Did the White House expose Hillary's e-mails this week to protect their deal with Iran?

Seems unlikely, but if we’re doomed to have the Clintons return to the seat of power, we’d better at least get some engrossing “House of Cards” style political cloak-and-dagger out of it.

Lee Smith wonders: Who ordered the Code Red on Hillary, and why? Why, when we’ve known for two years that she used private e-mail thanks to the “Guccifer” hacking, was this the week that all of this suddenly blew up?

Or to put the question another way, why did Hillary Clinton become the Obama administration’s bête noire this very week, the same one during which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pulled all of the world’s focus onto the issue of the administration’s negotiations with Iran?

The answer is because the two are related: This week’s tarring of Hillary Clinton is part of the White House’s political campaign to shut off debate about its hoped-for deal. It’s not hard to see why they’re anxious. With Netanyahu’s speech forcing lawmakers and editorial writers to face up to the proposed agreement’s manifest problems, the administration fears the prospect of Democrats jumping ship and signing on to Kirk-Menendez sanctions legislation that also would give Congress oversight on the deal. So far, the White House has managed to keep Democratic lawmakers in line, no matter how much they seem to question the wisdom of the proposed deal. Hillary Clinton, gearing up for a 2016 run in which she is likely to put some distance between herself and Obama’s dubious Middle East policies, is the one major national Democratic figure who can give Democrats in Congress cover.

Which is probably why Clinton’s successor, Secretary of State John Kerry, told reporters Thursday during a trip to Saudi Arabia that the State Department will move immediately to review the emails. “We will undertake this task [of reviewing the emails] as rapidly as possible in order to make sure that we are dealing with the sheer volume in a responsible way,” said Kerry, making clear that he and his department would be in charge of the process. Nonetheless, Kerry warned, the process of sorting through and releasing Hillary Clinton’s personal and work-related emails will take time—presumably about the amount of time it will take to make sure the Iran deal gets through unobstructed.

Hillary’s not only the Democratic-nominee-in-waiting, she’s a hawk who’ll be eager to show voters wary of making a woman commander-in-chief that she’s not afraid to get tough with anyone, including Iran. She may be the only person in the party who can steer wavering congressional Democrats away from supporting Obama’s nuclear deal. But … would she? Hillary speaking out against O’s bargain would be a huge assist to Republicans, a weird thing to do for someone who’s worried about her left flank right now and a really weird thing to do for someone whose M.O. so far this year has been to stay stonily silent about major policy developments. If she criticized the Iran deal and support in Congress collapsed, Democrats would hold her singlehandedly responsible for killing Obama’s biggest foreign-policy “achievement.” Meanwhile, from the White House’s perspective, why risk antagonizing her by dropping a dime on her in the NYT over her e-mails when she’s showed no appetite so far for attacking their Iran policy? The obvious play here for both sides is for Hillary to keep her mouth shut until the Senate decides what to do about the Iran deal and then to criticize it later, when she can no longer do any harm, for being too dovish. No need for any e-mail-related blackmail to keep both Team O and Team Clinton playing nice for now.

As for the leverage Kerry and the State Department have over her at the moment in reviewing her e-mails, with Smith hinting in the excerpt that they might just make trouble for her if she makes trouble for them, you’d need to believe that the Obama administration is willing to destroy its own party’s one and only viable candidate — the one person in America who can protect at least some of Hopenchange’s legacy with a third term — on the off-chance that she’ll lead a congressional rebellion against his big Iran sellout if they don’t. I just don’t buy it. In fact, if you follow the Times’s timeline for how the e-mail story slowly ripened, it seems like the White House and State Department have been largely reacting to events rather than laying a trap for Hillary a la Frank Underwood to sideline her during the Iran debate. Allegedly, State Department lawyers working on producing documents for the House’s Benghazi investigation first raised the alarm about private e-mails last summer. Hillary’s advisors met with State officials in August to discuss producing her private e-mail correspondence. It took Team Hillary until December to actually hand over the files. (In the interim, State sent a letter to all former secretaries of state dating back to Madeleine Albright to hand over any private e-mails, an obvious ruse designed to make it look like Hillary was responding to a general request rather than a State investigation instigated by her own corrupt behavior.) Not until three weeks ago did State finally hand over the files to Trey Gowdy’s Benghazi committee.

That last bit and not the Iran deal explains why this broke when it did, I think: State knew that if they didn’t get in front of this and leak it to the Times, Gowdy would notice Hillary’s private e-mail account(s) and break the news himself. That would have been a huge coup for his committee (it is a huge coup even though he didn’t get to announce it) and it would have made State look institutionally corrupt in having failed to release the news about Hillary’s e-mail account itself. So that’s what they did. They came clean — after six years, and only because the dreaded GOP was about to show just how shady they and their former boss are. To the extent that Iran figures into all this, I’d guess that it matters only insofar as Bibi Netanyahu’s speech affected the precise timing of the leak. The White House and State wanted to beat Gowdy to the punch as he closed in, but they also wanted to try to bury this news as much as possible by releasing it when it might be overwhelmed by bigger news. The obvious moment was the night before Netanyahu delivered his big speech to Congress.

Here’s the real question, raised by many Democrats this week: Why didn’t Hillary drop a dime on herself last August? She could have put this out there before the midterms, many months before her impending presidential announcement, and taken a beating in the media for a week before everyone else moved on to campaign 2014 news. Why wait until Gowdy had picked up the scent to take action?