I hadn’t been planning to talk about the email scandal, but last night, during the Democratic presidential debate, Bernie Sanders indignantly declared that the American people have heard quite enough about the emails. Apparently, I disagree.
As we all know, Hillary Clinton was the United States Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013. During her entire time in that distiguisehd office, she ran all of her official email communication through a personal email server kept in a closet in her private home. Her email address was “firstname.lastname@example.org” rather than “email@example.com”. She claims this was purely for convenience, but it also allowed her to avoid disclosing any of her communications to the State Department.
Now, the current administration’s Justice Department announced that it was legally OK for Clinton to own and use a private email server, just as it would be for any of us, but there are several layers of complexity here. The first issue regards potentially mishandling classified data, which can certainly be a crime. Then there’s a long list of regulations on how federal records must be maintained and recorded, violations of which are bad. And thirdly, there is a general obtuseness and shadiness with which Clinton discusses her communications which, well, is the typical general obtuseness and shadiness with which Clintons tend to communicate.
For example, Hillary’s version of the story has changed over time. In March of this year, Clinton refused to acknowledge that a private server was a problem. Then, she admitted that it might have been unwise, but refused to apologize. By September, enough details had surfaced that she admitted that she had made a mistake, and even made a small, retractable apology. To this day, however, she still downplays the mistake, and doggedly sticks to her old “vast right-wing conspiracy” narrative while assuring us that this is really no big deal.
The only constant claim is one of total transparency with her emails, despite the fact that it was almost two years after she left office until she began providing them to the State Department, and only after official Congressional requests began to turn into subpoena threats. Furthermore, she delivered about 30,000 emails printed on 55,000 sheets of paper, rather than any electronic records. This made it impossible to see if anything had been deleted, and took hundred of man hours to sort and analyze. Despite the fact that she still refers to “all 55,000 pages,” a statement issued in April quietly admitted that about 32,000 “personal” emails had been omitted.
An FBI Investigation that began in August managed to recover a backup of the server. When reporters repeatedly asked Clinton if she had tried to wipe the server before handing it over, she repeatedly refused to answer, finally giving a dopey smile and laughing, “What? Like with a cloth or something?” In September the FBI did indeed manage to recover some wiped emails.
Through all this, Hillary still treats the whole scandal like a joke. Despite the fact that this private server had terrible security and was open to foreign hackers, she assures us that it wasn’t a problem. It would be a problem if there were any classified materials being emailed to the Secretary of State, but she is adamant that in four whole years this never, ever happened. This statement has been hedged by suggestions that nothing was classified then, but some of those emails might possibly maybe be classified now.
This is possible; some unclassified documents do become classified later (like once it becomes embarrassingly obvious that the State Department has been accidentally supplying ISIS), but we now know for a fact that she was sending and receiving emails containing satellite data that was most certainly classified at that time. Spy satellite images images of North Korea have been classified ever since we’ve had satellites, and they will continue to be classified for as long as we have North Korea.
And it’s not as if Clinton is totally unaware of the dangers of un-monitored bureaucrats or cyber espionage; in June 2012, her office fired Ambassador to Kenya Scott Gration for using personal email. Last night, when asked about Edward Snowden, she said, “He stole very important information that has unfortunately fallen into a lot of the wrong hands. So I don’t think he should be brought home without facing the music.”
About her own flouting of Federal Laws and dangerous mishandling of very important information, however, there are only jokes. At a fundraiser in August, she quipped, “You may have seen that I recently launched a Snapchat account, I love it. I love it. Those messages disappear all by themselves.” The Des Moines Register asked how she would increase government transparency if elected. “Well, you can count on me not to have a private email server,” was her smirking response.
For the Clinton family, scandals are an irritation or annoyance, not a source of shame, or something that should be repaired. Everything is a political game of winning and losing, rather than a moral test of right and wrong. The stakes are merely political power or political embarrassment, not the futures of nations and human lives. During last night’s debate, when asked about the upcoming Congressional hearing on the events in Benghazi, Clinton smiled through another snarky reply, “Let’s just take a minute here and point out that this committee is basically an arm of the Republican National Committee.”
On September 11, 2012, U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other State Department personnel were murdered in Libya. The circumstances surrounding American security preparations, the attack itself, and the response, are remarkably vague and unclear. To this day, we still don’t even how the deceased body of Christopher Stevens, the first U.S. Ambassador to be killed on duty in 35 years, was recovered. And Hillary Clinton believes that that only conceivable reason that Congress might want to investigate this tragic event is partisan meanness because she happens to be running for president.
Her zinger drew cheers from the crowd, because it was a partisan crowd. As a Berkeley grad and long-time Foreign Service lawyer who was appointed to his post by Hillary Clinton, Stevens was probably a Democrat himself. It seems like the crowd at the debate would rather cheer about poll numbers than honor the deaths of four men, possibly even four fellow Democrats. If that’s true, then Hillary is right: The email scandal is hilarious, because her base doesn’t care. But even if the truth doesn’t have any bearing on this election, the truth still matters. And the truth will come out.