Although Sen. Bernie Sanders proclaimed back in November 2015 that America was “sick and tired of hearing about (Hillary Clinton’s) damn emails,” we’re going to have to continue hearing about them, I’m afraid, as the State Department inspector general has released a rather damning report today on how Clinton did not make a request to use a personal email account to conduct the government’s business and was never authorized to do so.
Although Clinton has said all along that she used the private server as a matter of “convenience,” the report also indicated that while she was willing to use a different address or phone to access state department email, she apparently wanted to maintain a certain level of privacy. According to The New York Times, Clinton told her deputy chief of staff in November 2010 that she didn’t “want any risk of the personal being accessible.”
This excerpt from the inspector general report highlights other correspondences between government officials about Clinton’s emails from August 2011:
The then-Executive Secretary informed staff of his intent to provide two devices for the Secretary to use: “one with an operating State Department email account (which would mask her identity, but which would also be subject to FOIA requests), and another which would just have phone and internet capability.” In another email exchange, the Director of S/ES-IRM noted that an email account and address had already been set up for the Secretary 153 and also stated that “you should be aware that any email would go through the Department’s infrastructure and subject to FOIA searches.” However, the Secretary’s Deputy Chief of Staff rejected the proposal to use two devices, stating that it “doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.” OIG found no evidence that the Secretary obtained a Department address or device after this discussion.”
To her credit, although Clinton’s 30,000 emails were the main subject of the report, the inspector general’s office indicated that the State Department had “longstanding systemic weaknesses” in its handling of digital records, so, while her refusal to use the state’s email system was questionable, and potentially unethical from an open government point of view, hers was apparently not an isolated case.
Nonetheless, I can’t help but wonder how a politician with as much experience in government as Clinton had at the time when she was secretary of state could possibly have any expectation of privacy while she was conducting the public’s business. Certainly she knew, or should have known, that her correspondence, except for records pertaining to classified information, were and would be subject to inspection under the Freedom of Information Act.
Further, in any business, it’s common sense that intermingling work communication with private correspondence is a recipe for disaster. How much more so when you hold a public office funded by taxpayers? How much more so when you hold one of the most powerful public positions in the nation … in the world?
This, I think, speaks to two of the main problems with Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate in the first place.
While she certainly has a strong record on women’s rights, health care and LBGT issues and other causes that are important to liberal voters, she comes off as disconnected and insular, even when she tries to be a woman of the people, and this was never more evident when she awkwardly attempted to use a subway MetroCard that one time and when she grabbed a craft beer in Wisconsin.
Second, she gives off the impression that she is almost above the law — or that she perceives herself as above the law — and isn’t beholden to the same standards of transparency and openness as other public officials, which I think is actually related to the disconnected argument. We can also see shades of this in her apparent hostility to the press.
She has lived in “the bubble” of politics for so long that she seems to see herself as above the fray in some contexts, and although it’s certainly important for the presidents to make decisions based on a long view of history and understand the big picture, and in that way operate on a higher plain than get tangled up in the day-to-day political grist mill, no one official, no matter how powerful, can operate with impunity.
Arguably the most important function of the press is to hold public officials accountable for how they manage public resources. We already know Obama has had one of the least press-friendly administrations in recent memory. Given Clinton’s troubling record on open government and transparency in her own office as secretary of state, the prospects that this might actually improve if she wins the presidency are minimal at best; in all likelihood, information coming out of her White House will be locked down even tighter than under Obama.
[Cover image credit: Tom Stiglich/Creators Syndicate]