Clinton’s Imperious Brush-off of Email Rules

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Clinton’s Imperious Brush-off of Email Rules

The State Department’s Inspector General issued a blunt report criticizing Hillary Clinton’s imperious refusal to follow email rules as Secretary of State, adding to Clinton’s credibility problem

President Barack Obama holds a Homeland Security Council meeting on May 1, 2009, including Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

State Department functionaries faced a hopeless task as they tried to spin their own Inspector General’s matter-of-fact critique of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s imperial attitude toward basic security measures everyone else is required by law to follow.

It turns out that she deliberately chose to use a hacker-friendly, unprotected email server, and not so much for convenience – unless you define “convenience” as the ability to operate in total secrecy with no possibility of being held accountable for your policies or behavior. In one email to an aide, Clinton explained, “I don’t want any risk of the personal being accessible.”

When some staffers had the temerity to voice concerns over the vulnerability of a non-governmental email system, they were warned by their seniors “never to speak of the Secretary’s personal email system again.” The IG report establishes that Clinton’s claim that her use of an insecure email system for official business had been “allowed” is, well, disingenuous.

Pity the State Department spokespeople tasked with putting the best face on the IG’s stark criticism. Media representatives actually posed some direct questions to those applying the cosmetics, who showed themselves far more guilty than Socrates in “trying to make the worst case the better.” At several points, I sensed them wishing some hemlock came in their job jar.

Just doing their job, I know. But it was bizarrely clear that their instructions included taking a bullet for Secretary Clinton. It wasn’t really her fault, you see. It was actually the State Department’s fault, collectively. There were only a few variations on the meme: “We could have done a better job ensuring that people understand security policies;” “We could have done a better job at preserving emails;” “We have not lived up to all our obligations.” In other words, “we” failed the Secretary, not that Clinton failed in her duty to ensure that government information was properly secure.

I counted no fewer than 15 examples of this kind of self-criticism, and it was more than a little nauseating. But then, again, if Clinton becomes President, who wants to be assigned to be deputy chief of mission in Upper Slovobia? It was encouraging as it was heartening to notice that this time the press corps was not sitting still for the notion that it wasn’t really Clinton’s fault, after all.

The fly in the ointment preventing the usual careful orchestration of such announcements was an early leak of the IG report. Worse still, for the State Department spokespeople, several of the journalists had actually read the report and noticed that its declarative prose did not square with the collective self-flagellation serving as a diversion. Even the mainstream press corps could see through the transparent attempt to direct the public lashes onto a group of whipping boys and girls to spare the ex-Secretary and likely Democratic presidential nominee.

Again, some pity is in order for the briefers. It was not supposed to go down this way. Clearly, the State Department had intended to disclose the IG report this (Friday) afternoon to those few unlucky enough to be still around before the Memorial Day weekend. No doubt the spokespersons fully expected to have an extra day to do the homework required to be more plausible in the squaring-a-circle task they were given. The task would have been quite difficult with even a week to prepare.

Small Miracle

Opening my Washington Post, I encountered another surprise. For the first time since our Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity began writing corporate Memoranda for the President, the Post and VIPS were of one mind on something important.

The editors of the Post do not let us onto their pages, of course. But apparently they did read our open appeal to President Obama three days ago urging his administration to wind up the email investigation as quickly as possible and let the country know now what the FBI has learned – before the Democratic nomination is locked in. Where else would they have gotten such a good idea?

In the print edition, the Post lead editorial’s headline reads: “Ms. Clinton’s willful misjudgments: She repeatedly ignored warnings not to use private email during her tenure as secretary of state.” The online headline reads: “”Clinton’s inexcusable, willful disregard for the rules.” The editorial ends with the recommendation: “We urge the FBI to finish its own investigation soon, so all information about this troubling episode will be before the voters.”

In the Post’s news columns, a report on the IG findings runs as the page-one lede under the headline “State Department watchdog rebukes Clinton over email: No approval sought for private server,” undercutting Clinton’s argument that her decision to operate an email tied to her home-based server “was permitted” by the State Department. Too early to tell, of course, but Ms. Clinton may begin to worry that the editorial page editors, who until now have enthroned her as their favorite neocon, may be getting wobbly.

Same goes for The New York Times, which led its Thursday editions with a factual report and included two articles on page A14, one of which includes a rebuttal of the lame demurral put out by the Clinton campaign. The take-no-prisoners headline of the other article by Amy Chozick is: “Emails Add to Hillary Clinton’s Central Problem: Voters Just Don’t Trust Her.”

Chozick points out that Secretary Clinton refused to be interviewed by the Inspector General as part of the security review and, in effect, questions Clinton’s insistence that the voters don’t care about the email controversy. Noting Clinton’s very high unfavorable opinion rating, Chozik notes that when voters are asked why they do not trust Ms. Clinton, “Again and again they will answer with a single word: Emails.”

As Sir Walter Scott observed in a memorable poem:

Oh what a tangled web we weave,

When first we practice to deceive!

Or as one might add in the context of modern politics:

But when we’ve practiced for a while,

We markedly improve our style

Secretary Clinton faces an immense task in trying to improve her style. A judgment on how well she’s doing may be recorded by the voters in the California primary on June 7.

Ray McGovern

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared and briefed the President's Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

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