Hillary Clinton and her advisors must have decided that it was finally time to have her address the email brouhaha, so she held a press conference this week, and attempted to simply brush the whole thing off as no big deal. According to most press reports, it didn’t work, and the furor continues unabated.
To be honest, I’ve been writing off this whole fuss as a nothingburger ginned up by her opponents and a media in hot pursuit of another shiny object. But I am gradually changing my mind.
There are two separate issues with the emails, and neither makes Clinton look good.
As Secretary of State, Clinton handled important, confidential and classified information. Communicating such information using a private email server with questionable security makes her a big target for foreign intelligence. In fact, her private address was disclosed a few years ago when a hacker revealed the private inbox of a former Clinton aide, Sidney Blumenthal, the orchestrator of an underground smear campaign against Barack Obama during the Democratic primary. Blumenthal was sending emails to Clinton at a private, non-governmental address. So it was known years ago that Clinton used a private email account, and it would be naive to think it was not targeted.
We know that Clinton’s email was secure from one thing: FOIA requests. By using her personal email, she was able to hide important documents from FOIA requests. According to the New York Times, numerous FOIA requests from many different entities have gone unanswered, or the requestors were told the emails were unavailable because the State Department had no access to them.
From Clinton’s prepared remarks at the press conference:
There are four things I want the public to know.
First, when I got to work as Secretary of State, I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two.
Second, the vast majority of my work emails went to government employees at their government addresses, which meant they were captured and preserved immediately on the system at the State Department.
Third, after I left office, the State Department asked former secretaries of state for our assistance in providing copies of work-related emails from our personal accounts. I responded right away and provided all my emails that could possibly be work-related, which totalled roughly 55,000 printed pages, even though I knew that the State Department already had the vast majority of them.
Fourth, I took the unprecedented step of asking that the State Department make all my work-related emails public for everyone to see.
There are several flaws in these statements:
1. It seems from news accounts that paper printouts were turned over. I have seen nothing that indicates electronic files were submitted. If that is true, then Clinton has in fact turned over exactly NO actual emails. Until she provides the full digital emails, most of the evidence is missing — or may have been tampered with. Even an export of the emails with only the mail headers intact (i.e., metadata) would be better than paper. Clinton is a lawyer, so she knows that paper printouts selected and/or edited by a defendant are worthless.
2. Clinton said the email she sent was all stored and backed up on recipient servers, so nothing was lost. While that may be technically correct, it’s like saying, “All of the evidence you are demanding has been sent to random landfills throughout the world where it is carefully archived for future generations.” Without knowing the recipients of every email she sent, the scope of potential discovery is impossibly broad. As a lawyer, she is completely aware of this, but continues to misrepresent the situation and maybe hope nobody notices.
3. Her assertion that none of the emails contained classified information also was deliberately misleading. She may or may not have included classified information (remember, no actual emails have been turned over yet), but for public officials, notes, remarks, communications, etc. are often classified after the fact, based on their content. Since these emails scattered to the winds were not subject to review, it is quite likely that some of them would be classified following such review.
4. The press asked what criteria she used to differentiate between “personal” and “public” emails. However, once she decided to conduct public affairs on a “private” email server, she lost the right to differentiate — all of those emails are public property, exactly as they would be if she had used the government email service. Which is why official business is conducted through official channels.
Perhaps the reporters should have asked whether, since she thinks she has the right to select which laws to obey based on personal convenience, she can provide a list of other laws she finds inconvenient. Hillary Clinton has handed her opponents a powerful club with which to cripple her presidential aspirations. We certainly haven’t heard the last of this.
Caricature of Hillary Clinton by DonkeyHotey via Flickr