I do not believe for a moment that the outcome of the 2016 presidential election will be influenced by what kind of email system Hillary Clinton chose to use as secretary of state. It’s not exactly fodder for a campaign commercials, and we do have much more important issues to debate.
Unless in reconstructing and resurrecting those emails, it is discovered that Clinton attempted to use her private system to hide incriminating evidence of some as-yet-unknown sort. If that proves to be the case, she has a problem, and the severity of that problem would depend on the information withheld. But there is absolutely no evidence of that at the moment.
At the moment, what we have is evidence that Clinton may have skirted the letter of federal law and regulation in establishing her own privately owned email-operation rather than using the government system provided to her. That’s not nothing, and she has expressed regret for that decision that may or may not be sincere. But in context, it’s also not a lot. The political class in general — Democrat and Republican, state, federal and local — has not treated such rules and regulations seriously, and outside of frustrated archivists, historians and press watchdogs, nobody has really insisted that they do so.
During the George W. Bush administration, for example, Karl Rove and other political operatives on the public payroll at the White House used a private server at the Republican National Committee to conduct business, in apparent violation of the letter of the law. In addition, millions of emails kept on government servers were discovered to have disappeared right when they became relevant into an investigation of Rove’s role in the mass dismissal of U.S. attorneys around the country. Little or nothing was ever done about it.
As governor of Florida, Jeb Bush handled his email issues in precisely the same manner as Clinton. Like Clinton, he used a private server rather than state-owned server; after leaving office, he and his staff went through those emails and gave government archivists only those emails that they deemed relevant to his duties as governor, keeping all others private, just as Clinton has done.
Gov. Mitt Romney and his staff also used private accounts in Massachusetts, in probable violation of state law, but they took it a step further. As they left the governor’s office, Romney’s team went so far as to take the hard drives of state computers with them so that no records of their deliberations remained.
As I’m sure you recall, that was a HUGE issue in the 2012 election and probably cost Romney the presidency.
Or not. As the Associated Press reported at the time, “Romney’s presidential campaign declined to explain why Romney and his aides used the private accounts or explain how long and how extensively they used them.” And that was that.
Of course, “everybody does it” doesn’t come close to answering every issue at stake in this controversy. For example, if Clinton compromised national security in any way through her use of a private server, that would raise important issues of judgment. But to date, there is no evidence that she has done so.
In a press conference Tuesday, she claimed never to have sent or received classified information via her email — all such communications were allegedly handled through staff using secure, government-issued devices. All we can say so far is that we have no evidence to the contrary.
It should prove fairly easy to judge the accuracy of Clinton’s claim, since work-related emails sent by Clinton from her private account to colleagues at the State Department, the White House, the Pentagon or any other government agency have been stored in those government accounts, and is already being accessed and compiled. As noted above, Clinton herself has sent 30,000 emails from her private server to government archivists to be sorted, analyzed and if possible disseminated to the public. According to the AP, those emails are already being studied to see if they contained classified material.
We also don’t yet know precisely what measures — encryption, etc. — were taken by the Clintons to keep their email accounts secure. Given their background and resources and the targets that the Clintons wear on their backs, I suspect those security measures were pretty robust, but we’ll see. If the evidence changes, the conclusions should change as well.
And then there’s the gamesmanship.
The House select committee on Benghazi, for example, is refusing to honor Clinton’s request that release more than 800 pages of Clinton emails that it has already acquired as relevant to its investigation. Committee chair Trey Gowdy has argued that the committee wants to review all of Clinton’s emails, private and public, rather than release the documents in batches.
That sounds plausible, at least until you ask the question in reverse: If those emails already in the committee’s possession incriminated Clinton in any way, do you believe for a microsecond that the committee would still be withholding them “until they got the full record”? Let’s just say the record of House Republicans on such matters would strongly suggest otherwise.
In fact, given her personal experience, Clinton would have to be out of her mind to allow Gowdy and other House Republicans to wallow through years of personal emails between her and her husband, daughter, close friends, etc. And surely no sentient human being can argue that if she did give the committee her entire email cache, both public and private, her antagonists on that committee would treat that personal correspondence with anything close to integrity and respect for privacy.
Again, this story may yet have some twists and turns. Various investigations can and should continue, and we’ll see what they turn up. There are still questions that Clinton needs to answer regarding security, etc. But based on what we know to date, Clinton is being held to standards applied to nobody else in the political class, standards that most of her enemies themselves know to be unfair in the context of how politics operates in real life.
But if the facts change, that conclusion may change.