This post has been updated.
Private email accounts are reportedly alive and well in the Trump White House. Stories in recent days have linked the use of private accounts to many top staffers, with the New York Times naming six Monday evening: Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Stephen Miller, Gary Cohn and former top aides Reince Priebus and Stephen K. Bannon.
This, for obvious reasons, has Hillary Clinton supporters apoplectic. Donald Trump made Clinton's private emails a centerpiece of his campaign, even suggesting she should be jailed for it. What could be more hypocritical than this?
But let's take a step back. Clinton's private email issue is often vastly oversimplified, and the two situations just aren't analogous at this point.
That's not to say what the Trump administration is doing is okay. At the very least, it lacks transparency — in contrast with the pledges by the candidate to “drain the swamp.” If aides are using their private accounts for official business without forwarding the emails to their official accounts for preservation, then they are violating the rules.
But even that isn't why Clinton's emails were such a big issue. As the Times's Matt Apuzzo and Maggie Haberman noted in their story, her private emails were problematic 1) because she set up her own server and used private email exclusively, and 2) because she was discussing potentially sensitive national security matters on that private server. That latter one was the big one — and the focus of the FBI investigation — because it meant classified information could potentially have been jeopardized.
Here's what FBI Director James B. Comey said in recommending no charges against Clinton in July 2016:
Our investigation looked at whether there is evidence that classified information was improperly stored or transmitted on that personal system in violation of a federal statute that makes it a felony to mishandle classified information either intentionally or in a grossly negligent way.
From the group of 30,000 emails returned to the State Department in 2014, 110 emails in 52 email chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight of those chains contained information that was top secret at the time they were sent; 36 of those chains contained secret information at the time; and eight contained confidential information at the time.
These findings were significant, because Clinton had maintained that she never sent or received classified email on the server. She later amended that statement to clarify that she never “knowingly” did. So this added credibility issues to her email issues. (The Post's Fact Checker has a great piece on the classification process, and it notes that much of this information wasn't classified until it was released publicly.)
Comey added that there was “evidence that [Clinton and her colleagues] were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” He added that “we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton's personal email account.” They just had no proof.
If this issue were just about Clinton flouting transparency and record-keeping rules, that would be one thing. But what really got her in trouble was the possibility that this could have jeopardized national security (not to mention her handling of the matter, which even aides admitted she botched). Even in letting her off the hook, Comey said it was possible she did just that.
Given her position as secretary of state and the extent of her private server use, Clinton's private server was inherently problematic. The Times reports that Trump administration sources say their use of private email, meanwhile, has been “sporadic,” and there's no evidence that it may have compromised classified information.
The named aides probably don't deal in classified and national security information nearly as much as Clinton did, though its possible someone like Kushner -- with a portfolio that includes Middle East peace and other foreign policy matters -- could be dealing with such information. But we have no indication yet that he talked about those issues while using private email.
The Trump team's use of private email is still worth a full airing and lots of questions; it has more than a whiff of hypocrisy. Reasonable people can disagree about whether Clinton's email was overplayed as an issue in the 2016 election. But we have a long way to go before we're talking apples-to-apples.