When Hillary Clinton famously showed up for a press availability and was asked whether or not she had “wiped” her secret bathroom email server, she clowned around a bit for the cameras, asking if the reporter meant some sort of cleaning cloth. It was a great imitation of the hapless grandmother who is so befuddled by all of the newfangled technology those darned kids are using these days that she needs to bring her grandchildren over just to reset the clock on her DVR. This attempt at deflection has led to all sorts of humor in the media, including the RNC handing out these secret server wiping cloths during the Democrats’ convention last month. (Yes, I have one.)
All of the jokes going around about “wiping the server” really miss the point, however. As the Daily Caller News Foundation reveals this week, FBI records show that when Clinton deleted all of those “private” emails, she didn’t just delete them. Her team went out of their way to to try to erase them permanently using a scrubber far more effective than any wash rag.
Hillary Clinton’s team of aides and lawyers deleted emails from her private server using a software program intended to “prevent recovery” and hide traces of deleted files.
South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy revealed the information during an interview on Thursday on Fox News. Citing notes that FBI investigators took during their probe of Clinton’s private email server, Gowdy said that Clinton’s team used open source software called BleachBit to remove tens of thousands of emails from her server.
Gowdy said that the use of the program undermines Clinton’s claims that the emails she withheld from the State Department were innocuous. The former secretary of state has frequently said that the 30,000-plus emails she decided not to give the State Department in Dec. 2014 were about yoga routines and her daughter’s wedding plans.
I’ll get to why this is important in a moment, but first it’s useful to understand what this program was doing. It’s a concept which is fairly simple even for those who never pay much attention to what’s going on inside their computers. I’ve never used BleachBit myself but I’ve dealt with similar programs in the past. With the development of relational databases and modern hard drives, your files are stored on your computer in a rather scattershot fashion. The “pieces” of data which make up any given email or other file are written to the drive in whatever empty spots the drive has available. If your computer had to search the entire drive for all those ones and zeros when you summoned up the file the system would be very slow, so there are File Allocation Tables (FAT) which record a “map” of the location of all the data for each file on the drive. In this way, the computer can quickly go and recover all the pieces and assemble the file for you when you request it.
When you delete one of your emails or other files, the source data doesn’t actually get erased. The system simply deletes the FAT entry and then treats the places where the data resides as free space. As you save new files, those spots may or may not be written over as new data is recorded. That means that a clever investigator can go in with the appropriate software and recover the remaining bits of your files and put them back together if they haven’t all been overwritten. What a program such as BleachBit does is intentionally go in and locate some or all of the actual stored data (depending on how much you want to bog down your system while it’s running) and wipe out all of the actual information, replacing it with random ones or zeros. It may not be foolproof, but it does a much better job of hiding what was once there.
Why is this important? Because far from being the befuddled grandmother who simply “deleted” some old emails about her yoga classes and her daughter’s wedding, Hillary had her team go to great lengths to scrub the system and make it difficult for for any forensic analysis of the hard drive to recover the messages. Does that sound like it’s a process in keeping with her original description when she pretended to think that the reporter was asking if she had dusted the server with a cloth?
If this were the Republican nominee we were talking about this story would be the only thing on television for the next month. Hillary Clinton obviously lied about the contents of the more than 30,000 emails she deleted. The FBI’s investigation has already shown conclusively that a significant number of those “lost” messages were work related and some included classified material. This wasn’t a simple mistake or a bookkeeping error. She deliberately tried to obstruct justice and destroy government records. The use of BleachBit in her scrubbing efforts shows this plainly. Unfortunately you won’t bee seeing this on the front page of the major newspapers or being obsessed over endlessly on the Sunday morning shows because it makes clear that Hillary Clinton acted in a criminal fashion in the handling of her records. And we can’t have that in the middle of electing the historic, first female president, now can we?