clinton email scandal

Clinton’s Emails Should Not Have Been a Scandal

It Was The Most Ridiculous Campaign Issue

Perhaps the biggest 2016 campaign story revolved around Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
Facts: As Secretary of State, Clinton used a personal email address hosted on a privately-owned server rather than her government email, a practice done by previous secretaries of state, including Colin Powell.  She turned over 55,000 emails to the State Department, but deleted 33,000 other personal emails.  James Comey found that no “reasonable prosecutor” would recommend charges be pressed against Clinton for her email actions.
Reality: Her explanation that she acted out of convenience is true (no one wants to carry around multiple phones; I’ve seen government officials do that and be quite annoyed at constantly switching and fumbling between phones).  This did violate a State Department policy directive.

Clinton, as you may have heard, is married to former president Bill Clinton, who stepped down from office in January of 2001. Clinton was in the White House throughout the 1990s when the rest of us were being bombarded with AOL signup CD-ROMs, so he didn’t have a personal email when he left. Gmail didn’t exist back then, and his new job was, in effect, running a Bill Clinton startup. He launched a charitable foundation, he established his presidential library, and he made big bucks on speaking tours. He had a staff and he needed IT infrastructure and support. So he paid a guy to set up an email server that he could use.  Hillary Clinton — who is, again, his wife — also set herself up with an account on the same server. This is a bit unusual, but a lot about being married to a former president is unusual. What it’s not is suspicious.

Upon discovery of her personal email use, the House Select Committee on Benghazi requested her emails and Clinton turned them over.  She undoubtedly should have had a process in place to automatically turn over emails or duplicate them onto a government server where they could easily be accessed by appropriate parties without hassle.
(An Inspector General report said Clinton should have printed her emails and filed them with the Office of the Secretary.  This requirement seems outdated and entirely wasteful, but Clinton of course should have followed it and created an easy process by which it could be followed.  But sloppiness and overlooking cumbersome demands does not malice make.)
Clinton did delete 33,000 emails, but those were all personal in nature (and really, there’s no need for the public to be reading about wedding or dinner plans, etc).  There’s also little reason to believe she wrongly deleted work emails — since it’s an email, there’s obviously a receiver; if the receiver of a work related email didn’t see it in the emails released, it would be all too easy to send that email to investigators or the press and quickly expose wrongdoing.
That didn’t happen.  We also know from released emails that Clinton and her lawyers had a very generous definition of work-related.  Many emails involved her asking about TV shows.  Those certainly seem personal in nature, and yet they released those.

And while she seemed (inadvertently) to handle classified emails on her personal server, she did so without malice (actual malice being needed for it to be illegal).  Ben Wittes of Lawfare agreed with Comey’s conclusion, arguing that

For the last several months, people have been asking me what I thought the chances of an indictment were. I have said each time that there is no chance without evidence of bad faith action of some kind. People simply don’t get indicted for accidental, non-malicious mishandling of classified material. I have followed leak cases for a very long time, both at the Washington Post and since starting Lawfare. I have never seen a criminal matter proceed without even an allegation of something more than mere mishandling of sensitive information. Hillary Clinton is not above the law, but to indict her on these facts, she’d have to be significantly below the law.

To sum, Clinton acted without malice and for the sake of convenience.  Those motives seem pure enough, but Clinton did fall short when it came to transparency.  She should have established some manner to duplicate emails onto a government email/server to facilitate discovery.  I also wish she had been more forthcoming about the email server and her practices immediately after it came to light.
Drawing out the controversy and dodging the issue made a simple and explainable decision seem nefarious.  This again goes back to what I described earlier as her overboard commitment to a private sphere that doesn’t exist as a public official.  It makes sense when putting yourself in her shoes, but it was the wrong decision.

2 thoughts on “Clinton’s Emails Should Not Have Been a Scandal

  1. I wish people would also realize that the policy was NOT in effect when HRC was at the State Dept.
    (This did violate a State Department policy directive.)

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