There’s just one person who could cost Hillary Rodham Clinton the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

That would be Hillary Clinton.

The startling disclosure this week that she exclusively used a private e-mail account to conduct business when she was secretary of State — just the latest in a string of negative stories — has fueled questions about Clinton’s vulnerabilities as a candidate and her instincts as a pol. Even before announcing she will run, she is mired in the sort of distracting controversies that have marked her tenure in public life and that of her husband, former president Bill Clinton.

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Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton appears to have operated in violation of what the White House said Tuesday was “very specific guidance” that members of the Obama administration use government e-mail accounts to carry out official business…

“Very specific guidance has been given to agencies all across the government, which is specifically that employees in the Obama administration should use their official e-mail accounts when they’re conducting official government business,” Earnest said. “However, when there are situations where personal e-mail accounts are used, it is important for those records to be preserved, consistent with the Federal Records Act.”…

Aides to Clinton declined to explain why she did not set up a State Department e-mail account.

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In 2012, congressional investigators asked the State Department for a wide range of documents related to the attack on the United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. The department eventually responded, furnishing House committees with thousands of documents.

But it turns out that that was not everything.

The State Department had not searched the email account of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton because she had maintained a private account, which shielded it from such searches, department officials acknowledged on Tuesday…

Mrs. Clinton’s aides on Tuesday sought to play down the significance of her exclusive use of a personal email account for State Department business. But an examination of records requests sent to the department reveals how the practice protected a significant amount of her correspondence from the eyes of investigators and the public.

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The biggest problem with running your own servers, as Lee Hutchinson recently pointed out on Ars Technica, is that “you are responsible for the care and feeding of your system. This is not an impossible task — it’s not even really difficult — but it is non-trivial and never-ending. Applying critical updates is your responsibility. When do critical updates come out? That’s your responsibility to keep track of, too.” Not trusting government information technology experts to do this and hiring your own is a risky move for a public official, not because government employees are better at Internet security — far from it — but because it means assuming full responsibility for preventing a hack.

Besides, running one’s own e-mail only keeps your messages out of the unspecific dragnets typically run by the National Security Agency and other intelligence services. Even if the private consultant working on the server is diligent and does everything right, he or she can’t always stop direct surveillance. When a server is monitored — whether by spies or malicious hackers — everything that moves over that connection, including email, can be skimmed. Encryption helps, but it is not a panacea — a lot depends on how interested the hackers are.  

Going the private e-mail server route held no advantages for Clinton unless her only goal was to keep certain e-mails away from prying government eyes.

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The revelation that Hillary Rodham Clinton conducted government business entirely on a private email account as secretary of state has blindsided the Democratic establishment.

It was a bracing reminder of the risks entailed in the party’s all-but-all-in bet on Mrs. Clinton so early in the presidential nominating process. And it left Democrats contemplating the prospect of yet another long cycle of dramatic Clinton flare-ups — the type that President Obama obliquely campaigned against in 2008…

That seemingly flat-footed reaction, several Democratic strategists said, illustrated how Mrs. Clinton’s decision to delay a formal start to her campaign had left her vulnerable. She has waited until recent weeks to begin hiring staff and creating the sort of sprawling infrastructure a presidential bid demands. She also only recently hired researchers to start reviewing her paper trail from the State Department, the Clinton Foundation and the past two years as a private citizen, to identify potential trouble spots that might need to be addressed later in the campaign.

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For a would-be presidential candidate with her deep experience in Washington, that’s a lot of unforced errors. The foundation shouldn’t have accepted donations from foreign countries so that no one could ever accuse Clinton of being influenced by that money. She should have stopped giving paid speeches a long time ago. And she should have used a government email address at the State Department. These should all be easy decisions to make, and yet Clinton got them all wrong. (And, in the case of the paid speeches, continues to get wrong.)

This should frighten Democrats. Who knows what other past mistakes might surface, or ones yet to come? It hasn’t taken much digging from journalists to find these stories. Republican opposition researchers are surely going into overdrive now that they smell blood in the water.

The best way for a party to vet a candidate, and get all of the dirt out of the way, is in a primary. But the Democratic Party is not going to have a competitive primary.

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Until now, Hillary Clinton’s run for the presidency has been viewed as pretty much a sure thing. But lately the road to near-certain nomination has taken a couple of rough turns, especially with the revelation that Clinton may have broken federal rules as secretary of state by communicating only on her private email account. Which makes us wonder: What if The Unthinkable did happen and she actually dropped out? What would be the Democrats’ response?

“Panic,” says Democratic consultant Chris Lapetina. Indeed, the biggest problem is that the Democratic establishment is apparently so terrified of the idea of a Hillary-less race—and the vicious primary that might result—it’s not even considering contingency plans. Political professionals, like military generals and crisis management experts, know that the way to avoid being blindsided is to prepare for every scenario. But while the Democratic National Committee has to officially remain neutral, much of the extraparty infrastructure has been moving ahead on the presumption of a Hillary campaign…

When they were asked what they would do with their resources if Hillary takes a pass—line up behind another primary candidate to help clear the field, or stay on the sidelines until the general election—very few of the establishment party operatives I contacted would entertain the question, even off the record.

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Are Clinton’s email shenanigans a federal offense? Probably not. But we still don’t know the whole story, and it seems to be thickening by the minute — notably with a new report from the AP that she was protecting her email by cycling it through her own private email server out of Chappaqua. But the more important question is why the Clintons, who more than anyone in American politics understand the high risks of perceived improprieties, have left Hillary’s campaign so vulnerable even before it is officially out of the gate…

And one imagines this is only the beginning. At the Post, a lead reporter on the Clinton story is Rosalind S. Helderman, whom some may recall was the dogged investigative journalist whose forensic journalism helped expose the pay-for-play scandal that brought down Bob McDonnell, the former Virginia Governor, and his wife Maureen.

Another question: What is the Democrats’ Plan B if their presumed presidential candidate falls by the wayside? Answer: None. Elizabeth Warren is not running, no matter how many on the party’s left fantasize about it, and, as a Massachusetts liberal, has virtually no chance of winning a national election even if she did. The others toying with a presidential candidacy, like Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb, have no chance either, and neither does Joe Biden. The Democrats ridicule the GOP field at their own peril; they have no field at all. 

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Does she have a political death wish?

Until a month ago, one of the arguments I frequently heard in favor of her presumed candidacy for the presidency was that she’d been vetted like nobody’s ever been vetted, with no surprises left. All the skeletons had been tugged from the Clintons’ labyrinthine closets. All the mud had been dug up and flung.

But that assessment shortchanged the couple’s ability to make new messes. It ignored the “Groundhog Day” in which they star…

That is, if she runs and if she gets her party’s nomination. Democrats should look closely at the revelations of recent weeks and think hard about finding a primary opponent for her, one more fearsome than those who have stepped forward so far.

Only then would she get the practice she may need in answering the latest charges against her. Only then would Democratic voters see how well she handles that. Only then would they be forced to reckon fully with her habit of clinging to her ways.

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Many senior Democrats are angry, though not yet mad enough to publicly confront the Clintons. “This story has legs as long as the election,” said a Democrat who has worked on Capitol Hill and as a presidential campaign manager. “She will be tripping over this crap until the cows come home.”…

[N]ow I wonder whether there is a part of her that doesn’t want to be president. She seems to be placing obstacles in her lane before the race begins. Is this sabotage or something else?

We’ve had sleazy and stupid—and, now, with these emails, suspicious. If she runs, are we going to have a full Seven Dwarfs?

Seedy.

Sanctimonious.

Self-important. 

Slick.

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Many self-stylized good government types on the Left, including a good number of journalists, already dislike Hillary.  A major contingent within the Democratic base is just itching for an Obamaesque, Liz Warren-like figure to emerge — and they’d bolt in a heartbeat.  “Ready for Hillary” is not a universal sentiment on the Left.  This email story is ammo for them, confirming their worst suspicions about Clintonworld.

Coupled with the other current — and more potent, I think — Hillary scandal, average Americans are being reminded of the ugliness that has followed the Clintons throughout their decades of public life.  If the electorate is in a mood to turn the page and elect someone fresh and untainted by seemingly ancient political baggage in 2016, every negative headline and unseemly revelation draws some blood.  These things build.  What voters have been hearing for two weeks is that (a) the Clintons’ organization accepted big, often unvetted, gifts from foreign governments during her time as Secretary of State (and again, as her campaign ramps up) — raising conflict of interest concerns and reminders that Hillary is uber-wealthy practitioner of cronyism and corporatism — and (b), that she deliberately skirted transparency laws by conducting government business through an extraordinary private email system, the entire purpose of which was to avoid legitimate oversight and scrutiny.  One of her justifications for her actions has already begun to crumble.  Some experts say her gerry-rigged system maximizes her ability to slow-walk domestic investigations into her official conduct, while also opening up significant security vulnerabilities.  Her political ambitions are safe.  Her sensitive correspondence as the nation’s top diplomat, not so much.  Pile these two problems atop her widely-ridiculed “dead broke” bumbling from last year, and some of her biggest forays back into the public realm have been marred by self-inflicted wounds and unforced errors.

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Who, one wonders, does she think she is?

The answer to that question is as it ever was: She is Hillary Clinton, and she believes, with some justification, that she will get away with anything and everything she tries. “Why,” supporters grumble, “knowing full well how effective the charge of elitism can be during a presidential campaign, does she continue to take $300,000 per speech?” Answer: Because she’s Hillary Clinton. “Why,” others inquire, “when tempers are still hot and nerves are still frayed, does she continue to take money from the outfits that are widely blamed for the financial crisis of 2008?” Answer: Because she’s Hillary Clinton. “How could she possibly believe that her ex-president husband’s temporary inability to buy a multi-million-dollar house rendered her ‘dead broke’”? Because she’s Hillary Clinton, and she has a sense of entitlement that would make Imelda Marcos blush.

And so, having been championed and overpraised for years, lionized more for her immutable characteristics than for any concrete achievements, and allowed to pretend that her few successes have been the product of her own ability and not her husband’s uncommon political talent, Clinton has of late fallen disastrously deep into the professional celebrity’s most pernicious trap: She has begun to believe her own hype. How long can it be before her fellow disciples begin to lose faith in more than just the small hours of the night? Answers welcome by e-mail.

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What is a political machine, boiled down to its essence? In a nutshell, it is a tightly-run, extra-governmental organization that conducts business on behalf of governmental agents. At first glance, political parties may be thought of as machines, but parties are basically open to any and all participants who more or less agree with the platform. Machines are closed off, premised on loyalty, and usually operated on behalf of a close-knit group of leaders, who control entry to and exit from the operation.

That the Clintons are an actual machine was given further evidence with the news that the Clinton Foundation has been accepting contributions from foreign governments, and that Hillary Clinton used a private email address when conducting her business as secretary of state. They clearly are operating a vast shadow organization — a machine — designed to clear a path for her to the Democratic nomination, and eventually the presidency…

At a minimum, the GOP needs to nominate somebody whose hands are clean — impeccably, impossibly, squeaky clean — to press the case for honest and open governance. Only a candidate with a clear conscience, and a vacant closet can train a critical eye on this kind of bad behavior. And even then it may not be enough. For better or worse, money moves American politics — and the Clintons have shown in the 14 years since they’ve left office that they are very, very good at moving money.

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Via RCP.