Politics Swirling Around Clinton Email Scandal Obscure Real Problems

Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email server while secretary of state has inevitably become a fully inflated political football in these early days of the 2016 presidential race—with the right somehow linking the emails to the late Vince Foster, and Clinton’s allies offhandedly dismissing the value of open government with comments like “people don’t care about email policies."

But make no mistake, the scandal has highlighted the very real dangers to government transparency that result when politicians use private accounts to conduct official business. The scandal also highlights important concerns around cybersecurity and overclassification.

Here’s the background. Shortly before being sworn in in 2009, outgoing Senator Clinton set up a private email server at her home in Chappaqua, New York and registered the domain “clintonemail.com.” Two months later, Secretary of State Clinton started using that email exclusively for all correspondence—both private and government.

This practice was at odds with relevant guidance at State. Further, by keeping all emails, private and professional, on one server, Secretary Clinton effectively gave herself personal veto power over what would be subject to open records laws and what wouldn’t. And, in fact, that’s what happened. Although Secretary Clinton turned over 55,000 pages of emails in 2014, she made the determination on what to disclose and what to destroy (including over 32,000 emails that she deemed, at her sole discretion, private).

Fortunately, the laws have changed since then and high-ranking officials are now expressly required, if they use personal email accounts for government business, to send a copy of the work email to the government within 20 days. That requirement must be enforced strictly.

So what are the concerns?

The open government point should be obvious. Ironically, the Clinton White House was the first to recognize the importance of email as potential federal records. Previously treated as akin to disposable pink phone message pads, then-Staff Secretary John Podesta wrote a memorandum in 1993 clarifying that emails qualify as presidential records and must be retained. Out of concern that records could be lost, that memo barred the use of personal systems.

Violations of that policy during the Bush administration starkly highlighted the danger in allowing government officials to conduct official business using private accounts. As the Committee for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has documented at length, various Bush White House officials used Republican National Committee accounts to communicate with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in what would become the scandal over the hiring and firing of United States attorneys that the Department of Justice later found to be the inappropriately politicized.

The decision by Secretary Clinton to use “clintonemail.com” exclusively for official business disregards these historical examples. Unfortunately, officials can face the strong temptation to hide official business out of the reach of Freedom of Information Act requests. And as the new retention rules recognize, that’s unacceptable for our democracy.

On cybersecurity, the concerns are perhaps less apparent but are just as acute. As ACLU Principal Technologist Chris Sogohian has noted at length, you’re “on your own” when protecting a private server from hackers. With a government email account, you’ve got an entire IT apparatus protecting your information. Indeed, security for the government system is going to incorporate state-of-the-art techniques developed by the National Security Agency, which, despite its issues with mass surveillance, is pretty good at keeping hackers at bay.

Finally, the email controversy highlights the incoherence and unfairness of existing classification policies. Despite the fact that the State Department routinely deals in extensive volumes of classified information, Secretary Clinton has said that absolutely nothing in her private email was classified. As many classification experts have noted, that’s pretty astounding if true, especially given that, as we now know, President Obama himself communicated with Secretary Clinton using her private email. Worse, and regardless of whether the claim is true, Secretary Clinton is virtually assured of immunity from any investigation into the improper handling of classified information, let alone legal consequences.

That immunity should be seen as of a piece with the amazingly lenient treatment of General David Petraeus, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor earlier this month for giving classified documents to his mistress while serving as the head of the CIA. And it contrasts tragically with the 35-year sentence imposed on Private Chelsea Manning (who, ironically, was prosecuted in part for releasing State Department emails), or the three felony charges facing Edward Snowden, or the months and months of hard time to be served by the unprecedented number of other national security “leakers” prosecuted by the Obama administration.

Fortunately, this whole imbroglio leaves us with a teaching moment. Secretary Clinton could—like President Obama in 2008—pledge a new-found commitment to open government. If she does decide to run in 2016, she should acknowledge her mistake in using a private server and embrace the cause of government transparency as a campaign promise. That’s actually the best way to give her team possession of this political football—not to mention being the right thing to do.

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First of all, I'll say I have no love (or even respect) for Hillary Clinton. Which will make it really clear how I feel when I say the next thing I have to say.
The fact that nobody at all even gives a good goddam that Dick(head) Cheney and George Bush - and their freakin' psychotic friends - all purposely ruined the possibility of getting convictions on the terrorists who were involved in the Sep-11 operation is not just disgusting. It's downright mentally ill behavior to be all besides your damn selves over email but let's not give a flying fig that people were tortured and then that was used to mitigate the sentences on the accused so that they never even had a conviction for what they did bc the torture acted to prevent it. And the people who DID the torture knew beFOREhand that it could ruin any future possibility of getting a conviction on these people, but did it anyway.
I've never wanted to vomit more in my life than I do just hearing that, just knowing that these low-down flaming bastards are oh-so-beside themselves with anger over emails but don't care at ALL that someone in my family was burned out of existence so effectively that we never even got a confirmation of his death via a DNA match.
I can't wait until every last one of them gets exactly what they deserve. They can be guaranteed that when they get ready to take their little journey into the next place that you go (after the reaper comes collecting their souls) they'll get exactly what they deserve unless by some freakin' miracle they actually feel a twinge of guilt or sorrow for the way they acted on earth. Which has a real fat chance of happening, especially if you're Boehner, McConnell or Dick(head) Cheney.
I hate the people mentioned and I'll move heaven, hell and everything in between trying to get them deposed as "leaders" of this country.


Why is it that no one seems to figure out what went on? That Hillary could have been a traitor and or SPY of the highest degree. The Clinton Foundation is being investigated. It has received close to half a billion dollars in its history from mostly foreign sources, especially foreign governments. Classified , top secret and above information was placed where it would NOT be watched and could be easily hacked. Oliver North and Snowden have been mentioned But not the Rosenbergs whom were put to death in the electric chair. They stole secrets of our atomic bomb for the S

Berdj Joseph Rassam

This is a potentially very intriguing story with people on both sides of the aisle concerned about the Clinton email story. Time will tell if there is a, "there there".


So another pass for a liberal. It's amazing that all conservatives are mean, hateful and vile, and yet when libs break the rules or the law.....well gee...they didn't mean to or they weren't aware or one of the staff did it.....well by golly they're just good, honest and sometimes just naive.

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