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Report: Clinton team thought email scandal was so bad, they wanted to focus on Benghazi instead

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 23: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the September 11 attacks against the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Capitol Hill January 23, 2013 in Washington, DC. Lawmakers questioned Clinton about the security failures that led to the death of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Despite the fact that Hillary Clinton's team of operatives has attempted to downplay her use of a private email server in the public eye, internal emails show that they very much thought it was a problem.

In fact, emails released by WikiLeaks show that the Clinton team wanted so badly to keep attention off Clinton's private email server, that they got reporters to focus on the attacks at Benghazi in 2012, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

According to a report from the Daily Caller, in the immediate aftermath of the New York Times breaking the news of Clinton's private server in March 2015 — following more revelations from the House committee investigating the attacks on Benghazi — Clinton's team rushed to keep the public focus on Benghazi and off the fact that Clinton used a private email server as secretary of state.

As part of a follow-up story that eventually ran on March 23, 2015, reporters at the Times made specific inquires about the legality of personal email for government work. None of the questions mentioned Benghazi, but Clinton's team made sure to angle their responses — after much back-and-forth between one Times reporter and Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill — around Benghazi.

But prior to sending his official response, Merrill first checked with many of Clinton's top advisers, including senior advisers Cheryl Mills and Phillip Reines and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

Merrill noted that he made a "few tweaks" to the statement that Reines carefully crafted.

"Specifically, we added some straight-forward language in the third paragraph that aims to do two things: give this guy some simple context for the emails he references, and nudge this ever-closer to putting it in the Benghazi box," he wrote.

After sending the campaign's response, the Times ran the story with this headline: "In Clinton Emails on Benghazi, a Rare Glimpse at Her Concerns." Still though, the reporter's original questions had nothing to do with Benghazi.

From the Daily Caller:

Clinton’s team considered that a job well done.

“Nick,” Podesta emailed Merrill about the story, “Great job in fighting this to more or less of a draw.” He added, “this story is smoke without even the warmth of a fire.”

The campaign’s work on the NYT story was consistent with a message Podesta communicated to longtime Clinton aide Cheryl Mills 10 days prior.

“My perspective is that we want the fight to be about Benghazi, not about servers in her basement,” Podesta said.

That wasn't the only time the Clinton team emailed about shifting their focus from Clinton's email scandal to Benghazi.

According to the Daily Caller, in the weeks leading up to Clinton's Oct. 2015 testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, her team was looking for creative ways to spin the hearing.

In the end, they decided a cable TV ad buy would work best.

"The trick, of course, is to connect Benghazi to emails in a way that’s credible," wrote Clinton operative Oren Shur in an email, according to the Daily Caller.

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