When the news broke of Hillary Clinton's use of personal email for her official email when she was secretary of state, my first thought was a recollection of the Bush White House staffers getting caught doing government business through personal email. That by and large disappeared into the large milieu of Bush scandals, particularly the loss of the official White House email that came out at the same time. The Bush administration admitted to losing about five million emails, so I do get the difference in scale between Bush and what Hillary is suspected of. It's mountain to molehill in terms of quantity, and it's likely nothing government related was even lost in Hillary's case. But it's similar in quality, and the fact the comparison to the Bush email scandal was the first thing to come to mind of even a staunch Democrat indicates how bad this is.
However, assuming it turns out Hillary indeed did nothing in violation of document retention rules, she still handled the controversy badly. Aside from the specifics of email rules, this feeds into my concern about Hillary as our 2016 candidate. She's a bad campaigner. I personally find her acceptable in terms of policy. Not saying she's perfect, but I don't expect any candidate to agree with me perfectly. She also looks like she could handle the job of running the executive branch. So I'm not worried about her as president. I'm worried about getting her there.
Before getting into specifics about her handling of this particular controversy, something about why it plays into my concerns about her. When Hillary ran for reelection in 2006, she built up a huge campaign fund for such a safe seat, so it sure looked like she was prepping for a presidential run in 2008, yet she spent all of it despite a huge lead in the polls the whole campaign. Don't worry, I'm not going to rehash 2008. I'm also not going to pretend I opposed her because she was a bad campaigner, because I didn't know for sure that 2006 was a sign. I opposed her because of her refusal to admit voting to invade Iraq was a mistake until late in the campaign, by which time she seemed to have a clunky campaign. I personally didn't hear the full story (or as full as I came to know anyway) until after the primaries were done, at which point I thought Democrats were fortunate she wasn't the candidate just in terms of who had the best chance to win. Hillary seemed primed to blow a winnable election.
So that's the context in which this email controversy came up. Hillary doesn't even have a serious opponent yet. Jim Webb has basically declared, but he seems to want to run in a Democratic primary on the EPA being too strict on greenhouse gas pollution; so --- Hillary has no serious opponent yet. 2016 is a winnable race for a Democrat, so to have her stumbling again is concerning. I suppose what I'm hoping for is enough of us in the Democratic base speak up that this sentiment percolates up to Hillary and those making campaign decisions. They need to learn that this isn't the way to win. I find it unfathomable they forget there are loads of people out to get her politically. The conservative media, the mainstream media, every Republican presidential campaign, and every conservative independent expenditure group out there, is ready to pounce. I can't imagine that this has been forgotten with all he crud that's been hurled at her during her years in public life, but the way this email controversy was handled leaves me wondering.
I plead with the candidate and the campaign, don't take the base for granted. Yes, we're going to show up at the polls, and probably donate some money and volunteer at the campaign office, but a bad campaign discourages supporters. They'll show up for the phone bank once, but will they show up twice? Stay that extra hour? Did deep when feeling tapped out to make that one more small donation? Knock doors in cold weather as well as warm? Then don't leave us having to explain things. Don't leave supporters feeling like they're engaging in spin. Don't leave supporters having to resort to saying our candidate did nothing illegal when that's not entirely the question, which gets us back to the issue at hand.
Hillary's defense of using her personal email is largely legalistic. That doesn't mean her points are false. It means it misses the point. It amounts to saying she found a way to comply with the letter of the law, but nobody, supporter or opponent, is in doubt that the spirit of the law was broken. Government employees, including political appointees, are supposed to use their official email for official purposes. I'm incredulous at the notion this wasn't the general assumption both inside and outside the beltway. How did she not know that? Did no one tell her this personal email was a bad idea? Finding a way to use personal email and somehow keep it legal doesn't cut it. How did she not know this would be perceived badly? Maybe someone with no further political ambitions might not care about how it's perceived, but Hillary should have thought of that.
If she didn't think about that at the time her email was set up, then she should have known this would come up inevitably when the campaign started. That's what makes her response so galling. Her press conference yesterday was dreadful. The biggest issue was just the time lag. She waited nearly a week to respond. That's a rookie mistake. I, and I assume every Democratic activist, expected a response the same day. Maybe two days if it takes time to form a response, but nearly a week?
I do believe her explanation about wanting to be able to use just one device for email. Pardon the snarky reasoning, but someone who was lying would surely come up with something better after a week. So I'm satisfied that's the real reason, but it's not a good one. Multiple email accounts are a pain for anyone, but many if not most people have more than one. If we use our work email for personal purposes, we get no privacy for the simple reason that our employer owns the email and gets to see our mail at any time. If we use personal email for work purposes without some agreement with our employers, they may be able to legally require us to show them our mail, which is where Hillary has put herself. Far better to accept using two computers or two phones. Some employers might allow personal use of employer email with an expectation of privacy, or accept personal email for work with no right for the employer to look at it (I did once have such an arrangement on a short term contract where it wasn't worth the employer setting up email for me). But she was the boss, so the excuse the employer allowed it just doesn't fly.
Hillary never addressed why she waited a week to offer an explanation. Other than why she set up her email this way in the first place, that was the burning question. I accept her claim that she never sent classified material by email, if for no other reason than if she's lying, she'll inevitably be found out. I accept that the server was secure, but security wasn't really the issue, which is part of what I meant by legalistic explanations. What I'm most bothered about from the press conference specifically is that the email not turned over was deleted. If it can't be recovered and inspected by the state department, then there's never going to be a way to prove there was nothing she was covering up. I trust her enough to believe those were just personal emails and nothing is being covered up, but why should anyone else accept that? Remember, the public has been primed to think she's always up to something, which makes transparency vital.
What should she have done, and what should she do now? Bear in mind, this comes from someone who's going to do his best to get her elected should she be the Democratic nominee. There are two problems: letting this happen in the first place, and how she responded. Obviously, like she said, she should have used two devices, but given that she didn't, she should have anticipated this would come up and had a response ready. Even caught off guard, she should have responded the next day if not the same day, because her silence let this drag on. She should have kept a backup of everything just so she could prove there was nothing to hide. Yes, much of the mail was personal, but that's the cost of using work email for personal purposes --- you give up privacy from your employer's eyes. She should have had State Department staff do the work of combing through the email to pick out what was work related, for the apparently not obvious reason that having people who work for her do the work lends to suspicion.
At this point, intrusive as it might seem, she needs to let the IT staff at State have the actual server to see if any deleted email can be recovered (and if a Hillary staffer is there to make sure there's no prying into other users' mail, that fair, since they do have a reasonable expectation of privacy). Deleted files generally remain on computers for a long time after deletion. The computer, rather than erasing the file, marks the space the file takes up as available to be overwritten. So she should admit the mistake, hand over the server, and tell the staff to recover what they can. Even if they can't recover everything, the fact she can't control what they find will protect her from charges of some coverup (at least to tech literate people, though for Republicans, that would mean listening to experts, so don't get your hopes up). Then let State staff go through the personal email to verify there's no work email, and a non-disclosure of personal email requirement for those staff seems fair.
But then above all, the two things she has to do are one, figure out everything potentially damaging that might come up and figure out now how to deal with it, because she should not have been caught so unaware with this. Some things thrown at her will be stupid and unforeseeable, but this wasn't one of them. Two, do what every campaign has to do, and figure out the means of dealing with issues promptly. No campaign can expect everything, but they can know unexpected things will happen, and they have to be quick. I realize Hillary isn't officially running for anything yet, but realistically, the campaign is on, and this is her fourth campaign plus whatever participation she had in Bill's campaigns, so it's disturbing that she doesn't already have these procedures in place.
If I have any good news to conclude with, it's this: the current frontrunner for the Republicans appears to be Scott Walker, and despite his willingness to attack Hillary over this so far, he should be the last candidate who wants to remind people about unlawful uses of email. Somehow Walker avoided jail himself --- so far --- despite his staff doing time for setting up illicit servers to let them do campaign work on government time. In other words, what Walker did is worse than anything Hillary can be accused of, so unless he's an idiot, he'll want to let all talk about email die.
cross-posted at MN Progressive Project