The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

These 61 words don’t make Colin Powell look good in the Clinton email controversy

Colin Powell (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Lost amid the focus on NBC's “Commander-in-Chief” presidential forum Wednesday night was the release — by House Democrats — of the email exchange between former secretary of state Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton regarding her email setup at the State Department.

Here’s the full back and forth courtesy of the Boston Globe’s Matt Viser:

The whole thing is fascinating. But one paragraph stands out to me. It’s this one:

Oomph. That’s 61 words that I bet Powell wishes he had back. What he’s saying is that the best strategy for Clinton is to have a BlackBerry to conduct her business but to also keep the device’s existence as secret as possible in hopes of avoiding government archiving rules.

That’s not exactly the height of transparency — or anything close to it. And for Powell, who has long enjoyed a brand of being above politics and political calculation, it’s a few sentences that are not great.

Of course, viewed another way, what Powell was doing was simply telling Clinton about a workaround he found to avoid the cumbersome State Department bureaucracy and outdated technology. Seen that way, all Powell is doing in his email is explaining to Clinton the way in which he figured out how to do the best job he could given the impediments he faced.

That’s the exact point Powell made in a statement sent to The Fix. “Secretary Clinton has stated that she was not influenced by my email in making her decisions on email use,” he wrote. “I was not trying to influence her but just to explain what I had done eight years earlier to begin the transformation of the State Department's information system.”

Clinton could have easily taken a different route than Powell recommended. She was under no obligation to do things as he had. In fact, Clinton decided to forgo setting up any sort of State Department email address — as Powell had — and instead solely used her private email and server for all of her electronic correspondence.

Still, the email paints a less-than-sunny picture of Powell — and how Washington politics really works. Which is in keeping, of course, with the public’s decidedly dim view of the nation’s capital.