Democrats might need a backup plan

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at an Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority luncheon in West Columbia, S.C., Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Hillary Clinton’s electoral prospects have brightened with a win in Nevada, a collection of superdelegates and a good outlook in South Carolina. Her ethical and legal problems, however, are not so sunny.

We start with the latest court ruling. The Washington Post reports: “A federal judge ruled Tuesday that top aides to Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton should be questioned under oath about her use of a private email server as secretary of state, raising new political and legal complications for Clinton as she tries to maintain momentum for her campaign.

“The ruling granted a request from the conservative group Judicial Watch, which sought testimony from State Department officials and members of Clinton’s inner circle to determine whether Clinton’s email arrangement thwarted federal open-records laws.”

It’s one thing to spin the media or give vague answers to Congress. It is quite another to be queried under oath. At that point, legal self-preservation and not political loyalty kick in. People are going to say what they know. This particular order is about handling of Freedom of Information Act requests, but that is not all that is going on: “The judge said that months of piecemeal revelations to date about Clinton and the State Department’s handling of the email controversy created ‘at least a “reasonable suspicion” ’ that public access to official government records under the federal Freedom of Information Act was undermined. Clinton also confronts an FBI investigation and a State Department inspector’s general probe into whether classified information was mishandled or other federal laws were violated.” [Emphasis added.]

The Clinton PR machine, including loyalists in the media, can insist until the cows come home that this is all a partisan witch hunt, but that is flat-out false. The inspector general, the federal court judge and the FBI are not part of any right-wing conspiracy. None of these are spinnable; the facts will come out.

Clinton might be able to slip by a socialist opponent. The general election is a different matter. For Democrats, the risk is a Republican president, but for the country as a whole the risk is a Donald Trump presidency. Sen. Bernie Sanders may be unwilling or unable to exploit fully her legal problems, but Trump, if he is the nominee, will have no such qualms raising these legal issues, assuming, of course, she has not been indicted by then.

No Republican is going to let slide her refusal to release what surely must be syrupy paid speeches to Wall Street moguls. That she has not been able to put this issue to bed is remarkable. Even Sanders is now needling her about that, slyly offering to release his paid speeches (none) to Wall Street if she will release hers. And while she says she won’t do that until Republicans do the same, the eventual GOP nominee may well take her up on the offer. What’s her excuse then?

The prospect that ethical and legal scandals will do Clinton in, either before or after winning the nomination, should be prompting Democrats to come up with a serious backup plan.

Maybe that is simply Vice President Joe Biden, who could go to the convention, pick Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., as his VP and promise to run for a single term as a consensus candidate. (If the alternative is Trump, Biden’s chances would be very good.)

Whatever plan the Democrats have in place had better ensure, first, that there is a viable nominee they could live with (not Sanders, for a majority of Democrats) and second, that the Plan B candidate can prevent a Trump presidency, a matter that should concern not only Democrats.

Jennifer Rubin is a columnist for The Washington Post.