Until this summer, Democrats mostly figured that Hillary Clinton's email scandal was one big nothingburger. This nonsense is nothing more than an unjustified conservative attack on a highly accomplished individual who is all but assured of being elected America's first female president, they insisted. The whole thing will soon fade from the headlines, they blindly assured themselves.


For too long, Democrats bought Clinton's repeated defenses of her exclusive use of a private server while she ran the State Department. They believed that this potential security violation really was for her convenience, that she had copied other State Department addresses to preserve "90 percent" of her communications, and that no classified material was transmitted through the unauthorized and unsecured system. And if that had indeed all been true, Democrats might well have been right that the storm would pass, as has happened with other scandals involving the Clintons.

But one by one, those excuses have fallen by the wayside. The convenience argument fell apart almost immediately. Clinton claimed in a March press conference that she used the private server to limit her mobile devices to a single smartphone when traveling. That excuse made little sense, since any secretary of state travels with staff, who handle communications devices for their boss. Just a few weeks prior to that, Clinton had bragged about all of the high-tech communications devices she carried around. "I'm like two steps short of a hoarder. So I have an iPad, a mini iPad, an iPhone, and a BlackBerry."

As for copying the State Department on her communications, the State Department itself couldn't find any evidence for this claim. It turns out that their archival processes were mostly failing during this period of time anyway, a point that Team Hillary tried to use in her favor last week. That, however, ignores the fact that Hillary Clinton was the secretary of state when these State Department systems were failing, and apparently did nothing about it.

That leaves Democrats with the no-classified-material pledge from March's presser — and that defense has already been walked back more than once. Clinton insisted at the time that she had never sent or received classified material through the system, but when classified material emerged from four emails out of 40 inspected, the defense shifted. Suddenly, Clinton claimed that any material transmitted through the system hadn't been marked as classified at the time, even though two inspectors general made it clear that the material they found — including top secret intelligence — was "classified when they were sent and are classified now." The Washington Times and other media outlets now report that intelligence community inspectors general have found an additional 300 emails in the system that likely contain classified materials, after inspecting 20 percent of the communications turned over by Clinton. That's one in every 20 emails.

This should be hugely worrying to Democrats.

The FBI has taken a serious interest in Platte River Services, where the Clintons sent their server after her time at the State Department. ABC News quotes a company official as saying it's "highly likely" they have a back-up of the server that includes the emails deleted by Clinton's legal team. If any of those turn out to be work-related, contain classified material, or are responsive to FOIA and Congressional demands for documentation, it's not unreasonable to wonder whether the former secretary of state may be in too much legal trouble to continue her campaign.

But even in a nightmare scenario where Clinton has to bow out of the race, Democrats could at least rest easy that the email scandal was isolated to Hillary Clinton. Except maybe they can't.

Indeed, a new reversal by the State Department in a FOIA case risks painting the entire Democratic establishment with the same scandal-red brush. And it may be that an internet scandal sheet will be the prime mover.

In 2013, Gawker filed a FOIA demand to access the emails between Philippe Reines, deputy assistant secretary of state and a longtime Hillary Clinton aide, and various news media outlets and reporters. At the time, the State Department answered in court that they could find no documents responsive to the FOIA demand. Gawker spent significant amounts of time and resources suing the State Department for the data, which should have been publicly available through the Federal Records Act. Last week, the State Department finally admitted to the court that they had found more than 81,000 of Reines' emails, and that over 17,800 of them were "likely responsive" to the FOIA demand.

These emails did not come from the private Clinton email server, from which Reines produced 20 cartons of printed emails for State to archive and inspect. The 17,800-plus emails identified by State in its court filing came from its own systems, which State had in its possession all along. Any explanation for the sudden discovery of so many emails after a blanket denial, other than willful obstruction, would beggar belief.

This is a really big deal. Until now, the transparency and honesty issue has focused solely on Hillary Clinton. However, by early 2013, Clinton had left the State Department. John Kerry had taken over as secretary of state. If the lack of transparency was limited to the State Department under Hillary Clinton's direction, then why did it continue under Kerry — and in such an obviously clumsy way?

It is entirely possible, and frankly likely, that the lack of transparency didn't start and end with Hillary Clinton, although she may have pushed it to the point of damaging national security. Though liberals are loathe to admit it, the Obama administration has too often suppressed transparency, be it the Department of Justice in the Operation Fast and Furious scandal or the IRS or now the State Department.

And because of that, Clinton's scandal could stick to the two men getting the most mention as possible emergency replacements for her in the Democratic primary. John Kerry's State Department seemed perfectly willing to hide Clinton's potential issues from public oversight. How could he take the 2016 mantle from her? And if Joe Biden ran for president, the argument for his candidacy would explicitly rest on continuity from the Obama years — years in which those in power tried to manipulate courts and avoid legitimate oversight.

If this scandal gets any worse, Democrats may have no one left to rescue them from a disaster of their own making.