The Truth of Hillary’s Email Non-Scandal
26 Aug 2015
Hillary Clinton is running an intelligent presidential campaign focused on voters’ pressing concerns. Her plans for reining in Wall Street, reducing cost of college education and child care, criminal justice and immigration reform, gun control, and equal pay for women deserve close examination. Yet we are distracted from the issues Clinton and other candidates raise by a corporate owned media that, just as in 2008, has set out to derail her. Their obsessive coverage of Clinton is as unprecedented as it is profitable for them. For months, Republicans and predatory pundits have claimed that her use of a personal email and server while Secretary of State is the smoking gun that will, at last, deliver Hillary Clinton’s blonde scalp on a plate. There have been hundreds of stories filed along with breathless accusations, but what is the truth?
Simply, Secretaries of State before Hillary Clinton used personal email to conduct government business and correspond with government employees. Hillary continued that tradition, stating she did so out of convenience. Her actions were legal, performed with the knowledge, and presumably, the blessing of the State Department. The law stating that government employees could only use a .gov email account was not passed until well over a year after she stepped down as Secretary of State. Her successor, John Kerry, is the first Secretary of State to exclusively use a .gov account.
Political strategist Robert Creamer’s Huffington Post article clarifies the butter:
At the time Ms. Clinton was Secretary of State there was no prohibition against the Secretary of State having a private email server. In fact, no Secretary of State before Ms. Clinton had a government email account.
On CNN’s New Day, State Department spokesman John Kirby said:
“We have said in the past, Chris, that there was no policy prohibiting the use of a private email account here at the State Department, and that is still a fact.”
After she stepped down, she and four Secretaries of State before her were asked to turn over work related emails. Hillary Clinton was the only one to comply. She turned over 55,000 pages worth, even though at least 90% of them already resided on a .gov server, having been messages sent to or received from other government employees.
She also had deleted emails that she deemed personal. Again, big media pounced. But the law states that she, and any other government employees, have the right to determine what is personal or business correspondence and act accordingly. Further, the State Department returned 1,000 pages of emails, since she had over-submitted items that were clearly personal. As an aside, her personal server was never hacked (unlike that of the State Department).
Previous Secretary of State Colin Powell also used personal email, but unlike Clinton, when the State Department requested documentation from him, he turned over nothing, stated that he had saved nothing and that he had deleted all emails. He did not save or submit a single one.
The deafening silence you now hear is the amount of outrage, reportage or passing interest at the email habits of the Secretary of State and 4-star General who helped sell the Iraq War, which resulted in the deaths of 4,493 American soldiers and untold thousands of Iraqi civilians.
When the initial press brouhaha started in March, Hillary Clinton asked that the 55,000 pages she submitted to the State Department be made public so people could judge for themselves. In another irony, media and self-interested Republicans, having failed to criminalize Secretary Clinton’s emails or server, later used their ever morphing “scandal” to insist that she had illegally “passed classified information” in her emails. This too falls flat. Mr. Creamer offers a reality check:
“None of the emails on the Secretary’s personal account were classified at the time they were sent or received. That is not in dispute. There is an on-going controversy between various agencies of what ought to be classified in retrospect as the material is released to the public by the State Department, but that does not change the fact that none of it was classified at the time. In fact, one of the several emails at issue actually says the word “unclassified” in the upper left hand corner and can still be accessed by the general public on the State Department web site.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein, ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, confirmed that the few emails on Clinton’s server that are now deemed “classified” only attained that status years after Hillary received them – and she did not write them. So unless we are now saying Hillary Clinton is clairvoyant…
As various departments review these emails to determine what can be shared with the public, we are left with a bureaucratic turf war between competing agencies that regularly classify and un-classify documents after the fact – and can’t seem to agree on which is which. This also has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton.
Finally, Creamer states:
“[N]o one has ever pointed to an instance where the fact that something was on [Clinton’s] server instead of a government server had any negative consequences whatsoever. There is no issue here, period.”
If you are getting dizzy trying to find a crime here, join the club. There is none. Yet by the sheer volume of negative reportage, some voters may blame Hillary Clinton by default, fair or not, rather than noticing that she is being held to a standard no other candidate is asked to meet.
I have battled Hillary conspiracy theorists who insist that what she did was “different.” Yes. It was. Secretary Clinton was far more transparent and forthcoming than Secretary Powell, yet she is the one being called “secretive,” “testy” and “combative” by the mainstream press. Let’s leave the sexist tropes of an agenda-driven media for the moment.
As former Justice Department Director of the Office of Public Affairs’ Matthew Miller states in his Politico article, The Real Clinton Email Scandal: Our Ridiculous Classification Rules:
As ill-advised as Secretary Clinton’s decision to operate a private server was, it has nothing to do with the potential classification problems that the intelligence community has raised. The exact same issue would have arisen had she been using an unclassified State Department email account, which, like her personal account, would not have been authorized to receive classified information. Furthermore, the only reason the interagency government committee began reviewing her emails for classification in the first place is because Clinton herself asked that they be released to the public.
So the press’ and Republicans’ latest reason to skewer Clinton is because she asked that the process be more transparent. Have I got that right?
Mr. Miller concludes that this affair is an “arbitrary, politically motivated fishing expedition” and
“If the Justice Department were to broaden this investigation, it would be doing so in the middle of a campaign, at the behest of partisan members of Congress and opposing candidates, with no indication of predicate potential criminal wrongdoing. In this context, it could not credibly investigate Secretary Clinton’s email account without opening similar investigations across the government and exposing thousands of officials to baseless charges of wrongdoing.”
Her Republican opponents ought to be careful what they wish for. Republican Governors Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Rick Perry, just to name three, have far bigger email and transparency problems of their own. I eagerly anticipate The New York Times (called out by multiple news organizations for their irresponsible reportage on Clinton) to take an interest in her opponents’ “honesty and transparency” problems.
From Media Matters: “Another key fact, via the Associated Press, is that, “Clinton didn’t transmit the sensitive information herself … and nothing in the emails she received makes direct reference to communications intercepts, confidential intelligence methods or any other form of sensitive sourcing.””
Yet according to the Washington Post, as Governor,
“Jeb Bush used his private e-mail account as Florida governor to discuss security and military issues such as troop deployments to the Middle East and the protection of nuclear plants, according to a review of publicly released records.”
Former Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney is fond of grinning while condemning Hillary Clinton for her “secrecy,” yet neglects to mention that when he stepped down as Governor of Massachusetts, his staff bought all their computers and servers and wiped them clean as a baby’s… well, you get the idea.
UPDATED – LATE BREAKING:
In USA Today, Anne M. Tompkins, former U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, who “oversaw the prosecution of Gen. Petraeus,” penned an article confirming that Hillary Clinton had committed no crime via use of email, nor did she knowingly pass any classified information. A few other news outlets are exhibiting some journalistic integrity by, finally, noting the same. For more reality behind the spin, read here and here.
Whether mainstream press’ bias or “intellectual laziness” stems from what Tom Watson calls “a personal dislike of Hillary owing to her refusal to bow and scrape” to beltway pundits or if they get their marching orders from moneyed interests opposing the causes Hillary Clinton champions, these attacks do a disservice to all voters – whether or not they support Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.
From Peter Daou, in yet another example of media malfeasance , CNN’s Wolf Blitzer just threw all credibility out the window when he and a Republican guest speculated “whether Hillary Clinton had committed a felony or a misdemeanor by using a private email server. This, without a single allegation of criminality or a scintilla of evidence supporting those claims.”
Even Chris Hayes and Joy Reid of MSNBC are calling out the dubious nature of the many attacks against Secretary Clinton as baseless click-bait from craven reporters playing by “Clinton Rules”, where any conspiracy theory, no matter how ludicrous, is deemed worthy of endless “investigation.” Any salacious title with Hillary’s name in it, no matter how flawed the reportage, is bound to get them a satisfying result. Dirt sells.
The press’ gotcha questions and smear tactics prevent detailed analysis of her policy prescriptions or those of other candidates. If Clinton defends herself, she is “testy and combative,” whereas Jeb Bush defending himself is “strong and resolute” and we are told that Donald Trump handles the press “like a lion tamer.” But the media’s sexist double standards are becoming obvious and may backfire with women and fair minded men who see through these tactics.
Lastly, though Benghazi Committee “investigator” Trey Gowdy plays fast and loose with alleged subpoenas, “demanding” information that had already been given to him months earlier, he recently admitted on FOX News that Hillary’s emails “don’t have much of anything” to do with his relentless investigation over events that led to the tragic deaths of four men in Benghazi, which has now gone on longer than the Church Committee. There, too, the scandal he seeks does not exist and numerous Committees chaired by his own party have stated as much – repeatedly.
So the next time someone tries to tell you Hillary is in “serious trouble,” I’ll tell you the circus is in town.
The press has roasted her over a spit – and Republicans have been dragging her before “committees” for almost 25 years. Yet she is still here, stronger and more popular than ever. So either she is very smart, they are very stupid, or they’re playing politics and don’t really have anything worth your time and energy.
You do the math.
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Of Further Interest:
As a parenthetical, for those who wish a thorough, simple and easy to understand timeline, I also include Clinton Communications Director Brian Fallon’s summary, which he sent out via twitterstorm over the weekend. I have transformed his 32 tweets into paragraph form, and unabbreviated certain words. This is otherwise unedited:
In light of judge this week suggesting Clinton’s email use violated government policy, thought I would give timeline showing why that is not case
Let’s begin in 1995. That is when National Archives issues new regulations implementing Federal Records Act. Those 1995 regulations specifically contemplated use of “external electronic email systems” by agency personnel. This meant there were appropriate and legal circumstances in which outside e-mail accounts could be used. In years that follow, agency employees make use of personal email, including Cabinet heads.
To take one example, Colin Powell wrote this in his memoirs about his time as Sec of State: He said he “installed a personal laptop on a private line” from which he accessed his “personal email account” …which he used to send emails to his “principal assistants, to individual ambassadors …” “…and increasingly to my foreign-minister colleagues.”
Now fast forward to 2009. Natl Archives makes tweaks to regulations, but keeps option for employees to use personal email. New regulations mention agencies “allow[ing] employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency.” Regulations then add that steps should be taken so that personal email records “are preserved in the appropriate agency recordkeeping system.”
Enter Clinton. In 09, she joins State Department, decides she wants to keep a blackberry as she had as Senator. So, like Powell before her, she uses personal email account at State Department. She adheres to updated regulation language about preserving records through a set of practices, such as: … (a) communicating with other Department officials on their http://state.gov e-mail accounts… (This actually constituted the vast majority of Secretary Clinton’s work-related emails) (b) contemporaneously forwarding emails from non-government senders to Department officials on their http://state.gov accounts and (c) copying Department officials on their http://state.gov accounts in the case of e-mails she sent to non-government recipients.
In her years at State, her use of personal email known to many, as she regularly emails with administration officials, members of Congress, etc.
Now it’s February 2013. Clinton steps down as Secretary of State. Later that year, Natl Archives updates its regulations again, this time discouraging use of personal email by government officials. But crucially, this is seven months AFTER Clinton has already left the government.
Then in 2014, President Obama signs an update to the Federal Records Act, saying explicitly that federal officials can only use personal emails if they also copy or send it to official account. But again, this is long after Clinton has departed State. Not to mention, even after these changes, some Cabinet officials continued to use personal email.
Lastly, in 2014, to update its records, State Department asks four former secretaries to provide any work-related emails they may still have. Despite use of personal email by multiple past secretaries, Clinton alone makes good on the request. She turns over 30,000+ work emails, very nearly all of which already on http://state.gov system due to practices she adhered to.
Bottom line, as said by OMB Watch founder Gary Bass: “She was in compliance with the laws and regulations at the time.”
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