Yesterday, Illinois Republican Representative Aaron Schock announced that he was resigning his House seat at the end of the Month. Schock said, “I do this with a heavy heart,” (And an even heavier expense account).
Not only has Rep. Schock spent $40,000 to make his office look like rooms from the castle at Downton Abbey, but the thirty-three-year-old has been living La Vida Loca using campaign funds on private jets for his surf-trips to Hawaii and dancing the tango in Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, he has not always disclosed such lavish expenses on financial forms, as required by House ethics rules. (He has since repaid the government the $40,000 for his ‘Downton’ office.)
“[T]he constant questions over the last six weeks have proven a great distraction that has made it too difficult for me to serve the people of the 18th District with the high standards that they deserve and which I have set for myself,” Schock said. “I have always sought to do what’s best for my constituents, and I thank them for the opportunity to serve.”
It’s interesting to hear the “heavy heart” remorse from some politicians after they’ve been caught. Not so with Democratic Senator Robert Menendez.
Earlier this month, The Justice Department announced that it was preparing corruption charges against the senior Senator from New Jersey “…after a two-year investigation into allegations that he accepted gifts and lavish vacations in exchange for political favors for a longtime friend and political benefactor.”
The New York Times reported (Mar. 7), “Mr. Menendez accepted two round-trip flights aboard Dr. Melgen’s private jet for personal vacations in the Dominican Republic in 2010, but failed to report them as gifts or to reimburse Dr. Melgen at the time, as required under Senate disclosure rules.
“According to court papers… prosecutors have been examining whether Mr. Menendez improperly tried to persuade Medicare officials in recent years to change reimbursement policies in a way that would make millions of dollars for Dr. Melgen, one of the country’s biggest recipients of Medicare funds. Mr. Menendez has acknowledged urging the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to change its reimbursement policy, but said he did so because he considered the policy unfair.
“…Mr. Menendez denied he had done anything wrong, and vowed to persevere. ‘Let me be very, very clear,’ he told about a dozen reporters. ‘I have always conducted myself appropriately and in accordance with the law.’
“He added: ‘Anyone who knows me knows who I am and that I am not going anywhere.’ ”
However, the Times reported that “the rules of the Senate Republican Conference… require that any member indicted on a felony charge must give up his or her chairmanship or ranking committee role, until the issue is resolved. If convicted, the rule adds, the lawmaker would automatically be replaced on the committee.”
This brings me to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. Before I offer my own perspective, I begin with Clinton’s recent statement along with analysis by The Washington Post Fact Checker (Mar. 16), Glenn Kessler.
CLINTON: “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 e-mail 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 e-mails instead of two. Looking back, it would’ve been better if I’d simply used a second e-mail account and carried a second phone, but at the time, this didn’t seem like an issue.”
“Perhaps this was the actual reason,” Kessler writes, “but it’s worth noting that secretaries of state are always accompanied by staff who carry purses, briefcases and so forth. It would have been up to the staff to keep track of the devices, not Clinton. Clinton has not disclosed who at the State Department approved the use of a personal e-mail account, with its own server, instead of a government account. One would expect there is a paper trail that would explain how and why approval was granted.”
CLINTON: “Second, the vast majority of my work e-mails went to government employees at their government addresses, which meant they were captured and preserved immediately on the system at the State Department.”
“The State Department on March 13 acknowledged this was not the case,” Kessler says. “State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that not until this February were such e-mails automatically preserved. The system depended on individual officials deciding whether the e-mail met the definition of an official record that should be preserved. It is quite possible that if other officials were the recipients of an e-mail, rather than the originator, then they may not have understood that Clinton assumed they would be responsible for preserving the records.
“Moreover, even if the State Department system was working as efficiently as Clinton claimed, her statement doesn’t address the fact that she e-mailed government officials who did not work at the State Department. Those e-mails also may have been lost unless the recipient decided to preserve them, depending on the procedures in place at that particular agency.”
“Clinton’s arrangement also would have made it difficult for the State Department to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests since a primary source — Clinton’s e-mail outbox — would not exist within the government systems.”
CLINTON: “Third, after I left office, the State Department asked former secretaries of state for our assistance in providing copies of work-related e-mails from our personal accounts. I responded right away and provided all my e-mails that could possibly be work-related, which totaled roughly 55,000 printed pages, even though I knew that the State Department already had the vast majority of them.”
Kessler says that “The State Department’s letter actually appears to have been prompted by the discovery that Clinton had used a personal e-mail account for her State Department work, as officials were unable to locate e-mails in response to queries from the House Select Committee on Benghazi. The letter was generated after at least two months of discussion between the State Department and Clinton aides. But Clinton and the State Department have suggested this was a routine bookkeeping memo not aimed specifically at Clinton.”
CLINTON: “We went through a thorough process to identify all of my work¬ related e-mails and deliver them to the State Department. At the end, I chose not to keep my private personal e-mails — e-mails about planning Chelsea’s wedding or my mother’s funeral arrangements, condolence notes to friends as well as yoga routines, family vacations, the other things you typically find in in-boxes. No one wants their personal e-mails made public, and I think most people understand that and respect that privacy.”
“Information contained in a Q&A provided by Clinton aides suggests the ‘thorough process’ consisted of looking for keywords and names of possible recipients, not specifically reviewing the e-mails to see whether they contained information that would be covered by the Federal Records Act. The search consisted of looking for e-mails sent to people with a ‘.gov’ account, the first and last names of 100 government officials, and terms such as ‘Libya’ or ‘Benghazi.’ This yielded approximately 30,500 e-mails, which were turned over to the State Department. The other 32,000 e-mails in her possession were deemed ‘personal’ and destroyed. (Update: In a statement issued March 15, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said ‘the fact sheet should have been clearer every email was read.’)
“Moreover, as our colleagues at FactCheck.org pointed out, the State Department foreign affairs manual says ‘no expectation of privacy or confidentiality applies’ to e-mails that are sent on government e-mail accounts, even if they are personal in nature. The Clinton Q&A claimed that ‘government officials are granted the privacy of their personal, non-work-related e-mails, including personal e-mails on .gov accounts. Clinton exercised her privilege to ensure the continued privacy of her personal, non-work-related e-mails.’ But that statement is not accurate.”
CLINTON: “Fourth, I took the unprecedented step of asking that the State Department make all my work¬-related e-mails public for everyone to see. I am very proud of the work that I and my colleagues and our public servants at the department did during my four years as secretary of state, and I look forward to people being able to see that for themselves.”
“While Clinton touts her ‘unprecedented’ step,” Kessler writes, “her use of a personal e-mail account for all work correspondence also appears unprecedented, at least in the first term of the Obama administration. A survey by the Wall Street Journal found that no other Cabinet official used a personal e-mail account, on a private server, for work-related e-mails. Some officials, such as Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Kathleen Sebelius, former health and human services secretary, had a personal and work account — but used a second device.”
CLINTON: “I did not e-mail any classified material to anyone on my e-mail. There is no classified material.”
“Although Clinton stressed she sent no ‘classified’ information in her e-mails, the State Department has another category called ‘sensitive but unclassified.’
“As of 2005, the State Department Foreign Affairs manual has stated that ‘sensitive but unclassified’ information should not be transmitted through personal e-mail accounts. ‘It is the Department’s general policy that normal day-to-day operations be conducted on an authorized AIS [Automated Information System], which has the proper level of security control to provide nonrepudiation, authentication and encryption, to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the resident information,’ the manual says.
“While the sensitive-but-unclassified category includes a number of technical items, such as design of embassies and payroll information, the State Department also lists ‘Inter or intra-agency communications, including emails, that form part of the internal deliberative processes of the U.S. Government, the disclosure of which could harm such processes.’
“It’s unclear whether Clinton’s e-mail account was conducted through a secure system that would meet the State Department’s requirements.”
CLINTON: “I fully complied with every rule that I was governed by.”
“This appears increasingly debatable,” Kessler says.
“The Fact Checker covered most of these rules in our timeline about the Clinton controversy. Certainly, the law became clearer after Clinton stepped down. But even when Clinton was secretary, the State Department emphasized that a personal e-mail account was not a preferred mode of communication — and that it was the responsibility of officials using a personal e-mail account to make sure that ‘federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency recordkeeping system.’
“A cable,” Kessler concludes, “was even issued under Clinton’s name that warned: ‘Avoid conducting official Department business from your personal e-mail accounts.’ ”
Much recent news has been made about the roughly 32,000 “personal” e-mails that Clinton has “deleted,” most notably by South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, who’s leading yet another investigation into the attack in Benghazi, said “There are gaps of months and months and months… It strains credibility to believe if you’re on your way to Libya to discuss Libyan policy that there is not a single document to turn over to Congress.”
Nonetheless, nothing of a suspicious nature has showed up in 55,000 pages of e-mails Clinton had previously submitted to the State Department. Nothing has showed up in the approximately 900 pages specifically about Benghazi. Further, The Huffington Post reported that on Fox News Sunday (Mar. 15), Gowdy stated that “We haven’t seen any evidence of a crime.”
“Fox News’ Chris Wallace,” The Huffington Post said, repeatedly asked Gowdy whether Clinton had broken any laws. The Benghazi committee chair declined each time to implicate Clinton.”
Nonetheless, from an ethical perspective Clinton should have followed the recommendation of her own cable to State Department employees and “Avoid conducting official Department business from your personal e-mail accounts.”
It was a dumb mistake, reflected in her first statement about “convenience.” However, it is a big jump to go from “convenience” to conspiracy. Conspiracy would’ve involved some former rational that something of a suspicious nature could possibly come up during her tenure as Secretary of State necessitating a personal server that would, presumably, allow future deniability.
However, that reasoning just doesn’t pass the smell test, not with the thousands and thousands of messages Clinton sent to State Department employees, military officials, ambassadors, politicians and others. Something potentially incriminating would eventually show up somewhere. To date, there have been a number of official investigations into Benghazi: Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; 5 House committees including, Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, Judiciary, and Oversight and Government Reform, State Department Accountability Review Board, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and the latest, House Select Committee.
Thus far, none has identified any direct culpability on Clinton’s part.
However, for Hillary Clinton, or ANY politician conducting government business, no one should be using a personal server, period.