Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, presumptive 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, has managed to maneuver herself into an incredibly Clintonesque corner over her current email contretemps. One could almost hear Frank Sinatra singing in the background, “I did it my way,” as Mrs. Clinton tried to explain to the press her reasons for comingling over 60,000 personal and official State Department emails on her Blackberry.
As everyone now knows, Secretary Clinton conducted 100% of her State Department email correspondence on her own private blackberry, all of which was stored on her own private server. She has announced that she has turned over to the State Department every email they need to see, and they (and we) will see there was nothing about which to be concerned. Everything else (that which she chose not to turn over to the State Department) she says is private and none of the government’s business and none of our business.
Well, hold on. How would anyone know what was or wasn’t the people’s business? Who says so? Ah, Hillary Clinton says so – and that’s the problem. She is telling us that she and her personal counsel have determined which of the tens of thousands of emails she generated during the time she served as Secretary of State, all of which were saved on (and since deleted from) her personal blackberry, and all of which are presumably still etched in her own private server will and will not be made available to the government.
Mrs. Clinton says, in retrospect (translation: now that stuff has hit the fan) she should have used separate devices. “I thought using one device would be simpler, and, obviously, it hasn’t worked out that way,” Mrs. Clinton opined at yesterday’s news conference at the United Nations in New York. “Looking back, it would have been probably…smarter to have used two devices.” Well, not really. How about simply using any smart phone that allows one to have more than one account on it.
As Secretary of State from 2009 until early 2013, Mrs. Clinton exclusively used a personal email account managed through a private computer server in her home in Chappaqua, N.Y. Why in the world, would the nation’s top diplomat do something like that? Well, simply because it gave the Secretary complete control over what communications would ever see the light of day. Specifically, it gave her the final say over what ever would be accessible by the media, by Congress and by the public through our various public-records laws.
Why in the world did she wait two years to turn over some of the emails, instead of turning them all over, which the spirit of the law intended and which (now) the letter of the law requires? It is hard to escape the conclusion that had she not been asked by the government, none of her email correspondence would have been turned over to the government nor could any of it have ever been made available under the Freedom of Information Act.
An obvious answer to every doubter’s question would simply be to have an independent party (perhaps a trusted, non-partisan official of the FBI or the judiciary) review what is still on her server and determine what, if anything might still pertain to State Department business. But alas, Mrs. Clinton has nixed that obvious alternative claiming that all of the remaining (private) 30,000 emails are simply variations of personal correspondence between she and her husband (who says he doesn’t use email) and other personal family matters.
The question isn’t whether Mrs. Clinton is hiding anything. Of course she is. By definition, whatever she has deleted and refused to turn over to the government is hidden – permanently. The more important question is whether what she is hiding is relevant or potentially damaging, improper or unlawful. Frankly we doubt it, but that really isn’t the point. The real problem for Mrs. Clinton is that a reasonable person in high office wouldn’t comingle all of his or her personal email with all of his or her official email. And a reasonable person certainly wouldn’t wait two years after they left office to decide what they would or wouldn’t turn over to the government. And that simply suggests, by definition, that Mrs. Clinton is not (was not) behaving as a reasonable person should behave in high office. Now, that’s not such an aberration in Washington, but it is the last thing Hillary needed the public to be reminded of just before she announces her candidacy for President.
This modus-operandi will have a familiar ring to those Americans old enough (and with long-enough memories) to remember the lost (and subpoenaed) Rose Law Firm billing records that mysteriously turned up (after two years of looking) in the Clinton White House residential quarters. To this day no one knows how those records got there. Well, we presume, almost no one knows.
And who can forget that wonderful 100 to 1 return Mrs. Clinton pocketed on her first-ever cattle futures trade back in 1978. That was when husband Bill was running for Governor and she apparently turned $1,000 (over the course of a year) into $100,000 trading in one of the most risky futures trading pits in the world (especially for first-time traders). Mrs. Clinton had insisted that she did it all on her own after learning how by reading one article in the Wall Street Journal. Actually, the reader may recall, it later came out that James Blair, outside counsel to Arkansas corporate heavyweight Tyson Foods (a company regulated by the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission), turned out to be her guide. That may have been the first time we heard I did it my way, playing in the background.
Back in 1997, Mrs. Clinton’s penchant for secrecy almost cost her husband’s Administration $286,000. A suit in federal court determined that the health-care task force Hillary was running had “run amok” in its pursuit of secrecy. Federal judge Royce Lamberth’s financial sanctions were later rescinded on appeal because an appellate court found that there was no ill intent in the secrecy. It was, in effect, just an early case of Hillary saying, “I did it my way.”
There is not, however, a plausible “great right wing conspiracy” to blame for this mess as she has blamed prior messes on. It is a mess purely of her own making. It is almost breathtaking to contemplate that she believes that the inconvenience of carrying two phones or having two accounts on one phone justified her massive comingling of personal and official email correspondence, and that she and she alone should determine what the government sees and what it doesn’t see. As John Stewart quipped, “I think the concern…is that the aides are the ones that get to decide which emails are appropriate to be shared as opposed to an independent arbiter. That is why Doritos doesn’t get to decide which ingredients consumers need to know about, or why you don’t get to tell the cops which pocket to search.”
This public relations train wreck will not, by itself, do great harm to Mrs. Clinton’s presidential aspirations. She has not, however, enjoyed a good run-up to the coming formal announcement of her candidacy. Her book tour was a flop and she has avoided the press like the plague for the last five or six months. This was a very bad coming out party.