In Monday’s commentary (Those Clinton Emails), I began looking at the continuing issue regarding former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. The fallout from inconsistent information from the Democratic candidate has caused her poll numbers to drop and led to a loss of trustworthiness among potential voters. But what’s the genesis of this controversy?
Wikipedia has the most complete record and timeline on this issue with more than 85 reference links to articles. However, the biggest fingerprint surrounding this entire issue comes down to one word: Benghazi.
“In August 2014, more than a year after Clinton left office,” TIME magazine writes (Aug. 27), House Republicans investigating the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, raised questions about Clinton’s use of private emails.”
Benghazi is a separate issue that I intend to cover in the future. However, as TIME continues, “A Vice reporter, Jason Leopold, requested that her work-related ones be released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and later sued the State Department for moving too slowly. The department asked Clinton and other former Secretaries of State to hand over private emails that contained government business from their tenure.
“Clinton tasked her personal lawyer, David Kendall, and his team with going through 62,320 emails on the personal server and separating work emails from personal ones. On Dec. 5, 2014, Clinton turned over 30,490 work emails to State; she erased the rest, saying they were personal. The server itself remained in the New Jersey office of a small Colorado-based firm, Platte River Networks, that the Clintons hired to manage their email after she left office in February 2013.
“The State Department and the intelligence community have been reviewing and releasing Clinton’s work emails over the past eight months. So far they have found potentially classified information in 305 of them. The FBI is now investigating whether Clinton’s unorthodox email arrangement exposed government secrets, and it has taken possession of Clinton’s server and thumb drives Kendall used to store copies of the emails.”
Two important points: Contrary to several misleading accounts, Clinton’s use of a private server was not a secret. State Department officials knew as did others in government; and at this point in time, the FBI is not conducting a criminal investigation of Secretary Clinton.
Nevertheless, Did Clinton knowingly expose government secrets by using her private server and email system?
Clinton says she never sent or received messages that were marked “Classified.” However, The New York Times writes (July 24), “Government investigators said Friday that they had discovered classified information on the private email account that Clinton used while secretary of state, stating unequivocally that those secrets never should have been stored outside of secure government computer systems. …
“ ‘This classified information never should have been transmitted via an unclassified personal system,’ Steve A. Linick, the State Department inspector general, said in a statement signed by him and I. Charles McCullough III, the inspector general for the intelligence community. …
“The two investigators did not say whether Mrs. Clinton sent or received the emails. If she received them, it is not clear that she would have known that they contained government secrets, since they were not marked classified. The inspectors general did not address whether they believed Mrs. Clinton should have known such information was not appropriate for her personal email.”
Sorting through all the political claims and counter claims, and evaluating the facts on this issue, one thing seems clear to me: The buck stops with former Secretary Clinton.
– While I can understand the need of any high-profile individual for privacy, this isn’t Clinton’s first time at the political rodeo. The message that she (or her office), sent in a memo to staff members specifically dealing with the issue of private emails is plain enough: “Avoid conducting official Department business from your personal email accounts.” The former Secretary should have followed her own advice.
– Clinton has consistently used the word transparency in her dealings, and stated that her actions regarding the private server and email were legal and aboveboard. However, public servants demonstrate trustworthiness by abiding by the spirit as well as the letter of all rules and laws.
As reported by TIME magazine, “At first she said she would set up the server so she would have to use only one device; then it emerged that she carried not just her signature, BlackBerry, but also an iPhone, an iPad and an iPad Mini. Clinton claims that State [Department] released her emails only because she asked them to; in fact, she made a virtue of necessity in the fact of [reporter Jason] Leopold’s FOIA case.”
– Partial and conflicting statements lead us to believe that her communication skills have been lacking in the months since the controversy took hold in the consciousness of voters, and that’s been a relevant factor in her declining trustworthiness numbers.
The fact that she or staff members deleted personal emails from the server without first checking with the National Archives about the rules governing such issues only fuels the right wingnut conspiracy theories that Clinton maintained a private email and server for deniability in the event of a crisis such as Benghazi. The fact that there isn’t a shred of evidence to suggest such a scenario does little to change perceptions. And as we see from people who continue to cling to the false belief that Obama is a Muslim born outside of the United States, perceptions are difficult to overcome. Clinton should know better.
Going forward, Secretary Clinton – and ALL prospective candidates running for president – should have a qualified ethics advisor who can oversee and offer counsel on any issue that challenges a candidate’s integrity.