The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Hillary’s unspinnable problem

The latest Fox News poll reports that “a 58 percent majority thinks Clinton ‘knowingly lied’ when she announced in a March press conference that no emails on her private server contained classified information.  A third says there is ‘another explanation’ for internal government investigators determining secret info was in fact on Clinton’s server (33 percent). Moreover, by a 54-37 percent margin, voters feel Clinton put our national security at risk by using a private email server.” That is extraordinary and arguably poses an insuperable barrier to the White House.

She faces a problem for which spinning is of little or no use. The FBI is not spinnable. Even more ominous for Clinton, The Post reports, “The investigation is being overseen by two veteran prosecutors in the Justice Department’s National Security Division. One of them helped manage the prosecution of David H. Petraeus, the retired general and former CIA director who was sentenced to probation earlier this year after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified materials. He was also fined $100,000.” Treating Hillary Clinton just like other top officials who have been prosecuted for mishandling secret information is about the last thing Hillaryland wants.

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Former attorney general Michael Mukasey explains how troubling the allegations are and how indefensible is the alleged conduct:

It is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than a year to keep “documents or materials containing classified information . . . at an unauthorized location.” Note that it is the information that is protected; the issue doesn’t turn on whether the document or materials bear a classified marking. This is the statute under which David Petraeus—former Army general and Central Intelligence Agency director—was prosecuted for keeping classified information at home. Mrs. Clinton’s holding of classified information on a personal server was a violation of that law. So is transferring that information on a thumb drive to David Kendall, her lawyer.

After reviewing more serious potential charges, he reminds us, “It is inconceivable that the nation’s senior foreign-relations official was unaware of the risk that communications about this country’s relationships with foreign governments would be of particular interest to those governments, and to others. It is no answer to say, as Mrs. Clinton did at one time, that emails were not marked classified when sent or received. . . . [T]he laws are concerned with the sensitivity of information, not the sensitivity of the markings on whatever may contain the information.” But remember “not enough evidence to prosecute” is not the standard for a presidential candidate. That she could have used a system that subjected the nation’s secrets to hacking, her aides to prosecution and herself to blackmail raise a fundamental question about her fitness for office. “Once you assume a public office, your communications about anything having to do with your job are not your personal business or property. They are the public’s business and the public’s property, and are to be treated as no different from communications of like sensitivity,” Mukasey observes. “That something so obvious could have eluded Mrs. Clinton raises questions about her suitability both for the office she held and for the office she seeks.”

In short, Clinton has two problems: An electorate convinced she is dishonest and reckless and incorruptible FBI and prosecutorial experts who have set a precedent for treatment of high-level officials. If there is any good news for Democrats it is that all this has come out months before the first primary votes have been cast.

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