No matter what spin emerges from Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign about her decision to turn over her private e-mail server to the Justice Department, it's impossible to see this as anything but a bad thing for her presidential prospects.
Here's why. Remember that back in March, following the revelation that Clinton had exclusively used a private e-mail address during her time as secretary of state -- going against Obama Administration protocol in the process -- she insisted that the server would not -- and need not -- be turned over to a third party. “I believe I have met all of my responsibilities, and the server will remain private," she told a reporter during a press conference at the United Nations. And, her lawyer, David Kendall, said in a letter to a congressional committee seeking the server that there was “no basis” to support a third-party examination of it.
Clinton will portray her decision to turn over the server as entirely voluntary -- she just wants all the facts out and for this to be resolved. But, she quite clearly was resistant to doing just that as recently as March, insisting, in essence, that there was nothing to see here.
Use common sense. If you had your own private e-mail server, would you rather keep it private or allow a third party -- ANY third party -- to inspect it? I mean, come on. Also, if you HAD voluntarily turned it over, would your spokesman not comment on whether you were told to give it over or whether you did it on your own? The answer is no.
Then there is the news reported by McClatchy News Service that two of the four classified e-mails discovered on her private server were "top secret" -- the highest possible security classification. Clinton has previously said that she never sent or received any classified material via her e-mail account; “I am confident that I never sent or received any information that was classified at the time it was sent and received," she said last month.
For someone who is already struggling to bridge a trust deficit with the public, the revelations about the classified e-mails on Clinton's server hurt. If Clinton's claim that nothing she sent or received was classified at the time are proven wrong, that does her even more damage.
Where does the story go from here? Clinton hopes nowhere. But, keep an eye on the following:
- Does the State Department turn over more of the 30,000 Clinton work-related e-mails to the intelligence community's inspector general? So far, he has reviewed 40 of Clinton's e-mails and found that four contained classified information: that's 10 percent of a very small sample.
- How many more -- if any -- e-mails show that Clinton was sending or receiving classified information via her e-mail server? And, was any of that information classified at the time she received or sent it? Did she know? If not, why not?
- Will any of the more than 31,000 e-mails that were deleted off of the server after being determined to be private and personal be recovered? According to an expert on e-mail recovery that our own Philip Bump talked to this spring, there is a 90 to 95 percent chance those deleted e-mails could be recovered "if no other steps were taken to go in and otherwise make the data inaccessible." That last part we don't know yet -- were any other steps taken to ensure the e-mails could not be recovered -- but presumably we will get some answers once the Justice Department begins to look at the server. The bigger question is whether there are legal reasons to try to recover the the 31,000 deleted e-mails. If those are recovered and examined, it's hard to imagine this story doesn't go from bad to worse for Clinton.
There's simply no way to see these latest development in the long-running e-mail story as anything but bad news for Clinton. The turning-over of her private server not only takes control of its contents out of her hands but also likely ensures this story will be in the news for far longer than she'd like.
Today is not a good day in Clintonworld.