Stage 2 of the Hillary email scandal has been achieved, as yesterday’s “confused old lady who didn’t understand how email works” defense utterly collapsed with the Associated Press’ discovery that Clinton’s mail server was located in her house (her estate in Chappaqua, to be exact — the one she had to settle for because she was “dead broke” after Bill left office) and was registered under the name of a man who does not appear to exist.
To their credit, liberal media figures quickly realized this wasn’t a story that could be waved away with a laugh, some standard Obama Administration pabulum about how much this furtive crew values transparency, and a few whiny stories about how Republicans were known to use private email, too. (ABC News didn’t get the message, so they launched an abortive attempt to protect Hillary by taking a poorly-researched swing at the Gmail address on the business card of Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, completely missing the point that Hillary routed all of her correspondence through her personal email address, and Chaffetz isn’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act laws that govern the Secretary of State. Five minutes of Google time would have saved these Democrat-operatives-with-bylines a ton of embarrassment.)
Chaffetz also isn’t running a questionably secure secret mail server out of his basement. Yesterday we learned that Hillary registered her off-the-books mail domain on the very day her Senate confirmation hearings began, which is a rather significant clue that she knew exactly what she was doing. This morning the AP brings us more details:
The computer server that transmitted and received Hillary Clinton’s emails — on a private account she used exclusively for official business when she was secretary of state — traced back to an Internet service registered to her family’s home in Chappaqua, New York, according to Internet records reviewed by The Associated Press.
The highly unusual practice of a Cabinet-level official physically running her own email would have given Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, impressive control over limiting access to her message archives. It also would distinguish Clinton’s secretive email practices as far more sophisticated than some politicians, including Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin, who were caught conducting official business using free email services operated by Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc.
Most Internet users rely on professional outside companies, such as Google Inc. or their own employers, for the behind-the-scenes complexities of managing their email communications. Government employees generally use servers run by federal agencies where they work.
In most cases, individuals who operate their own email servers are technical experts or users so concerned about issues of privacy and surveillance they take matters into their own hands. It was not immediately clear exactly where Clinton ran that computer system.
Clinton has not described her motivation for using a private email account — firstname.lastname@example.org, which traced back to her own private email server registered under an apparent pseudonym — for official State Department business.
Operating her own server would have afforded Clinton additional legal opportunities to block government or private subpoenas in criminal, administrative or civil cases because her lawyers could object in court before being forced to turn over any emails. And since the Secret Service was guarding Clinton’s home, an email server there would have been well protected from theft or a physical hacking.
But homemade email servers are generally not as reliable, secure from hackers or protected from fires or floods as those in commercial data centers. Those professional facilities provide monitoring for viruses or hacking attempts, regulated temperatures, off-site backups, generators in case of power outages, fire-suppression systems and redundant communications lines.
“Well-protected from theft or a physical hacking?” None of the big hacking crimes of the last few years have involved the miscreant actually slipping into the server room wearing Groucho glasses and escaping with a huge mail server tucked under his jacket. As the AP goes on to concede, we still don’t know much about how truly secure Clinton’s mail server was, or exactly what she was sending through it. And it will be tough to ask the man nominally in charge of it, because he apparently doesn’t exist:
It was unclear whom Clinton hired to set up or maintain her private email server, which the AP traced to a mysterious identity, Eric Hoteham. That name does not appear in public records databases, campaign contribution records or Internet background searches. Hoteham was listed as the customer at Clinton’s $1.7 million home on Old House Lane in Chappaqua in records registering the Internet address for her email server since August 2010.
The Hoteham personality also is associated with a separate email server, presidentclinton.com, and a non-functioning website, wjcoffice.com, all linked to the same residential Internet account as Mrs. Clinton’s email server. The former president’s full name is William Jefferson Clinton.
In November 2012, without explanation, Clinton’s private email account was reconfigured to use Google’s servers as a backup in case her own personal email server failed, according to Internet records. That is significant because Clinton publicly supported Google’s accusations in June 2011 that China’s government had tried to break into the Google mail accounts of senior U.S. government officials. It was one of the first instances of a major American corporation openly accusing a foreign government of hacking.
Then, in July 2013, five months after she resigned as secretary of state, Clinton’s private email server was reconfigured again to use a Denver-based commercial email provider, MX Logic, which is now owned by McAfee Inc., a top Internet security company.
We’ve learned one thing this morning about the enigmatic Mr. Hoteham: he uses the same P.O. Box as the Clinton Foundation — subject of the other big Hillary scandal concerning foreign money donated while she was Secretary of State.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) of the House Benghazi Committee revealed yesterday that Hillary was using more than one personal account. Were they all running off her Chappaqua server? If not, how secure were the other servers she used? As for the early Clinton spin that everyone she communicated with inside the Administration was using a proper email account that would be captured by the legally required archive systems, it turns out two of her top aides had off-the-books personal accounts too — one of them the aforementioned Huma Abedin.
Even if the server was 100 percent secure, with protection equivalent to the State Department system Hillary was required by federal law to use, there’s still the matter of how her off-the-books setup allowed her to easily evade FOIA requests. The Associated Press mentions that it’s been waiting for more than a year to get some State Department emails it requested.
The New York Times, which broke the Clinton email story based on information from the House Benghazi Committee, today listed some other FOIA requests that appear to have been thwarted by Hillary’s secret email system, including more details about the AP request than the Associated Press saw fit to mention in its own story:
In 2013, Nitasha Tiku, then a reporter for Gawker, filed a Freedom of Information Act request, seeking all correspondence on Mrs. Clinton’s private email account between her and Sidney Blumenthal, a close adviser and onetime staff member in the Clinton White House. Some of those emails had already spilled into public view and been reported in the news media. But the State Department told Gawker that it could find no records responsive to the request, Gawker reported.
[…] In December, The Associated Press said its FOIA requests for records related to Mrs. Clinton’s tenure at the State Department, the oldest of which was submitted in March 2010, were not answered. In addition to requesting Mrs. Clinton’s schedules, The A.P. asked for correspondence related to Huma Abedin’s special arrangement to serve as a top adviser to Mrs. Clinton and consult for private clients. “We have not received any documents yet, despite the promised deadlines, and we are evaluating the situation,” said Erin Madigan White, spokeswoman for The A.P.
Conservative groups have filed numerous requests for information about Mrs. Clinton as she prepares for a possible presidential run. Citizens United is expecting a court ruling on Friday about a lawsuit the group filed last year after the State Department would not disclose flight records that would have shown who accompanied Mrs. Clinton on overseas trips. The group had intended to cross reference the agency’s flight manifests with the donors who contributed to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation.
The FOIA request was just one of 16 appeals the group has made to the State Department since May that have gone unfulfilled. Those requests also included specific correspondence from Mrs. Clinton and her closest aides, including Cheryl D. Mills and Ms. Abedin.
America Rising, an anti-Clinton “super PAC,” has submitted a dozen FOIA requests for State Department records beginning last June.
Requests included correspondence between Ms. Mills and Clinton Foundation leadership and Ms. Abedin’s communication with members of Teneo, a private consultancy partly run by Doug Band, a longtime aide to former President Bill Clinton. Ms. Abedin had a special arrangement that allowed her to work at the State Department and be paid by Teneo, which offers strategic advice to major global corporations. America Rising also requested Mrs. Clinton’s schedule during the annual Clinton Global Initiative gatherings in New York.
In all cases, the State Department acknowledged receipt of the FOIA requests and assigned case numbers but did not produce any of the requested documents. “Unfortunately, Clinton’s own political calculation and desire for secrecy, as evidenced by her exclusive use of personal email accounts while at State, is preventing an open process and full, fair review of her time there,” said Jeff Bechdel, a spokesman for America Rising.
Another FOIA request directed at Hillary, from Veterans For A Strong America in 2012, specifically requested information on any personal accounts Clinton might have been using.
Of course, as Obama’s damage-control teams have always understood, timing is everything; any story can be deflated, defused, and discarded if vital details are kept hidden for long enough. The scandal that would sweep a politician away on a tide of public outrage, if full disclosure was achieved quickly, becomes “old news” and is eventually interred in the mausoleum of footnotes if disclosure can be stretched out for long enough. The media is well aware of this, which is why they produce white-hot wall-to-wall coverage and keep stories bubbling with the “breaking news” discovery of dubious facts or trivial anecdotes when a Republican is the target.
Is that tactic going to work in this case?
We’re back to the same old lawless narrative of the Obama years: the press is ultimately judge and jury when high Democrat officials break the law, because the legal mechanisms that should restrain executive power and hold the ruling class accountable have been completely disabled. All the bluffs and gentlemen’s agreements that kept power in check have been called and discarded. Obviously those who were given false answers to their FOIA requests are angry (or, in the case of Democrat media organizations, querulous), but in the end, it’s not clear what they can do about it, other than complain… and eventually the Clinton-friendly media will stop relaying their complaints. What are the odds that liberal royalty like Hillary Clinton would actually be held accountable and punished for a deliberate, elaborate effort to evade federal law? Wouldn’t Obama halt any investigation before it did real damage to her, the way his agencies have acted to thwart investigation of the IRS targeting scandal?
While White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest did try to peddle some flim-flam about how both federal law and the Obama Administration’s much-touted transparency requirements are really kinda sorta optional for important people like Hillary Clinton, he also admitted that “very specific guidance has been given to agencies all across the government, which is specifically that employees in the Obama administration should use their official email accounts when they’re conducting official government business.” In the unusual situations where personal accounts could be used, “it is important for those records to be preserved, consistent with the Federal Records Act.”
This could be Team Obama backing off to a safe distance before the Hillary email scandal detonates in a cloud of career-shredding shrapnel. Maybe some people on the Obama team are not entirely sad to see Hillary go down. Some of those people might be named “Obama.”
The bottom line is that our federal transparency laws are not trifles to be settled by soap-opera personal conflicts, spin teams, or the troubled consciences of Democrats in the media. It’s also not good enough to tell voters to sit on their complaints until they get a chance to vent at the ballot box in a couple of years. That goes double if Hillary’s scheme compromised national security. We can’t be comfortable about that issue until we know more technical details about all of the servers she and her inner circle were using.