Chuck Todd, the moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, is pretty sure that the president’s hands are clean when it comes to the scandalous revelations about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email accounts. And he makes a reasonably good case for why he believes Barack Obama was personally out of the loop (hat tip to Mediaite for flagging this clip):
“They’re not very forgiving on this,” Todd said of Obama’s core 2008 staffers who have made conspicuous efforts to distance themselves from Clinton of late. “This was sort of, at the core, of how they went after candidate Hillary Clinton in ’07 and ’08; on issues like transparency, on issues like good government issues.”
“You’ve got to think the Obama White House didn’t know – I’d like to know if they knew about this email server in advance,” Todd added. “I would be surprised if they did because if they did, I got to think: knowing how they raised so many objections to even individual hires, that she attempted to make, like Sidney Blumenthal, I got to think if the White House knew about it at that time, they would have raised a red flag.”
For his part, Joe Scarborough agreed with Todd’s assessment. “I find it hard to believe that Barack Obama’s people would allow her to conduct the affairs of state on a server in Chappaqua, New York,” the MSNBC host contended.
Todd added that Clinton lobbied hard to bring on her former advisor Blumenthal onto her speechwriting staff at State before taking office in 2009, but David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs “fell on their sword to stop it.” Seeing as both Gibbs and Axelrod went on to have careers as White House advisors and remain key fixtures inside the Beltway, Todd’s definition of what falling on one’s sword consists of is not widely shared.
It may be unlikely that the president was personally aware of Clinton’s secret. It’s hard to envision the president directly emailing his secretary of state and it is easy to imagine his staff shielding him from this scandal. It is, however, substantially harder to believe that no one in the White House was ever aware of Clinton’s scandalous flouting of legal records keeping requirements.
Furthermore, it’s harder to understand why the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General was unaware of Clinton’s email practices, considering that the IG’s office dismissed a former U.S. ambassador to Kenya for the same offense. Similarly, how did the Freedom of Information Act office at State operate for four years blissfully unaware of Clinton’s prohibited communications practices?
It strains credulity to claim that no one in the West Wing was conscious of the lengths to which Clinton went to avoid complying with Obama administration guidelines and State Department directives.
For all of Todd’s certainty that administration officials were probably kept entirely in the dark on this matter, the White House is apparently not so sure. As The Washington Post reported on Thursday, White House Press Sec. Josh Earnest could not definitively say whether or not the administration was aware of Clinton’s conduct.
“You should check with Secretary Clinton. I don’t know the answer to that. I’m not aware of all the details in the arrangement,” Earnest said when asked if taxpayers funded the devices that Clinton used while secretary of state or paid for the server.
Earnest said he doesn’t know of anything that is being done at the White House or State Department to look back at any potential security issues with Clinton’s server.
“This security question is one that we’re very mindful of. It’s hard for me to sort of assess what sort of vulnerability may have been created by … the establishment of a separate network,” he said.
Earnest said there is a separate e-mail system that pertains to classified information. “So this question about classified information being passed around on these kinds of e-mail systems, that is certainly not supposed to occur and, frankly, raises much more significant problems than compliance with the Federal Records Act,” he said.
It is not only likely but probable that President Obama was personally afforded plausible deniability by his staff with regards to Clinton’s email escapades. What is more difficult to swallow is the notion that no one involved with oversight at State or in the White House ever became aware of the fact that Clinton did not even have access to a .gov address.
UPDATE: As it happens, the White House was informed of the coming scandal involving Clinton’s emails in August of last year. So, so much for Todd’s extension of the benefit of the doubt.