When it comes to Hillary Clinton’s State Department email scandal, reporters — and even her right-wing critics in the Republican Party — are asking the wrong question.
Sure, doing all her official business on an unprotected, unscrambled private server in her own home and on an unsecured private Blackberry phone device means that any two-bit spy outfit, not to mention sophisticated ones like those of Russia, Iran, Israel or China, could easily hack it and read secret State Department and other agency communications. But really, those entities have ways of getting that kind of secret stuff anyhow.
The real question is what kind of private conversations Clinton, in her role as Secretary of State, was having with powerful people both at home and abroad that may have involved cash donations to the Clinton Foundation and to her and Bill’s personal enrichment or her future campaign for president.
Hillary Clinton is a lawyer, and while she’s slippery, she’s no dummy. She may have played dumb when asked earlier by reporters about her server’s hard drive being wiped clean of data before she turned it over to the FBI, saying, “What, like with a cloth or something? I don’t know how it works at all,” but she surely was involved in the deletion of her private emails — over 30,000 of which were reportedly erased.
And those erasures were made without any involvement of State Department security or legal officials. The decision, according to Clinton, on which emails were “private communications,” was made by her personal attorney, whose interest, by definition, was her and not the public or even national security for that matter.
As the Washington Post has reported, the Clintons went from being, as Hillary Clinton has said, “dead broke” upon leaving the White House in January 2000, to earning some $230 million by this year — a staggering sum of money even in a new Gilded Age of obscene wealth. Most of this money has been little more than influence buying by corporations and wealthy people trying to curry favor with a woman who was already Secretary of State, perhaps the second-most powerful position in the US government and whom many expected to become the next president after Obama.
The power couple’s two foundations, the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative, now together reportedly worth more than $2 billion, both function effectively as money-laundering operations providing salaries to Clinton family members and friends. And Hillary Clinton, particularly while serving as President Obama’s secretary of state, was in a perfect position to do favors for unsavory foreign leaders seeking to have their countries kept off of State Department lists of human rights violators, and for US businesses seeking lucrative business deals abroad. It’s those kinds of email conversations that would have benefitted from a private server, since US State Department official computers have dedicated back-up systems that would be hard or impossible to wipe, and are also by law subject to Freedom of Information inquiries from journalists and the public.
It beggars belief to think that Hillary Clinton wasn’t hiding such conversations when she had her private emails deleted from her server.
The FBI is known to be investigating Clinton’s private emails, with as many as 100 FBI personnel assigned to the investigation. Already, one key privately hired tech assistant who worked on Clinton’s private server, Bryan Pagliano, has become a cooperating witness, granted immunity from prosecution by the US Justice Department in that investigation (usually an indication that the FBI is expecting to indict someone else). Key Clinton aides, notably her top aide Huma Abedin, have also been interviewed by FBI agents, with the expectation that Clinton will be interviewed herself soon by federal agents. But there is no indication from the Justice Department or the FBI as to when, if ever, the results of that investigation will be released.
However Politico reports that on Wednesday, a report by the State Department’s Office of Inspector General, has issued its report on the emails. It is a scathing indictment, concluding that Clinton failed to comply with US government and State Department policies on records, and that counter to assertions made publicly by her, she never sought permission from the department’s legal staff to use a private server — a request which if made, the report insists “would not” have been approved. The inspector general’s report states, “At a minimum, Secretary Clinton should have surrendered all emails dealing with Department business before leaving government service and, because she did not do so, she did not comply with the Department’s policies that were implemented in accordance with the Federal Records Act.”
It’s not as though Clinton didn’t know what she was doing was wrong and even illegal. The just released report states that technology staff in the State Department’s Office of Information Resource Management, who raised concerns about her private server, were instructed by the department’s director, a Clinton appointee, “not to question the arrangement.” When one staffer mentioned that her private account could contain federal records that needed to be preserved “in order to satisfy federal recordkeeping requirements,” the report says the director of that office “stated that the Secretary’s personal system had been reviewed and approved by the department legal staff and that the matter was not to be discussed any further.” Yet the inspector general says that assertion by the director was false, as there was in fact no evidence that in the State Department’s office of the legal advisor had ever reviewed or approved the private system, or even been asked to do so by Clinton.
Again and again through her four years at State, Clinton is found to have resisted efforts to get her to stop using exclusively her private email to conduct official business. On several occasions, the report says, she expressly said her concern was having her mail subjected to FOIA, or in other words, public discovery. Clinton tried to claim that since her communications with State Dept. personnel ended up on their servers, there were records of her communications there. But as the report notes, that wouldn’t include any State Department-related communications she had with persons outside of the State Department or the government. And those are precisely the kinds of conversations that the public really needs to know about — particularly when we’re talking about someone who is running for the top position in government, and who has demonstrably spent years with her hand out to powerful people and organizations. After all, it is those communications that would include any discussions of financial transactions involving foreign or domestic interests seeking beneficial assistance from the Madam Secretary.
This scandal is not about someone simply ignoring some arcane rules. As Secretary of State, Clinton had a legal obligation to operate in an above-board, legal and transparent manner in conducting the business of government. Instead, for our years in office, she conducted that business in a manner that can only be called Nixonian, opting to openly violate the rules, to hide her communications from government oversight and public review, to dissemble about her allegedly having received clearance to do so, and even to attempt to erase records from her server when ordered to turn them over. Furthermore, suspicions have to be raised because if Clinton’s concerns were about people accessing her genuinely personal emails, she had only to set up a State Department email address and obtain a State Department secure Blackberry phone, and limit her personal server and personal Blackberry to genuinely personal emails and calls, conducting all State Department business on State Department systems. According to the IGO report, she studiously avoided doing that kind of segregation for four years despite frequent instructions and advice to do so.
Bernie Sanders so far has declined to make an issue of Clinton’s email scandal, but as more information comes out from the Inspector General’s Office, from a FOIA lawsuit currently in the deposition stage in federal court, and ultimately from the ongoing FBI investigation reportedly nearing its conclusion, it is becoming obvious that Sanders is being far too kind to her. When he pooh-poohed the scandal in response to a debate moderator’s question during the first televised public debate he had with Clinton, the scandal was still fairly new. Today, with release of the IGO report, it has become much more serious.
Now that Sanders has agreed to a pre-California-primary televised debate with Donald Trump, following Hillary Clinton’s refusal to honor an earlier agreement to debate him, he will obviously be asked about her email scandal before a riveted national audience. If he doesn’t raise the issue sooner on the campaign trail, Sanders must take that opportunity to denounce her illegal behavior, to question her motives in hiding her communications as secretary of state, and to demand that she come clean by providing copies of all her emails during that period. If it is important for her to release the transcripts of her closed-door and lucrative speeches to Wall Street banks, it is far more so for her to explain why she was conducting State Department business on her private email and trying so hard to avoid Freedom of Information Act scrutiny.
Sanders should start pointing out the obvious reality that should Clinton not come clean, and should she become the Democratic nominee for president this July, she faces the possibility of an embarrassing and damaging final report from the FBI during the election campaign, or perhaps even an indictment, and the certainty of five-months of hammering on the issue by her Republican opponent. Furthermore, if somehow elected, there will follow an inevitable and interminable campaign by Republicans in Congress to try and impeach her for her “high crimes and misdemeanors” committed while serving as Secretary of State in the prior administration. That would make a joke of her campaign slogan: “A president who gets things done.”