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Email Case Raises Doubts About Bill Clinton's Value To Wife's Campaign


And Mara Liasson is in the studio with me now. Hi, Mara.


SIEGEL: Just wanted to pursue a bit further - Bill Clinton, yes, is seen as an asset to the Clinton campaign. What about what happened in Phoenix when he started up the conversation with Attorney General Loretta Lynch that led Gail Collins, the columnist of The New York Times, to say send Bill home, this is an easy call? Has the Clinton campaign even considered that sort of thing?

LIASSON: No, they haven't. Absolutely banishing Clinton from the campaign? That is not in the cards. But what you are referring to is how complicated Bill Clinton can be. He is the second most valuable surrogate in the Democratic Party after Barack Obama. He's very popular among Democrats. He can help them get energized and turn out. But he often does things that are considered unforced errors, like walking across the tarmac and giving the appearance, at least, of some kind of backroom discussions about matters before the Justice Department involving his wife.

And that can cause a lot of headaches for the Clinton campaign. Now, back in 2008, he said some controversial things about Barack Obama that also created a backlash. But he is an all-of-the-above surrogate. He's a package. He's married to her. He's not going to disappear entirely, nor does the campaign want to sever her from him.

SIEGEL: Does Bill Clinton, though, help with any voters who are still undecided about Hillary Clinton?

LIASSON: I don't know if he helps with voters that are undecided. A lot of times a surrogate's job is not to convince people or persuade them. It's to remind them to get out and vote, and to get enthusiastic about doing so. And that's what Bill Clinton can do. And every surrogate she has - and he is, as I said, the number-two surrogate - can go to places where she can't be just because there's only one of her. And he also has a particular rapport with certain parts of the Democratic coalition that also can be helpful.

SIEGEL: Some people thought there was a risk that he might overshadow Hillary Clinton while campaigning. Has there been any sign of that?

LIASSON: No sign of that except for when he makes headlines that are unwanted, like meeting with Loretta Lynch. I think the campaign has solved that problem. They use him in a discreet way. She is the candidate. He is a spouse like no other. But so far, he has not overshadowed her. And there's something else that's different about this election as opposed to 2008, which is that Bill Clinton is diminished physically. He's older. He's had heart disease. His voice is hoarse. So he isn't as big and powerful a presence on the campaign trail as he used to be.

SIEGEL: Let me ask you this. Eight years ago, Hillary Clinton's resume was a lot slimmer than it is today. Since then, she's served a president other than her husband, and she served as secretary of state - pretty big job. Does she need the argument or the reminder that she was the first lady and that Bill Clinton is her husband?

LIASSON: I don't think she needs the argument that she was first lady. I don't think that is the sole purpose of Bill Clinton out there on the campaign trail for her. He is a very effective explainer. Sometimes he's better at explaining her policies than she is. He's an effective advocate. I don't think that Bill Clinton's presence on the campaign trail says only that she once was a first lady.

SIEGEL: NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks for hanging around, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.