Clinton doubles down on secrecy as race tightens

Hillary Clinton and her allies dodged a growing set of questions this week over her private email use, her recent health scare and her family’s foundation, even as polls showed Donald Trump closing the gap with voters both nationally and in key battleground states.

After spending several days out of the spotlight to recover from what her doctor said was a case of “mild non-contagious bacterial pneumonia,” Clinton kicked off her return to the trail with a speech and press conference in North Carolina.

But the Democratic nominee made headlines for repeatedly refusing to specify when her running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, was informed of her pneumonia diagnosis.

Clinton’s evasion squandered what was just the latest opportunity for her campaign to come clean about issues that have contributed to her decline in the polls.

Behind closed doors, Clinton’s legal team hammered out a deal, announced by conservative-leaning Judicial Watch on Wednesday, to postpone a court-ordered deadline for fresh testimony about her private email server.

Written responses to Judicial Watch’s questionnaire would have been due three days after the first presidential debate; they will now emerge just three weeks before the election.

Amid backlash Thursday over a Politico report that revealed the lavish details of an upcoming birthday party for Clinton’s husband, the president of the Clinton Foundation — which hosted the fete — pledged to disclose the event sponsors.

Hours later, a spokesman for the foundation backtracked by admitting the charity has no plans to release the identities of donors who paid for the party.

And on Tuesday, two employees of technology firms that managed Clinton’s email server invoked their Fifth Amendment rights and refused to answer questions at a congressional hearing. A third witness, former Clinton aide Bryan Pagliano, ignored a subpoena to appear and rebuffed an order to provide a copy of the immunity agreement he received during the year-long FBI probe of Clinton’s server.

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The weeks of secrecy have begun to take a toll on Clinton’s numbers.

From its double-digit peak in late July and early August, Clinton’s national lead has shrunk to just 1.5 points, according to the RealClearPolitics average.

Trump has shown gains in Ohio, Florida, Michigan and Iowa and padded his support among independent voters as Clinton disappeared from the trail.

Before a collapse last week at a Sept. 11 ceremony sidelined the Democratic nominee for days, Clinton had spent much of late August out of the spotlight while raising money for the final leg of the presidential race.

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Her absence from the campaign trail coincided with the FBI’s decision to release 58 pages of notes from its criminal investigation of her private email use.

The scathing report — which revealed Clinton’s professed ignorance of the rules governing classified information, among other things — raised new questions about the FBI’s decision to spare her from charges.

And while Clinton finally caved under pressure to hold a press conference after refusing to do so for nine months, her initial attempt to face reporters was cut short by a then-unexplained coughing fit on Labor Day.

Meanwhile, Trump and his allies have ramped up their media and campaign appearances in an effort to regain control of the political narrative following what critics characterized as a disastrous few weeks post-convention.

Despite Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, more voters view him as transparent than his opponent. Fifty-four percent of voters described him as transparent in a recent Quinnipiac University survey, while just 37 percent of respondents held the same view of Clinton.

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