On March 2, the story broke that Hillary Clinton had possibly violated e-mail regulations while secretary of state.
You could almost hear the collective gasp in Washington: Oh, no, here we go again.
But the next evening, Clinton was feted at the Emily’s List 30th-anniversary gala dinner as though nothing had happened. Only the trumpets were missing from what felt like her coronation as the Democratic presidential nominee and, possibly, the next president of the United States.
Fast-forward a dozen days and Clinton’s position in the presidential sweepstakes seems less assured, her inevitability not so inevitable.
The most perplexing question isn’t about the e-mails themselves but why she put everything at risk over such a small detail, declining to segregate her personal and business e-mail.
There can only be one answer, and it isn’t “convenience,” as Clinton claims. Think of another word that begins with the letter “C”: control.
Clinton claims she opted for the convenience of one cellphone and a personal server — rather than use a government-issued phone for business and another device for personal matters. Too much stuff to lug around?
So the whole question of her conduct as secretary of state boils down to a few ounces of electronic equipment. Hate to say it, but only a woman could come up with such an excuse. It’s all about the purse.
Plainly, Clinton didn’t want anyone snooping around her virtual file cabinet. Who does? But this isn’t the point. When you are secretary of state and are mulling a run for president, you steer clear of anything and anyone remotely questionable. No one should know this better.
Questions that merit serious consideration include whether the Clinton server was secure. Clinton insists that it was because her New York home, where the server lives, is protected by the Secret Service. Given the optional sobriety of agents these days, this is less than reassuring. Then, too, hacking doesn’t require on-site handling.
Here’s the real muddle for Clinton. Whether her server suffered no breaches — and whether there’s nothing in those 32,000 deleted personal e-mails — matters little. In politics, you’re guilty as perceived. It looks bad.
Most likely this error (rather than crime) is a function of remoteness more than dishonesty. The Clintons have been around so long, they are the essence of bubble life. Removed from the hubbub of ordinary existence — escorted, driven, valeted, catered to, styled, fluffed and obeyed — being Clinton means never having to hear the word “no.” It must be easy to forget that you have to live by the same rules as everyone else.
This is a concept the Clintons have never fully accepted. One can understand, given their extended public life — and the hyper-scrutiny under which they live — that they might seek to erect high walls around their private lives. Fame and celebrity breed not just insularity but also paranoia.
Maybe there’s nothing of interest in those personal e-mails, but how would we know? Team Clinton handpicked the “personals” and now they’re deleted, thus creating the impression that she is hiding something. The Clintons always seem to be hiding something. Not so much holding their cards close to the chest as kicking the body back behind the dust ruffle.
Even though investigations into every “gate” associated with them in the past — Travelgate, Filegate, Troopergate, you-name-it-gate — failed to produce much more than a blue dress, there seemed to be something not quite right. And now there’s this. Not illegal per se but not quite right.
Clinton says she figured that, because all her communications to State Department staff went to the dot-gov server, they automatically would have gone into storage as required. True, but what about the rest? What’s in those deleted e-mails? Don’t we imagine that personal and business often overlap in the Clinton Rolodex?
Adding to the suspicion is that the 55,000 pages of e-mails that Clinton did turn over to the State Department surfaced only after the House select committee investigating Benghazi requested her correspondence about the attack. Would she have turned them over anyway?
Maybe. Still and again, it doesn’t look good. And the entire mess serves as a reminder of a movie we’ve seen before — and it wasn’t so great the first time. Whether this episode proves fatal remains to be seen, but we won’t hear the end of it until every note of condolence, yoga date and wedding plan is known to someone other than Hillary.