Here’s the thing about the Hillary Clinton e-mail story: Clinton flagrantly broke a rule. And if there’s one thing we know for sure about Hillary Clinton, it’s that she is an absolute stickler for the rules.
This is, except in her own case.
Let me take you back, if I may, to the Michigan presidential primary of 2008. The state scheduled its vote for January 15—three weeks earlier than Democratic Party rules allowed. As punishment, the Democratic National Committee stripped Michigan of its delegates to the Democratic Convention, rendering its primary meaningless and leading most candidates—including Barack Obama, John Edwards and Joe Biden—to remove their names from the ballot. However, Clinton opted to remain on the ballot and, having no opponents, won the primary.
Smash cut to May 31, when party leaders held a meeting and decided to seat Michigan’s delegates after all, because, well—forgive and forget, right?
This meant, of course, that the DNC was retroactively changing the rules—to the benefit of Clinton and to the detriment of everyone else. Obama, Edwards and Biden had withdrawn from Michigan on the understanding that the primary wouldn’t count and therefore wasn’t worth contesting. Had they known the DNC would change its mind after the fact, they obviously would have campaigned differently.
Meanwhile, Clinton suddenly won a whole batch of free delegates for no reason except that she deliberately violated the spirit of DNC rules by staying on the Michigan ballot while the rest of her party turned its back. When asked how, under these circumstances, the Michigan primary could possibly be considered fair, Clinton responded, “We all had a choice as to whether or not to participate in what was going to be a primary, and most people took their name off the ballot but I didn’t.”
You see, this is how Hillary Clinton thinks. Following protocol is all well and good, but if there is any way around the rules—namely, one that can guarantee a leg up on the competition—you’d be foolhardy not to try it. It’s a principle that any professional athlete would be well-acquainted with.
Which brings us back to the present, and this silly business about her e-mails.
As it turns out, for the entire time that Clinton was America’s secretary of state—and unlike every other secretary of state—she conducted all e-mail correspondence through a personal account, rather than an official government server. What is more, none of those thousands of messages was copy-and-pasted into the official record at the time they were sent.
The reason this is a problem is that—at the risk of sounding like a total prude—the latter of those things was, and is, against the rules.
In point of fact, there is such a thing as the Federal Records Act, which since 2009 has said, “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.”
We know that Clinton’s State Department did no such thing while Clinton was there, because when this issue was belatedly brought to the department’s attention and made public in recent days, Clinton’s aides suddenly went into overdrive to sift through some four years’ worth of files.
Which means one of two things is true: Either Clinton (and everyone on her staff) was unaware of the requirement to archive all of her relevant e-mail messages, or she was aware of it but hoped that nobody else was. Considering that Clinton is a lawyer and, by all accounts, one of Washington’s most legendary control freaks, one would do well to place one’s bets on the latter.
To be clear, there is absolutely no mystery as to why Clinton—or anyone—would want to bury all of her messages in a private account. Given the choice of making all of your work-related e-mails public versus strategically deleting any messages that might make you look bad…well, we don’t even need to finish that thought, do we?
However, so far as the Federal Record Act is concerned, the secretary of state does not have a choice in the matter. She is mandated to save everything for the historical record. We can argue about whether this policy is good or bad, but we cannot deny that it is, in fact, the policy.
Nor can we deny the obvious advantage Clinton gave herself by flaunting it for her entire term. Because she has exclusive control over her personal e-mail account, she can cherry pick all she wants without anyone (except maybe the NSA) knowing what she might be hiding.
When she tweeted last week, “I want the public to see my email,” it had all the intellectual honesty of President Obama’s responding to the Edward Snowden NSA leaks by saying, “I welcome this debate.” If the president desired a discussion about government spying, he sure went into a lot of trouble to ensure that one never occurred. And if Clinton truly wants her diplomatic correspondence made public, she has nonetheless exerted an awful lot of effort over the past six years to keep it private.
Who are you going to believe—Hillary, or your own eyes?
Having said all of the above, this is probably a good time to note—as so many Clinton supporters have—that shielding four years’ of e-mails from public view is not a capital offense. It’s not a Watergate-level act of deception, it’s not indicative of a state department rotting from the inside out, and it does not disqualify Clinton from running for president of the United States.
What it does is merely remind us that Hillary Clinton is an abnormally secretive and disingenuous person who will bend (if not break) the rules at every possible opportunity. We can go ahead and elect her president, anyway—there have been dishonest people in the Oval Office before—but if we do, we should be under no illusions about what we would be getting.