You just know that the usual suspects are rushing to posit that the Federal Records Act is an outmoded and onerous law that should have been repealed long ago. For now, however, the reaction of the political media to the revelation that Hillary Clinton violated the law and used a private email exclusively while she served as secretary of state has been refreshingly free of excuse making.
For now, few Clinton allies in the commentary class are insisting that Hillary “has to get ahead of this” or that she “cannot let the media define this scandal.” No one is suggesting she leave the comfort of her hermetically sealed bubble or the company of the coterie of overprotective devotees she has cultivated. But they probably should. In combination with the Clinton Foundation’s scandalous fundraising practices and ethical violations, the Clinton family’s reputation as scandal-prone and opaque has been well and fully resurrected.
That is, however, not the part of this episode that will prove most damaging to Clinton’s political prospects. The most harmful aspect of this latest scandal involving a Clinton’s flagrant disregard for the law, not to mention the lawlessness of her aides and associates who all used her personal email address and said nothing, is the fact that these revelations were uncovered by the congressional committee tasked with investigating the Benghazi attacks. A Judicial Watch FOIA request already revealed that the State Department knew within minutes that the Benghazi attack was a terrorist event, and that was discovered via official emails from close Clinton associates like Cheryl Mills. The Benghazi committee’s investigation has not only born fruit, but it has ample evidence to suggest there is more left to uncover. It’s not a witch-hunt or a fishing expedition anymore. There is smoke here.
This episode deeply damages Clinton’s image as the indomitable juggernaut slouching its way toward the White House, and some on the left are observing a measure of consistency when they fret over the apparent intentional evasion of the Federal Records Act. They might realize that they have no choice. When Republicans were caught up in similar violations of records keeping laws, the Democrats’ reaction left no room for them to hedge today.
In 2008, when Sarah Palin was being subjected to a thorough press vetting amid her effort to become the next Vice President of the United States, an unauthorized hack into Palin’s email accounts revealed that she, too, had used a personal address to conduct state business.
“Palin’s use of her private email addresses for state business was likely an attempt to avoid record requests like this one,” ABC News reported.
Vanity Fair’s Todd Purdum removed the “likely” from this sentenced and directly accused Palin of trying to evade oversight. “Palin communicated with legislators and her staff mainly by BlackBerry, sometimes using a personal e-mail account to avoid having to disclose documents under the state public-records laws,” he alleged.
Writing in The Huffington Post, the author and filmmaker Geoffrey Dunn described these shadow emails as “a rogue government communications network with Palin at the helm.”
“A judge in Alaska has ordered the state to preserve any business-related emails sent by Sarah Palin from her private email accounts,” Mother Jones reporter Jonathan Stein wrote at the time. “Palin’s emails have generated a lot of attention, possibly because the situation mirrors the Bush Administration’s own missing emails scandal.”
Indeed. When the Bush administration acknowledged in 2007 that up to 5 million White House emails were lost because they had been sent through party or campaign accounts rather than official government addresses, Democrats did not simply shrug it off. Moreover, the fact that this episode occurred following the administration’s decision to fire a variety of U.S. attorneys led many to believe these events were connected.
“You can’t erase e-mails, not today,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) insisted. “They’ve gone through too many servers. They can’t say they’ve been lost. That’s like saying, ‘The dog ate my homework.’ ”
Tell that to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen… Seriously, tell him.
Leahy later joined the late Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) to demand that Rove’s attorney both recover and surrender all the communications lost as a result of the use of non-official email accounts. When it was revealed that another batch of emails had been improperly logged and unduly deleted, yet another communications scandal sparked a long investigation that dragged on well into the Obama administration. That investigation was not resolved, in fact, until President Barack Obama had been in office for nearly a year. It is impossible for Hillary Clinton to have not known that her actions were a violation of federal statute.
“That she decided to use her personal address anyway showed a stunning disregard for governmental transparency requirements,” wrote Vox.com’s Max Fisher. “Indeed, Clinton did not even bother with the empty gesture of using her official address for more formal business, as Bush officials did.”
Hillary Clinton has painted herself into a real corner, and the fact that Democrats reacted so strongly and publicly to similar controversies that involved Republicans means that many will have to observe consistency and castigate Clinton for this oversight. It remains, however, unlikely that Clinton will endure such a catastrophically bad news cycle that she would be compelled to address the mounting scandals involving her conduct as America’s chief diplomat. It seems that no one is going to force Clinton to abandon her carefully planned presidential campaign rollout strategy. Not even a political media, despite the curious fact that many seemed to have stopped making excuses for her.