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Hillary Clinton apologizes over e-mail flap. Too little, too late?

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Charlie Neibergall/AP

(Read caption) Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Sept. 7. Clinton now says her use of a private email account was a 'mistake,' adding that she is 'sorry' and takes responsibility for the decision. Clinton offered the apology in an interview with ABC News on Tuesday after declining to do so previously.

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For the first time since the controversy broke in March, Hillary Clinton has apologized for her use of a private e-mail system while she was secretary of state.

“As I look back at it now, even though it was allowed, I should have used two accounts. That was a mistake. I’m sorry about that. I take responsibility,” Mrs. Clinton said in an interview with ABC News Tuesday evening.

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In a personal apology on Facebook aimed at her supporters and donors, she added Tuesday night, "I wanted you to hear this directly from me: Yes, I should have used two email addresses, one for personal matters and one for my work at the State Department. Not doing so was a mistake. I'm sorry about it, and I take full responsibility."

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"I know this is a complex story. I could have – and should have – done a better job answering questions earlier. I'm grateful for your support, and I'm not taking anything for granted."

The apology appears to signal a shift in the Clinton campaign's response to the e-mail flap, "a full-court press by Clinton to move past the problematic issue," as CNN put it.

Clinton's apology comes after months of explanations, defensiveness, even claims that the controversy is a Republican-led hit job, responses that have damaged the Democratic candidate and her campaign.

When Clinton first spoke about the e-mail controversy on March 10, she chalked it up to convenience, telling the press, "When I got to work as secretary of State, I opted for convenience to use my personal e-mail account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal e-mails instead of two.... Obviously, it hasn’t worked out that way.”

In the months since, she has acknowledged that it "wasn't the best choice," but stopped short of apologizing – or else offering the sort of non-apology that makes supporters wince.

In fact, just days before, in a Friday interview with MSNBC, she said, "I am sorry that this has been confusing to people and has raised a lot of questions." This is the sort of "I'm sorry your feelings are hurt" response that feels more like an insult than an apology, Politico noted.

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And in a Monday interview with the Associated Press, Clinton refused to apologize because, as she put it, "what I did was allowed."

According to reports, Clinton's donors and supporters starting complaining about the campaign's mishandling of the e-mail issue and Clinton's less-than-sincere responses to questions about it. Hence Clinton's mea culpa Tuesday night, during a sometimes emotional interview with ABC's David Muir. Clinton also talked about her mother and her struggles with the challenges of 24-7 campaigning, perhaps part of an effort to humanize Hillary.

Is it too little too late?

Clinton has taken a battering in the polls, with many people now saying they do not trust her.

An Aug. 27 Quinnipiac poll found that the first words that come to voters' minds when they think of Clinton are 'liar,' dishonest,' and 'untrustworthy.'

A week later, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 53 percent of Americans now see Clinton unfavorably. That's 8 percentage points higher than earlier in the summer, and means a majority of Americans now see her in a negative light.

Without criticizing her directly, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders seems to have leveraged Clinton's problems to enjoy a summer-long surge in the polls at her expense, and now it appears Vice President Joe Biden is preparing to run should Clinton's problems intensify.

It's still very early in the race, so Clinton may well recover and rebound.

But so far, her messy handling of the e-mail controversy hasn't helped.

As former Obama aide and now CNN political commentator David Axelrod said Tuesday, "Her answers have evolved over time and have prolonged this story. She's trying to bring this thing to an end so she can be heard on other subjects, but she needs a consistent answer."


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