Department IG report concluded that Clinton had violated department rules when she set up a private email server at the start of her tenure in the Obama administration without seeking approval – a move that made her highly classified communications more vulnerable to hacking. Moreover, her staff brushed off warnings from State Department officials that she needed to uses a government server to maximize security.
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The report contradicted many of Clinton’s previous explanations and defenses of her actions, including her assertion that her use of a private email server at the State Department was allowed when it clearly was not after changes in policy.
"Well John, they will be keeping it in mind," Sanders told Dickerson when pressed about the potential political fallout among delegates and party officials who will be making the choice. "I don't have to tell them that. I mean everybody in America is keeping it in mind, and certainly the super delegates are."
He added, "The point that I'm going to make to the super delegates, many of whom came on board [Clinton’s campaign] before I was in the race… is, 'Your job is to make sure Trump is defeated and defeated badly. You have got to determine, based on 100 different factors, which candidate is the strongest candidate to defeat Trump.' If you look at every poll done in the last six weeks, that candidate is Bernie Sanders.”
Sanders is highly sensitive to criticism within his party that his relentless drive for the nomination, even after it became mathematically impossible for him to win, is weakening Clinton’s prospects of defeating Trump this fall.
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While he doesn’t really have to say anything about Clinton’s email scandal, he continues to hammer away at her on issues of credibility: her ties to Wall Street, her commitment to liberal ideals including income equality, free college tuition, and health care for all. And he constantly questions her judgment on foreign policy, including her support of the invasion of Iraq.
Sanders insists he still has an outside chance of winning the nomination – or at least arriving at the convention with a majority of pledged delegates, by winning next week in California and four or five other states.
Sanders acknowledged that California, with 548 delegates, is the “Big Enchilada,” and that it would be all but impossible for him to gain the nomination without a big victory there. A narrow victory by him would provide his campaign with an important strategic and psychological boost heading into the convention, yet the delegates will be apportioned based on the popular vote, and Clinton would almost certainly pick up nearly as many delegates as Sanders.
“My campaign has been written off before we started,” he told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press. “Nobody thought we were going to do anything. We have now won 20 states, primaries and caucuses, and I think by the end of the process, we may win half of the states. So we’re going to fight until the last vote is cast and we appeal to the last delegate that we can.”
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Asked whether he would make good on his promise to unite with Clinton to defeat Trump if she wins the nomination and help bring his supporters on board, Sanders was somewhat evasive: “The responsibility that I accept in a very, very serious way is to do everything that I can to make sure that Donald Trump will not become elected President of the United States. Donald Trump for dozens of different reasons would be a disaster as president. I will do everything that I can to make sure that does not happen,”
“But at the end of the day, whether it is Secretary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump , or anybody else, the way you gain support is through the candidates himself or herself,” he said. “So my job is to make sure that Trump does not become president, and I will do that.”
”But if Secretary Clinton is the nominee, it is her job to reach out to millions of people and make the case as to why she is going to defend working families and the middle class – to provide health care for all people, take on Wall Street, deal aggressively with climate change,” he added. “That is the candidate’s job to do.”