Hillary Clinton is already in trouble over the email story and that trouble could get a lot worse.
The problem for Hillary and her defenders is that once you get past the outraged cries of media bias related to a NY Times report, the email story still represents a real and growing threat to her campaign. Here are five reasons why Hillary is in serious trouble:
1) Her Private Server Was Unique and Violated the Rules – Hillary has repeatedly claimed that other Secretaries of State had similar arrangements. “Previous secretaries of state have said they did the same thing…. Everything I did was permitted by law and regulation,” Hillary claimed in a July 7th interview with CNN. Neither statement is true.
As Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler points out, no previous Secretary of State had a private email server running in their home from which they sent and received all of their correspondence while in office. Only one previous Secretary, Colin Powell, admitted to sending any email from a personal account.
In addition, regulations in place at the time Hillary was Secretary of State required her to turn over all official communications before leaving her job. She did not do that. In fact, it was only after the State Department came to her and after they negotiated with her attorneys that Hillary turned over a hand-sifted group of emails, nearly two years after leaving her job.
Hillary’s claim that she violated no rules (and, anyway, others did too) earned three out of four Pinocchios from Kessler. He concludes, “She goes too far in suggesting her actions were ordinary – -and did not stretch the limits of existing laws and regulations.” And because Hillary can’t reasonably claim what she did was normal or even reasonable, it leaves her open to scrutiny.
2) Classified Information Was Contained in Hillary’s Emails – The core of the NY Times story last week was a referral made by the Intelligence Community Inspector General to the Department of Justice. That referral was not criminal, according to the IG’s office, because it did not single out Hillary or any other individual for investigation and prosecution.
Nevertheless, the IG did point a finger at the handling of classified information in Hillary’s inbox. The IG says he identified four emails with classified information from a sample of just 40 emails. In addition, he identified one email that was already released, which contained classified information. Dozens more emails released last Friday were blacked out because of classified contents.
Hillary continues to maintain that none of the material was classified at the time it was sent or received, but that claim is directly at odds with the statement released by the State Dept. and IC Inspectors General more than a week ago. The joint statement said unambiguously that the four emails, “were not retroactively classified by the State Department; rather these emails contained classified information when they were generated.”
3) It Doesn’t Matter Whether the Emails Had Classification Markings or Not – One of the claims that Hillary’s defenders have seized on is that the classified emails identified by the IC Inspector General did not have security markings. According to Peter Van Buren who worked at the State Department for 24 years, that doesn’t matter:
If an employee were to be handed information sourced from an NSA intercept of a foreign government leader, somehow not marked as classified, she would be expected to recognize the sensitivity of the material itself and treat it as classified. In other cases, an employee might hear something sensitive and be expected to treat the information as classified. The emphasis throughout the classification system is not on strict legalities and coded markings, but on judgment. In essence, employees are required to know right from wrong. It is a duty, however subjective in appearance, one takes on in return for a security clearance.
‘Not knowing’ would be an unexpected defense from a person with years of government experience.
In fact, Van Buren suggests that Hillary’s decision to use her own server is directly responsible for the lack of proper markings:
Every email sent within the State Department’s own systems contains a classification; an employee technically cannot hit ‘send’ without one being applied. Just because Clinton chose to use her own hardware does not relieve her or her staff of this requirement.
In other words, she should have recognized the sensitivity of the material in at least some of the (probably) hundreds she received with “secret” information. If she claims not to have recognized it because it was not marked properly, that is ultimately her fault as well for choosing to use a system not designed for handling classified material in the first place.
4) It Doesn’t Matter Whether Hillary’s Server Was Hacked or Not – Some reporters have already asked what harm was done. Assuming (and it’s a very generous assumption at this point) that Hillary’s homebrew server was never hacked, why would it matter if there were secret information contained on it? Again, Peter Van Buren explains that the rules regarding the handling of classified information are not judged on a “no harm, no foul” basis.
Some may say even if Clinton committed security violations, there is no evidence the material got into the wrong hands – no blood, no foul. Legally that is irrelevant. Failing to safeguard information is the issue. It is not necessary to prove the information reached an adversary, or that an adversary did anything harmful with the information for a crime to have occurred. See the cases of Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Jeff Sterling, Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou or even David Petraeus. The standard is ‘failure to protect’ by itself.
The Petraeus comparison has been made several times. He was sentenced to a $100,000 fine and two-years probation for showing hand-written notes containing classified information to his mistress Paula Broadwell, even though it was determined that none of the information appeared in the book Broadwell wrote about Petraeus. (Note: the handwritten notes probably did not have classification markings, but that didn’t matter.)
As Ed Morrissey noted at Hot Air, a sailor who kept cell-phone photos taken on a nuclear submarine is facing 30 years in jail for taking the photos and for trying to destroy the evidence after he learned he was being investigated.
5) The Scandal Goes to Hillary’s Truthfulness and It Is Hurting Her – Back in 2012, some progressives argued that not every gaffe matters in a presidential race. The ones that do are the ones that confirm something people already suspect to be true about the candidate.
In Hillary’s case, the public is long familiar with her act and has always had questions about her honesty and authenticity. The email scandal plays into these suspicions as well as the sense that she is paranoid at a Nixonian level. Legal or not, most of what Hillary said was true about her private server has already been shown to be false or misleading.
The impact of the scandal has been evident in recent polling. American’s estimation of Hillary’s truthfulness and honesty have sunk, as has her overall favorability.
Hillary’s private email server was not something that prior Secretaries had ever done. Despite her denial back in March and again this month, two Inspectors General say her email contained classified information that was classified at the time. This has already been referred to the DOJ for investigation.
Hillary was responsible for recognizing the sensitivity of this information even if it wasn’t marked properly. And she is responsible for the apparent mishandling of the information whether or not her server was ever hacked by a foreign government. As the two IG’s said in their joint statement, “This classified information should never have been transmitted via an unclassified personal system.”
Finally, even if Hillary somehow avoids being held legally accountable, the public can still decide she is not trustworthy. The recent polls (and this week’s boom in reports that Joe Biden might enter the race) is evidence that the process of backing away from Hillary is already underway.