No matter what the FBI finds in the recently retrieved emails on her recently seized private server, one thing is already clear: Hillary Clinton, and her political team, have repeatedly, intentionally tried to mislead the public as they sought to downplay the story.
The latest example of this was revealed Tuesday by the Washington Post. Contrary to claims by Team Clinton, the State Department did not seek her emails as part of a routine record-keeping exercise.
They said the request was not simply about general record-keeping but was prompted entirely by the discovery that Clinton had exclusively used a private e-mail system. They also said they first contacted her in the summer of 2014, at least three months before the agency asked Clinton and three of her predecessors to provide their e-mails.
The New York Times reported this was the case back in March, but, at the time, the State Department was saying something very different. As FactCheck.org noted Thursday, the State Department seemed to be playing defense for Hillary Clinton back then:
Marie Harf, a former department spokeswoman, was asked at a press briefing on March 3 if there was a connection between the department’s request for Clinton’s emails and the House Select Committee on Benghazi’s request for documents related to the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, attacks in Libya. Harf said the department in October 2014 sent letters to Clinton and three other secretaries “as part of our records maintenance upgrading.”
Harf presents this as some sort of anodyne bureaucratic process. There is no mention of the contact with the Clinton camp during the summer and an implicit denial that all of this was specifically prompted by congressional requests for Clinton’s emails, emails the State Department belatedly realized it did not have.
In a striking coincidence, the same vague, misleading explanation offered by the State Department was echoed precisely by the Clinton political team a week later. A Q&A published on March 10 reads, “The Department formally requested the assistance of the four previous former Secretaries in a letter to their representatives dated October 28, 2014 to help in furtherance of meeting the Department’s requirements under the Federal Records Act.”
An updated Q&A, put out after Clinton declared herself a candidate for president, said the same and again left out the same details, “In 2014, after recognizing potential gaps in its overall recordkeeping system, the State Department asked for the help of the four previous former Secretaries in meeting State Department’s obligations under the Federal Records Act.”
This story was offered by Hillary Clinton herself during her interview earlier this month with Andrea Mitchell, “In the fall, I think it was October of last year, the State Department sent a letter to previous secretaries of state asking for help with their record-keeping.” Hillary made the same claim again last weekend on Face the Nation, “we were asked to help the State Department make sure they had everything from other secretaries of state, not just me.”
After all of these attempts to mislead about how this request came about, the truth finally came out this week. And what is the response from Hillary Clinton affiliates? They are literally claiming this is old news, a very old Clinton tactic. As noted above, the New York Times had reported it (via an unnamed source) back in March. Correct the Record now argues that Clinton never denied the truth about how this all came about, she just didn’t offer all of the truth, and anyway, “it was hardly a secret that they were responding to obsessive congressional inquiries.” Not a secret, no, but it certainly didn’t help that the campaign and the candidate never mentioned it and, in fact, suggesting something quite different was the case at every opportunity.
This isn’t the only time her team has done this with regard to the email story. Last month, the FBI seized Clinton’s server. According to the spokesman for Platte River Networks, the FBI request came the night of August 11th, just hours after news broke that two Top Secret emails had been identified in Hillary’s inbox. Platte River handed over the server the next morning and received receipts for it.
But Hillary Clinton’s camp managed to avoid the obvious (and accurate) headlines that should have resulted from this incident, i.e. FBI Seizes Hillary Clinton’s Private Server. They did so because spokesman Nick Merrill weighed in on the night of the 11th with this artful explanation: “She directed her team to give her email server that was used during her tenure as Secretary to the Department of Justice.”
She directed? That sounds like a claim that Hillary acted to make this happen, that she was proactive. But there is no evidence that anyone has ever provided showing Hillary directed her server be turned over. On the contrary, she had denied for months any intention to turn it over to anyone. And when asked directly if the FBI had in fact demanded the server, Clinton’s spokesman refused to say.
By putting out the misleading statement early, Clinton got a lot of sympathetic headlines which echoed the suggestion (either entirely false or entirely irrelevant) that she was being proactive. For instance, the first AP story on the move was headlined: “Clinton campaign says she directs her team to give personal email server to Justice Department.” It took more than a week until Fox News uncovered what had really happened in its interview with Platte River Networks.
Polls leave little doubt the email scandal has done serious damage to Hillary Clinton’s credibility. The words most associated with Hillary are liar, dishonest, and untrustworthy. Her partisans maintain this is unfair, that she hasn’t been found guilty of doing anything wrong. But, as the facts above demonstrate, Hillary Clinton has been trying to intentionally mislead the public about aspects of this story for months. No matter what the FBI does or does not turn up on her private server, the public perception of Hillary Clinton as someone who is not honest is very well-founded.