Clinton on the defense after FBI email report
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton faced renewe d scrutiny of her judgment and honesty this week, after the FBI released a detailed report on its investigation into her use of private email as secretary of state. The heavily redacted 58-page report—which includes notes from Clinton’s interview with investigators— reinforced FBI director James Comey’s assertion that Clinton and her staff were “extremely careless” with sensitive information. It revealed that Clinton told investigators that she considered emails about planned drone strikes “routine,” and that she didn’t realize emails marked “(C)” were confidential, assuming the letter merely signified an alphabetizing system. At least 39 times in her FBI interview, Clinton she said she couldn’t recall specific email exchanges, and partly blamed a concussion and a blood clot in her head she suffered in late 2012. The report noted that a contractor deleted an archive of her emails after having an “oh s--t” moment, having been instructed by Clinton aides months earlier to permanently destroy the emails. The deletion came three weeks after House lawmakers demanded that all of Clinton’s emails be saved. Meanwhile, many of the devices used by the former secretary of state— including 11 BlackBerrys, and several iPads and phones—have gone missing; one aide told agents he destroyed two Clinton smartphones by “hitting them with a hammer.”
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump pounced on the report, saying, “After reading these documents, I really don’t understand how she was able to get away from prosecution.” Clinton’s campaign said it was “pleased” by the report’s release, saying it showed why the Justice Department had cleared the former secretary of state of any wrongdoing.
What the columnists said
This report is “an almost complete exoneration of Clinton,” said Kevin Drum in MotherJones.com. Granted there are “bits and pieces that might show poor judgment on Hillary’s part,” especially the initial decision to use private email. But it wasn’t prohibited and her predecessors at State had used similar setups—documents show that Colin Powell did in fact advise Clinton to use private email to avoid having all her communications become public records. At bottom, “there’s remarkably little here.”
“Yet soldiers and sailors are routinely prosecuted and punished for equivalent or even lesser acts,” said David French in NationalReview.com. You can believe that it was a coincidence that Clinton’s emails were wiped away just weeks after she received a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Benghazi attacks, or that she maintained her private server for “convenience” and not to evade scrutiny. But the fact remains that she kept classified information on an unclassified system that was less secure than Gmail, and that “her behavior contains the elements of a federal crime.”
Trump routinely criticizes Clinton for lacking “the mental and physical stamina” needed to be president—an attack her supporters have called sexist and insulting, said Mark Hemingway in WeeklyStandard.com. But whether Trump had good reason to launch such a line of attack is now irrelevant, because Clinton herself has told the FBI that a concussion and a blood clot impaired her ability to remember vital government business. Or perhaps she was just “using her health problems as a convenient excuse to explain her illegal actions.” Either way, it’s doubtful she’s fit for the presidency.
Clinton has been stereotyped as “a conniving politician who will do what it takes to obtain power,” said Jeff Stein in Vox.com. But the inquiry “points to just the opposite conclusion.” It suggests she didn’t grasp the dangers of a “homebrew server and didn’t sweat the details about what happened to discarded BlackBerrys” and other minutiae—she was, after all, busy running U.S. foreign policy. In other words, “Clinton wasn’t a tech-savvy manipulator of State Department protocol who gamed the system for her own good. She barely understood what the protocol was.”
The real scandal is that “Clinton was allowed to spend her four years as secretary of state off the grid,” said William McGurn in The Wall Street Journal. “No one in government stopped her” from doing as she pleased, including mixing State Department and Clinton Foundation business. When IT officers expressed security concerns about the server, her aides warned them never to speak of it again. Then Comey took the rare step of publicly squelching prosecution, pre-empting the Justice Department—whose job it is to indict or not—“and any hope for accountability.” No wonder voters think the system is rigged.