WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton is facing a new set of questions about ethics and transparency — the sort that have dogged her and husband Bill for decades.
The latest disclosure, that Clinton used a personal email account while serving as secretary of state, comes on the cusp of her likely second bid for president. Combined with recent news about her family foundation raising money from foreign governments while she was at the State Department, it added fresh fuel Tuesday to the longstanding charge the Clintons play by their own rules.
"Does she believe that leadership means acting outside the law?" said Carly Fiorina, the former technology executive who is weighing a 2016 GOP presidential bid. "Does she believe that leadership can exist without transparency?"
Clinton's aides were quick to dispute the notion that there was anything illegal or improper about her use of a personal email account for government work, noting that she was hardly the first secretary of state to do so. Meanwhile, her allies praise the work of the Clinton Foundation — and note that it isn't required to disclose its donors but does so anyway.
Still, for the Clintons, it's difficult for complicated explanations about allegations to compete with the simplicity of political perception.
Bill Clinton's rise through Arkansas politics and his two terms in the White House were sometimes accompanied by allegations of questionable business dealings and by ethics controversies, culminating in his 1998 impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice. Hillary Clinton was caught up in some of them, including the Whitewater investigation into the couple's real estate investments.
Officials at the Clinton Foundation did recently acknowledge an instance where they failed to seek State Department approval for a foreign government's donation as required.
In the new matter, she provided the State Department with emails from her personal account last year when asked, but only she and the relevant members of her staff know if she turned over all of them.
"The presidency is ultimately about trust, and whether it's this latest series of ethical lapses that have come to light or the decades of secrecy surrounding the Clintons, it's clear Hillary Clinton is someone with an awful lot to hide," asserted Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
Clinton provided the emails to the State Department after the department asked several former secretaries, including Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, last year for records that should be preserved, said Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.
Harf said the agency already had the "vast majority" of Clinton's emails, because they were sent to or came from department employees using official addresses. No classified information was sent or received over the email account, she said.
"Like secretaries of state before her, she used her own email account when engaging with any department officials," said Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill. "For government business, she emailed them on their department accounts, with every expectation they would be retained."
People familiar with Clinton's private email address said it was known to about 100 people, but was not widely distributed throughout the department. Clinton also used a private email account while in the Senate, though senators' emails and other private records are not required to be archived.
The people familiar with her email spoke only under condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Details of Clinton's State Department email use, first reported by The New York Times, put the White House in the awkward position of defending its record on transparency and standing by Clinton.
Spokesman Josh Earnest said administration guidance to agency employees specifies that they "should use their official email accounts when they're conducting official government business." He repeatedly sidestepped questions Tuesday about whether Clinton had broken any laws by not using official email, which must be archived under the Federal Records Act.
Earnest wouldn't say whether President Barack Obama, who is an avid Blackberry and iPad user, had ever emailed with Clinton, though he said it was likely others at the White House had.
Clinton's advisers insist she has learned lessons from the past and is determined to run a disciplined campaign that would reflect her competency for the presidency. That mission has been complicated by her desire to put off an official campaign announcement until at least spring, leaving her with a skeleton staff that is often left playing defense and scrambling to respond to criticism.
Meanwhile, those who plan to seek the Republican nomination are moving ahead. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made a show of transparency last month by making available more than 275,000 emails sent to and from his personal account during his time in office, even though they had long been available to the public at the Florida state archives.
Bush didn't miss the chance to draw a contrast with Clinton, tweeting "Transparency matters. Unclassified @HillaryClinton emails should be released." He included a link to the website he set up to view the emails.
AP writers Ken Thomas and Steven Braun in Washington and Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report. Follow Julie Pace on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jpaceDC/