Hard on the heels of the New York Times scoop Monday night that Hillary Clinton exclusively used a private e-mail account to conduct business as secretary of state comes this report Wednesday morning by the Associated Press:
The computer server that transmitted and received Hillary Rodham Clinton's emails — on a private account she used exclusively for official business when she was secretary of state — traced back to an Internet service registered to her family's home in Chappaqua, New York, according to Internet records reviewed by The Associated Press.
The highly unusual practice of a Cabinet-level official physically running her own email would have given Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, impressive control over limiting access to her message archives. It also would distinguish Clinton's secretive email practices as far more sophisticated than some politicians, including Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin, who were caught conducting official business using free email services operated by Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc.
There's any number of problematic phrases in those two paragraphs but two stand out: (1) "impressive control over limiting access to her message archives" and (2) "secretive email practices as far more sophisticated than some politicians."
Let's take them one by one.
The first phrase speaks to the suspicion that has long hung around the Clintons that they are always working the angles, stretching the limits of how business can be conducted for their own benefit. It seemed clear that Clinton went out of her way to avoid the federal disclosure requirements related to e-mail by never even setting up an official account. That she took it another step and created a "homebrew" e-mail system that would give her "impressive control over limiting access" is stunning -- at least to me -- given that she (or someone close to her) had to have a sense that this would not look good if it ever came out.
Yes, her allies have maintained that she turned over more than 55,000 pages of e-mails from her time as secretary of state. But, the decisions over which e-mails to turn over were made by Clinton and/or her staff. That's not exactly the height of transparency for someone who is the de facto Democratic presidential nominee in 2016.
The second phrase makes clear that Hillary, Bill or Chelsea Clinton didn't (a) dream up or (b) set up the e-mail system the former New York senator used as secretary of state. This wasn't some garden variety home e-mail system; it was "sophisticated" in ways that went well beyond what candidates like Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin -- both of whom used private e-mail accounts to do official business -- put in place. That level of sophistication speaks to the fact that this was not thrown together at the last minute; instead it was a planned maneuver to give the Clintons more control over their electronic correspondence.
Again, at one level that's entirely defensible. This is not your average family; it has a former president and a once-and-future presidential candidate in it. Some level of caution is warranted. Makes sense. At the same time, Clinton is virtually certain to run for president in 2016. She will run on her long and deep record in public life; an ability then for voters to have as complete a picture as possible of how she acted in key moments as secretary of state is critically important. Any attempt to purposely alter that picture by withholding e-mails -- or simply keeping them in a place that makes it harder for people to access them -- is politically problematic.
Clinton continues to maintain radio silence on the e-mail issue. That's going to become increasingly difficult for her to do that with the reporting today on her "homebrew" e-mail system. Explaining why she did what she did would go a long way to taking some -- though hardly all -- of the energy out of this story.