For what she says is the sake of “convenience” — who wants to have to fiddle with two handheld devices when one will do nicely? — Hillary Clinton bought herself a heap of trouble.
Then she added to the pile by failing to explain herself for a full week. The storm over her use of a private e-mail account mushroomed — as was inevitable in the absence of a countervailing explanation other than the Clintonian penchant for control and secrecy.
The delay occurred in the hope of being able to kill the story with an abundance of information, as Team Clinton preferred to wait for the State Department to clear the release of the e-mails. But the news cycle is an impatient beast, especially where Clintons are involved, and especially when it is provoked by stony silence in the face of reasonable questions.
Clinton finally addressed the issue Tuesday. Her explanation (“I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work”) and her expression of ex post facto regret (“Looking back, it would have been better for me to use two separate phones and two e-mail accounts”) will help to quiet the controversy but not end it.
From the perspective of ClintonWorld, the all-but candidate is both held to a higher standard of behavior than other politicians and treated with an extra level of suspicion. If that’s true, perhaps ClintonWorld should have factored that skewed reality into the planning.
Now, with her news conference and an unprecedented deluge of secretarial e-mails, Clinton is hoping this self-inflicted wound can be cauterized.
That’s not going to be so easy.
Numerous questions remain — about how the arrangement was approved; what security measures were put in place (Clinton said she was using the former president’s mail server so the protections were adequate); and, most important from my perspective, whether she followed the rules requiring that the records be properly preserved.
To wit, 36 C.F.R. 1236.22: “Agencies that allow employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency must ensure that Federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency recordkeeping system.”
That does not contemplate waiting for two years after your tenure as secretary is over and then combing through the records only after the State Department belatedly requested them. Clinton argued that the e-mails were captured at the time because they were sent to and from other State addresses — but that doesn’t deal with e-mails to and from outside the department or government.
Meanwhile, new questions arose with Clinton’s disclosure that half of the 60,000 e-mails were determined to be personal, were not turned over to the State Department and would not be made available, as some have suggested, for any third-party review. Indeed, they seem to have been deleted. “I chose not to keep my private, personal e-mails,” Clinton said.
I might believe that Clinton and her lawyers abided by the rules and even erred on the side of determining that e-mails were official and needed to be turned over. As Clinton noted Tuesday, even if she had used a dot-gov address, she would have been empowered to make a similar determination to exclude private correspondence.
Congressional Republicans have no incentive to be quite so charitable. Brace yourself for their howls of outrage.
My reaction to this episode is a combination of exasperation, sadness and a strong sense of deja vu. It’s exasperating because it’s all so unnecessary. Accepting Clinton’s asserted reason for relying on private e-mail, why does she get to play by different rules than other senior government officials, who juggle two devices? Why, understanding what a big target she is, knowing that her records were being sought, weren’t she and her aides more careful about compliance?
It’s sad because Clinton, in my estimation, is such a strong presidential candidate — smart, disciplined, hardworking, experienced, sober-minded.
As to the deja vu, I was in the State Dining Room almost 21 years ago when Clinton, in a demure pink sweater set, held a marathon news conference to handle questions about her commodities trading, Whitewater investment and assorted other matters.
“One of the things that I regret most,” Clinton said then, is that “my sense of privacy . . . led me to perhaps be less understanding than I needed to of both the press’s and the public’s interest, as well as right, to know things about my husband and me. . . . I’ve always believed in a zone of privacy. And I told a friend the other day that I feel after resisting for a long time I’ve been rezoned.”
Back then, Clinton chalked up her difficulties to “our inexperience in Washington.”
What’s the excuse now?
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