Of the two crippling scandals surrounding Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state – yes, there are two – the allegations involving the Clinton Foundation’s unethical fundraising practices and misuse of taxpayer funds is the more serious. That does not mean, however, that Clinton’s determination to exclusively use a private email account while she served as America’s chief diplomat is a minor matter.
The allegations involving Clinton’s disreputable email practices is quite serious, but she’s not taking it very seriously. At least, that’s the impression she would like to project.
“I wanted to spend an evening with a room full of political reporters, I thought to myself: ‘What could possibly go wrong?’” Clinton joked on Monday night while delivering a keynote address during the presentation of the prestigious Toner Prize for excellence in journalism.
During her speech, Clinton insisted that she planned to turn over a new leaf and eschew opacity. “No more secrecy, no more zone of privacy — after all what good did that do me,” the former secretary of state averred. “But first of all, before I go any further, if you’ll look under your chairs you’ll find a simple nondisclosure agreement. My attorneys drew it up. Old habits last.”
LOL! That’s rich. And, according to accounts, the reporters in attendance at this event reacted positively to Clinton’s attempt at humor. They shouldn’t have. She was mocking them and their impotence.
Even during Clinton’s hurried press conference earlier this month in which she sought to clear up questions about her email practices, the veracity of her exculpatory claims were quickly called into question.
Clinton insisted that she deleted the majority of her email communications because they were conducted exclusively with family and friends and centered on personal matters. One of the individuals Clinton claimed she emailed with was her husband, former President Bill Clinton, but the 42nd President’s office claimed shortly thereafter that he has used email precisely twice in his life. Furthermore, both of those emails were sent in the 1990s.
Clinton insisted that she only wanted to use a private email system so that she could carry just one mobile device. That’s only because she was a jealous guardian of her own “convenience,” of course. But just weeks before that press conference, Clinton bragged about being a “hoarder” of electronic devices, and she divulged that she used both an iPhone and a Blackberry now that she is out of office.
Clinton added that her exclusive use of a private account was not designed to evade Freedom of Information Act requirements because she conducted most of her electronic communications with State Department officials who were using a .gov account. Wrong. It was discovered this week that Clinton did engage in communications with close aides at State who were also using a private email account, and those records were never archived.
Clinton assured the nation that her system was never breached and that she was never sent classified material electronically. Investigators now believe that the substandard security systems she used to secure her email might have allowed foreign intelligence services to both access and hijack her email address. Furthermore, government oversight groups are suspicious of the claim that the head of an agency that over-classifies sensitive material routinely in order to circumvent transparency laws never received any classified information via her email account.
Of course, Clinton has good reason to believe that her scandalous behavior will be dismissed by a compliant press corps. Clinton violated ethics, flouted FOIA requirements, and misled the press on a variety of occasions. So, what’s the media’s response to these provocations? Hand-wringing over the prospect of Republican overreach, of course.
“House Republicans probing the Benghazi attacks have a politically delicate task that goes well beyond investigating the 2012 incident that claimed the lives of four Americans,” The National Journal’s Ben Geman reported. “They have to make clear they’re out to get Hillary Clinton’s emails—not Hillary Clinton.”
To whom, you might ask, do House GOP investigators have to prove that they’re not “out to get” Clinton? Journalists, presumably. Otherwise, they will go to the mattresses to defend Clinton’s honor, as they have for Barack Obama when his patriotism, his religion, or his competence are called into question by the GOP.
Thus far, Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Trey Gowdy and his aides have taken pains to cast the overall Benghazi probe as a methodical one. It’s even taken some criticism from the Right for not being more aggressive against the former secretary of State.
And that’s by design. The panel wants to avoid the appearance that it is attacking Clinton by any means possible. That—ideally—means few leaks and little grandstanding.
The emphasis on perception is a marked change from some previous House GOP investigations of the Obama administration, including probes into Fast and Furious and Solyndra, which were seen in some circles as political fishing expeditions. Many Republicans took note when House Speaker John Boehner announced last May that the Benghazi panel would be headed by Gowdy, not then-House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa—the author of those more controversial probes.
The Fourth Estate might be willing to abdicate its responsibility to thoroughly vet Clinton by not merely pointing out her ethical lapses but forcing her to account for them to a neutral observer’s satisfaction. It is striking, however, to see that the press is content to allow their institution to be mocked by the prohibitive favorite to succeed Barack Obama in the Oval Office.