2008 December: President Obama nominates Hillary Clinton for secretary of state. 2009 Jan. 13: Reports say the clintonemail.com domain was established. Jan. 21: Senate confirms Clinton as secretary of state. March 18: Clinton will later name this as the date she began using a private server for government business. 2012 Sept. 11: Islamic extremists launch […]
Hillary Clinton says the current investigation into her personal email server “has nothing to do with me.” When asked last week by Fox News reporter Ed Henry, “Did you wipe the server?” Clinton answered jokingly, “What, like with a cloth or something?” She also said that she made every effort to hand over relevant emails after the fact—”55,000 pages of anything we thought could be work related.” Clinton went on to explain that “we” meant “herself.”
“Under the law, that decision is made by the official. I was the official. I made those decisions,” said Clinton.
Two inspectors general appointed by President Obama appear to contradict Clinton’s claims that she never sent or received any classified information. One explicitly reported to a Senate committee that some of Clinton’s emails contained information that was classified at the time it was sent, allegedly including photoreconnaissance satellite information. The FBI now has custody of Clinton’s server, which had apparently been erased prior to the hand over.
Here are 16 unsolicited observations about the whole mess.
1. Crime and politics.
While there are many allegations circulating, if Hillary Clinton is not ultimately charged with a crime, it could be argued that she did not commit one. Even if charged with a crime, Clinton could successfully argue she did not do the deed, or that she should not be held responsible. Even if Clinton—or any presidential candidate—were to be convicted of a felony, he or she would not technically be barred from being elected president. Additionally, whether or not Clinton is ever formally accused of any crime, President Obama could issue her a pardon, if he so chose.
2. Time was of the essence.
It’s been nearly three years since the Benghazi terrorist attacks. All evidence should have been collected years ago. The more time that passes between an event and the collection of evidence, the greater the likelihood that the full record will not be complete and/or accurate.
3. Turning a blind eye?
There’s no excuse for law enforcement officials failing to investigate the serious allegations made by a former Clinton Deputy Assistant Secretary: Raymond Maxwell. A year ago, Maxwell alleged he witnessed a Benghazi document sorting operation in the basement of the State Department with Clinton aides Cheryl Mills and Jake Sullivan present. Potential evidence that could have been collected, had law enforcement or the State Department elected to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation, includes witness testimony, swipe card records, sign-in sheets and security tapes. Even if authorities were to investigate now, the amount of time that has passed since the alleged event raises the question of how much untainted evidence could be collected.
4. What difference does it make?
Clinton has shifted her verbiage in significant ways:
March 10: “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material. I’m certainly well-aware of the classification requirements and did not send classified material [emphasis added].” Her precise wording leaves open the possibility that she received classified material.
July 28: “I am confident that I never sent nor received any information that was classified at the time it was sent and received [emphasis added].”
August 18: “I did not send classified material, and I did not receive any material that was marked or designated classified [emphasis added].”
No matter the wordplay, the inspector general of the Intelligence Community has provided information that, if true, means all of Clinton’s statements are false.
5. FBI as custodian.
The FBI taking custody of Clinton’s private server is widely viewed as a move that puts the investigation into the hands of impartial experts who will do a fair and thorough job. It also, for the moment, prevents inspectors general, courts and Congress from getting the server. The FBI employs some of the best detectives in the world and will hopefully find whatever there is to be found. However, there are conceivable scenarios that could raise questions as to whether politics could interfere with their job. For example, hypothetically, what if the FBI were to discover that some of Clinton’s missing emails contain information that could be damaging to President Obama on Benghazi or another matter? It should be noted that the FBI is not, historically, immune from the effects of politics or mistakes. For example, the FBI falsely claimed that accused spy Wen Ho Lee had failed his lie detector test when he had actually passed; admits falsifying some evidence over two decades to obtain convictions; sometimes fails to lawfully comply with Freedom of Information Act law; took part in the questionable IRS effort to prosecute groups for political reasons; and hid evidence in the botched prosecution of Senator Ted Stevens.
6. “The cover up is worse than…”
One might think that Clinton, as a former staff attorney for the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate investigation of President Nixon, might understand that the appearance of covering something up—such as conducting the public’s business on a private server, deleting tens of thousands of documents prior to independent review, and failing to provide all documents responsive to Congressional subpoena and Freedom of Information Act requests—can be worse than the deeds allegedly being covered up. However, we still don’t have the information to tell us what revelations, if any, are in any undisclosed Clinton material or how serious they may be. So it’s impossible to judge if any alleged cover up is worse than any alleged deed.
7. Words matter.
Even novices at the classification process understand what Clinton surely has been briefed on many times: material doesn’t have to be marked “classified” to be classified. Government officials at any time can be generators of classified information that would not be “marked” at the very moment it is generated; yet, they are still expected to understand the nature of the information and are required by law to treat it accordingly.
8. Substitution game #1: news media’s treatment of Trump vs. Clinton
Some in the news media demanded Republican Donald Trump get out of the presidential race for perceived transgressions, such as countering insults from Sen. John McCain by insulting McCain’s status as a Vietnam war hero. They have declared Trump destroyed, demanded apologies, and said his campaign can’t be serious. Yet the same news media haven’t demanded Clinton apologize or get out of the race for making allegedly false statements regarding her alleged mishandling of sensitive and public information as secretary of state. They haven’t declared her candidacy destroyed for becoming a focus of multiple inquiries, including from a Bill Clinton-appointed judge, Obama-appointed inspectors general and the FBI. This is not to say one approach is more or less valid than another; it’s simple to observe there is disparate treatment.
9. Substitution game #2: Hillary Clinton was a cabinet level Obama administration official.
The news media largely treats Clinton’s email scandal as if it’s somehow separate and apart from the Obama administration; rather than intertwined with it. In fact, Clinton was Obama’s choice for secretary of state, and the alleged misdeeds occurred under his administration’s watch. Substitution game: if Bush Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been caught operating a private server, allegedly transferring classified information and giving false information about it, the same news media would likely have made it George W. Bush’s scandal. Again, this is not intended to say that either approach is right or wrong; simply that they are disparate.
10. Benghazi implications?
Understandably, much attention has focused on the possible risk to national security allegedly caused by Clinton’s use of a private server, and her alleged flouting of rules and law. But the real story may lie in what the undisclosed records say about the Benghazi terrorist attacks, the Obama administration’s policies prior to the attacks, and its handling of the spin in the aftermath. It’s unclear if the full record will ever come to light.
11. FOIA law violation.
There can be little doubt that Freedom of Information (FOI) law has been violated. Public records are to be available for public inspection in real time. We now know that Clinton’s private server was never properly searched and/or records produced when members of the news media and other FOI requesters asked for them in recent years. Even today, not all of Clinton’s known, public emails have been provided to longstanding FOI requesters.
12. Only one?
The public record is unclear as to whether other federal officials have also used private servers. The Department of Justice refused to answer the question when asked of then-Attorney General Eric Holder. We do know that numerous officials have used personal accounts and pseudonyms for government business. Holder—it was discovered—used several email aliases including Henry Yearwood and David Kendricks. Holder exchanged Fast and Furious-related emails on non-government servers with his wife Sharon Malone and with his mother, yet the emails are being withheld under executive privilege exerted by President Obama. Justice Department official Lanny Davis once forwarded Fast and Furious information to his personal email account. IRS manager Lois Lerner allegedly used an msn.com email account labeled ‘Lois Home’ for government-related communications. Former Obama EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson used private email accounts, as well as a secret EPA email address under the pseudonym Richard Windsor, to conduct official business.
13. Beyond Clinton.
If it’s determined that classified information was improperly transmitted via Clinton’s private server, there’s a possibility that officials on other ends of the email exchanges could also face allegations of wrongdoing.
14. Ghosts of document controversies past.
Clinton has long been surrounded by document controversies and by associates connected to document controversies.
As mentioned, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary under Clinton, Raymond Maxwell, told me he witnessed an operation to separate Benghazi documents in the basement of the State Department at which top Clinton aides Cheryl Mills and Jake Sullivan were present.
Also last year, a former Commerce Department official under Clinton, Sonya Gilliam, alleged that Clinton confidant Cheryl Mills improperly inserted herself into reviewing and sometimes withholding White House documents when Mills was a counsel to President Clinton.
In 1997, a federal judge found no obstruction or conspiracy but referred to Cheryl Mills’ conduct as a White House official as “loathsome” in a case of missing White House emails.
In 1988, a Congressional report alleged Hillary Clinton “ordered the destruction of records relating to her [legal] representation of [Jim] McDougal’s Madison S&L” when federal regulators were investigating the insolvency of the Arkansas savings and loan. Bill Clinton was Arkansas governor.
In 1993, first lady Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff, Maggie Williams, allegedly removed records from the office of White House Deputy Counsel Vincent Foster the night of his suicide.
In 1996, after nearly two years of searches and subpoenas, the White House reported it found copies of missing documents from Hillary Clinton’s law firm that described her work for Madison S&L in the 1980s. The White House previously said it did not have the records.
In 2003, former President Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger smuggled classified documents related to the 9/11 terrorist attacks from the National Archives.
There have been many cases of missing documents involving other Democrats and also Republicans.
15. Clinton: I’m innocent.
Clinton has never wavered from her insistence that she did nothing wrong. Taken as a whole, her statements imply that if she did receive or send any classified material via her private server, the material was not “marked” classified and she was unaware that it was. Clinton has said she did nothing different than many other officials have done, and that she operated her private server out of convenience, not in an effort to hide anything. She has said that she wants the public to see all of her emails and has cooperated extensively with the House Benghazi Committee as well as the FBI. In her view, the matter has nothing to do with her, and any controversy that exists is being generated by Republican opponents, right-wing conspirators and an unfair news media.