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“Acts Of Journalistic Malpractice”: Email Servers Are Just The Latest Manufactured Scandal

You read it here first: “Fearless prediction,” this column began last April 6:  “No legalistic deus ex machina will descend to save the nation from the dread specter of President Hillary Rodham Clinton…no Kenneth Starr-style ‘independent’ prosecutor, no criminal indictment over her ‘damn emails,’ no how, no way.

“Ain’t gonna happen…

“Those impassioned Trump supporters holding ‘Hillary for Prison’ signs are sure to be disappointed. Again. Played for suckers by a scandal-mongering news media that declared open season on Clinton 25 years ago. And haven’t laid a glove on her yet.”

If they wanted to prevent Hillary from taking the oath of office next January, I wrote, voters were “going to have to do it the old-fashioned way: defeat her at the polls.”

As of this writing, that’s not looking too likely either. Minutes before the news broke that FBI Director James B. Comey announced that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring criminal charges against Secretary Clinton, I’d made an observation to a Republican friend on Facebook regarding his expressed wish to see her jailed.

“As a personal matter,” I wrote, “you wouldn’t trust Trump to walk your dog.” After Comey’s announcement, he groused that Hillary had friends in high places, but didn’t dispute my characterization of Trump. Although we disagree politically, I’d trust my friend with anything requiring honesty and steadfastness—dog-walking, cow-feeding, anything at all.

I see Trump, I keep my hand on my wallet. Seen that bizarre interview on Lives of the Rich and Famous where Trump speculates about the eventual size of his infant daughter’s breasts?

No? Then read on USA Today about the thousands of contractors—carpenters, plumbers, electricians–Trump’s stiffed on construction jobs. You do the work, he doesn’t pay. Even his own lawyers sometimes.

The man’s been sued 3500 times. Think he gives a damn about you?

So anyway, last week saw the collapse of not one, but two ballyhooed Hillary Clinton investigations. Even after two years, $7 million and 800-odd pages, Rep. Trey Gowdy’s celebrated Benghazi committee—the eighth of its kind—failed to come up with hurtful new evidence against Secretary Clinton in the tragic events in Libya on September 11, 2012.

But then that wasn’t necessarily the point.

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee,” GOP Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy boasted last September. “What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable.”

So the committee folds its cards, Bill Clinton does his happy Labrador retriever act on Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s airplane, and The Washington Post says we’re nevertheless back to Square One: “Can Hillary Clinton Overcome Her Trust Problem?” reporter Anne Gearan asks.

Clinton herself acknowledges that voters don’t see her as Miss Congeniality. She says she’s working hard to overcome that impression, but acknowledges it’s an uphill struggle.

“You know, you hear 25 years’ worth of wild accusations, anyone could start to wonder…Political opponents and conspiracy theorists have accused me of every crime in the book. None of it’s true, never has been, but it also never goes away,” Clinton told the Post.

“And it certainly is true that I’ve made mistakes. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t,” Clinton continued. “So I understand that people have questions.”

Indeed many of those “questions” about Hillary’s dishonesty originated in acts of journalistic malpractice so crude that their authors would have been shamed out of the profession—if the profession had any shame at the Washington pundit level.

Back in December 1995, ABC’s Nightline broadcast a doctored video clip that made Hillary appear to be lying about representing a Whitewater savings and loan. In reality, she’d explained her role as billing attorney on the account. No wonder “the White House was so worried about what was in Vince Foster’s office when he killed himself,” Jeff Greenfield observed, an insinuation as ugly as it was false.

Her imminent indictment was widely predicted.

A few months later, financial journalist James B. Stewart appeared on the same program, promoting his farcically inaccurate book “Blood Sport.” (He’d failed to read the Treasury Department’s “Pillsbury Report” and taken soon-to-be-convicted Jim McDougal’s word for everything.) Stewart gravely produced a loan application he alleged that Hillary had falsified, a federal crime, he said.

Joe Conason noticed something at the bottom of the page: “(BOTH SIDES OF THIS DOCUMENT MUST BE COMPLETED.)” Sure enough, Stewart had neglected to examine page two of a two page application.

Oops, hold the handcuffs and the orange jumpsuit.

If you think Stewart’s career suffered, you must not read the New York Times or the New Yorker.

Anyway, nothing’s really changed. Paradoxically, the collapse of one ballyhooed Clinton “scandal” after another appears to have hurt her. Few follow the details. But people suspect that she must be especially cunning and slippery to keep getting away with it, the bitch.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, July 5, 2016

July 6, 2016 Posted by | Clinton Emails, Conspiracy Theories, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“What’s There And What Isn’t”: What Does The New Inspector General Report Actually Tell Us About Hillary Clinton’s Emails?

Today the State Department’s inspector general released a report on Hillary Clinton’s email use during her time as secretary of state. Both Democrats and Republicans are going to spin the report to argue either that Clinton is completely blameless or that it reveals her to be history’s greatest monster. Donald Trump will likely say that the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that Clinton kidnapped the Lindbergh baby and produced Vanilla Ice’s first album.

So let’s see if we can sort through what’s there and what isn’t.

You can read our story by Rosalind Helderman and Tom Hamburger for a summary, but here are the two key excerpts from the IG’s report that deal with Clinton. First:

Secretary Clinton should have preserved any Federal records she created and received on her personal account by printing and filing those records with the related files in the Office of the Secretary. At a minimum, Secretary Clinton should have surrendered all emails dealing with Department business before leaving government service and, because she did not do so, she did not comply with the Department’s policies that were implemented in accordance with the Federal Records Act.

So that’s one problem: she should have printed out her emails so they could be archived, but she didn’t do that until the department sent a request to multiple secretaries of state, two years after she left office. Here’s the other part, which is more serious:

Secretary Clinton used mobile devices to conduct official business using the personal email account on her private server extensively, as illustrated by the 55,000 pages of material making up the approximately 30,000 emails she provided to the Department in December 2014. Throughout Secretary Clinton’s tenure, the FAM [Foreign Affairs Manual] stated that normal day-to-day operations should be conducted on an authorized AIS [Automated Information System], yet OIG found no evidence that the Secretary requested or obtained guidance or approval to conduct official business via a personal email account on her private server. According to the current CIO and Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, Secretary Clinton had an obligation to discuss using her personal email account to conduct official business with their offices, who in turn would have attempted to provide her with approved and secured means that met her business needs. However, according to these officials, DS and IRM [Bureau of Information Resource Management] did not — and would not — approve her exclusive reliance on a personal email account to conduct Department business, because of the restrictions in the FAM and the security risks in doing so.

Get past all the abbreviations and government-speak, and what it comes down to is that Clinton should never have used a personal email account, no matter how secure she thought it was, for department business, and that she repeatedly failed to consult with personnel who should have been aware of how her personal system worked.

If you’re saying, “Didn’t we already know that?”, well yes, we mostly did, though there are some new details here. So here’s what Clinton and her supporters will say: This report doesn’t reveal anything new. Clinton already said that using a private email server instead of the State Department’s system was a mistake, and she apologized for it. But there’s no evidence that national security was actually compromised, none of her emails contained information that was classified at the time she sent or received it, and even if she violated departmental policy, she certainly didn’t do anything criminal. And don’t forget that the report was highly critical of Colin Powell, who also used his personal email for official business.

And here’s what her opponents will say: This report shows the true gravity of Clinton’s misdeeds. She violated the department’s policies. She probably committed crimes. For all we know Kim Jong Un was reading her emails every night. At every step, she tried to hide from scrutiny and accountability.

How valid are those arguments? Clinton’s case is meant to lead you to the conclusion that in the end this is not that big a deal. The Republicans’ case is that she was reckless and irresponsible, and terrible things might have happened as a result. On one hand, we don’t have any evidence of anything terrible happening, but on the other hand, speculation is all Republicans need to get what they want out of this matter.

That’s because the political reality is that Republicans aren’t making a big deal out of this because of their deep and abiding concern for cybersecurity. They just want something to hammer Clinton with. Which is fine — that’s politics. But they also know that the details are all but irrelevant. Most Americans couldn’t tell you what this controversy is actually about; they just know that Clinton did something shady with emails. As long as Republicans can weave that into a larger argument about her being untrustworthy, they’ll run with this, even if they’d be even happier if Clinton got indicted (which is theoretically possible but looking extremely unlikely at this point).

And though Clinton would like us to believe that her intentions were pure and unimpeachable, while Republicans would like us to believe that her intentions were dark and sinister, the truth is probably somewhere in between. I don’t doubt that Clinton made the initial decision to use a private server in order to retain control of her communications. That’s not because she was planning to execute some kind of nefarious criminal conspiracy over email, but because she knew that she’ll always be the target of lawsuits and fishing expeditions from her political opponents, and she didn’t want to give them any more material to work with. As a piece of forward-looking political strategy, we now know how foolish that was; it’s done far more damage to her than it would have if her emails had regularly been FOIA’ed and then leaked to the press by her opponents.

But it also appears, from what we know so far, that there weren’t really any practical consequences for the country because of her decision — no covert operations compromised, no key national security information delivered to our enemies. And cybersecurity experts will tell you that her emails likely would have been no less vulnerable had they been on the State Department’s servers, which are the target of constant hacking attempts.

So maybe the best thing for Clinton to do now would be to say that this whole episode has brought home to her the need for the federal government to dramatically improve its cybersecurity, and she wants to assemble a blue-ribbon commission of experts to devise a plan to reform the systems across the government, one that she hopes Republicans will join with her to pass through Congress within her first year in office so it can be implemented as soon as possible. At least then some good might come of this controversy.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, May 25, 2016

May 29, 2016 Posted by | Clinton Emails, Hillary Clinton, Republicans | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Normalization Of Trump”: The Big, Big Problem With How The Hillary Clinton Email Scandal Is Being Covered

By now it should not be surprising that the latest development in the Clinton email “scandal,” a critical report from the State Department inspector general that adds little to what we know, was greeted with shouts from some people and yawns from others. For Republicans and other Hillary haters, it was a huge, shocking blow to the already-reeling presumptive Democratic nominee, portending a long slide toward ignominious defeat in November. Indeed, Donald Trump thought it was such a big deal that he started speculating that Democrats would soon dump her for Joe Biden. For most left-leaning observers who aren’t Hillary haters, it was, in Josh Marshall’s eloquent assessment, a “nothingburger.”

But then there are the reactions of supposedly objective major media organizations. The New York Times‘ Amy Chozick offered this reaction to the IG report:

[A]s the Democratic primary contest comes to a close, any hopes Mrs. Clinton had of running a high-minded, policy-focused campaign have collided with a more visceral problem.

Voters just don’t trust her.

The Clinton campaign had hoped to use the coming weeks to do everything they could to shed that image and convince voters that Mrs. Clinton can be trusted. Instead, they must contend with a damaging new report by the State Department’s inspector general that Mrs. Clinton had not sought or received approval to use a private email server while she was secretary of state.

Now, as it happens, there is at best limited evidence that voters don’t care about Hillary Clinton’s policy positions because they are transfixed by her lack of trustworthiness. Voters who don’t like a candidate for whatever reason are usually happy to agree with pollsters and reporters who offer negative information about the candidate as an explanation. So what Chozick is doing is arguing that her perception of perceptions about Clinton make every bit of news about the email story highly germane and more important than all the policy issues in the world.

A somewhat different reaction to the IG report came from the Washington Post, which editorially hurled righteous thunderbolts at Clinton:

The department’s email technology was archaic. Other staffers also used personal email, as did Secretary Colin Powell (2001-2005), without preserving the records. But there is no excuse for the way Ms. Clinton breezed through all the warnings and notifications. While not illegal behavior, it was disturbingly unmindful of the rules. In the middle of the presidential campaign, we urge the FBI to finish its own investigation soon, so all information about this troubling episode will be before the voters.

This is beneath a headline that reads: “Clinton’s inexcusable, willful disregard for the rules.”

Words like “inexcusable” suggest that Clinton has all but disqualified herself from the presidency. But if the FBI disagrees, as most everyone expects, then the Post will have done yeoman’s service for that other major-party presidential nominee, and his effort to brand Clinton as “Crooked Hillary.”

Concerns about Donald Trump rarely if ever descend to the level of digging around in hopes of discovering patterns of “reckless” behavior or “willful disregard for the rules.” That’s because he’s reckless every day, and willfully disregards not only “the rules” but most other previously established standards of civility, honesty, and accountability. Yes, voters don’t entirely trust Clinton. But a bigger concern ought to be that Trump fans credit him for “telling it like it is” when the man is constantly repeating malicious gossip, lunatic conspiracy theories, ancient pseudo-scandals, and blatant falsehoods.

Yet we are drifting into a general election where important media sources seem to have decided that Clinton violating State Department email protocols and Trump openly threatening press freedoms, proudly championing war crimes, and cheerfully channeling misogyny and ethnic and racial grievances are of about the same order of magnitude. And that’s not to mention the vast differences between the two candidates on all those public-policy issues that Amy Chozick thinks voters have subordinated to questions of “trust.”

This is the kind of environment in which it becomes easy for a candidate like Trump to achieve “normalization” even as he continues to do and say abnormal things — you know, like attacking elected officials of his own party even as he is allegedly trying to “unify” it — with every other breath.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 26, 2016

May 28, 2016 Posted by | Clinton Emails, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Political Media | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“No Crime And No Security Breach”: Clinton Emails Continue To Be Non-Scandal, Disappointing Republicans

While we were all busy laughing about how insecure Donald Trump is about the size of his manhood, the New York Times released this story, the latest development in the case of Hillary Clinton’s emails:

A former aide to Hillary Clinton has turned over to the F.B.I. computer security logs from Mrs. Clinton’s private server, records that showed no evidence of foreign hacking, according to people close to a federal investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s emails.

The security logs bolster Mrs. Clinton’s assertion that her use of a personal email account to conduct State Department business while she was the secretary of state did not put American secrets into the hands of hackers or foreign governments.

The former aide, Bryan Pagliano, began cooperating with federal agents last fall, according to interviews with a federal law enforcement official and others close to the case. Mr. Pagliano described how he set up the server in Mrs. Clinton’s home in Chappaqua, N.Y., and according to two of the people, he provided agents the security logs.

What does this tell us? Although it’s possible there will be some future discovery, it appears that whether Clinton’s emails were vulnerable to hacking or not, they weren’t actually hacked. That’s good news! The closest thing they’ve found is some attempts at phishing scams, which means that Clinton’s email is just like every other email address on earth.

So here’s what we know at this point, put as succinctly as I can:

  1. Clinton set up a personal email account and used it for work. Even though previous Secretaries of State did the same thing, and even though thousands of people in government use personal emails for work, she still shouldn’t have done it. She may have violated department policies, but there’s no evidence she broke any laws.
  2. Clinton has said it was a mistake and apologized for it.
  3. There were concerns that her email server could have been vulnerable to hacking from a foreign power. But it does not appear to have been hacked.
  4. None of the work-related emails she sent and received were marked classified at the time. However, some 200 of them were retroactively classified. This is now the subject of a spat between the State Department and the intelligence community, which classifies many things that people elsewhere in the government think are absurd to classify.
  5. For Clinton to be charged with mishandling classified information, she would have had to knowingly passed such information to someone not authorized to have it — like David Petraeus showing classified documents to his mistress — or acted with such gross negligence that people without authorization were bound to see it. According to what we know, neither of those things happened.
  6. The FBI is investigating the matter, but has said that Clinton herself is not a target of that investigation, meaning that they don’t suspect that she committed any crime.
  7. That former aide, Bryan Pagliano, has been granted immunity by the Justice Department and is working with them as they complete their investigation, which will probably conclude this spring.

Now let’s be honest. When this story broke, Republicans were desperately hoping that we would learn that some criminal wrongdoing or catastrophic security breach had taken place, so they could then use that against Clinton in her run for the White House. But that turns out not to be the case. So the next best thing from their perspective is that there’s some vaguely-defined “scandal” that the public doesn’t really understand, but that voters will hold against her if you just repeat the words “Clinton email scandal” often enough.

They may have gotten that. I’ve certainly seen plenty of voters quoted in press accounts saying some version of, “I don’t trust Clinton, ’cause you know, that email thing.” I’m sure 99 percent of them couldn’t tell you what they think Clinton actually did that’s so awful, but they know that there was something about emails, and it was, like, a scandal, right?

In recent weeks, I’ve had a couple of liberal friends and relatives ask me, with something approaching panic, “I just heard that Clinton is about to be indicted. Is that true?!?” The answer is no, but they heard that because it’s something conservatives say constantly. Tune to to talk radio or surf through conservative web sites, and before long you’ll hear someone say that the Clinton indictment is coming any day now. Donald Trump, with his characteristically tenuous relationship to reality, frequently says that she’s about to be indicted or that she won’t be permitted to run for president because she’ll be on trial. It hasn’t happened and it won’t happen, but that isn’t going to stop them from saying it.

Finally, there’s a phrase you should watch out for when you see this issue discussed: “Drip, drip, drip.” Sometimes it’ll be a Republican partisan using it, but more often it will be some pundit explaining why the issue is important. What “drip, drip drip” means is that despite the fact that there was no crime and no security breach, the media will keep discussing the story as the investigations continue, and that will cause political difficulty for Clinton. “Drip, drip, drip” is this controversy’s version of, “it’s out there,” meaning, “there isn’t anything scandalous about the substance of this matter, but here’s how we’ll justify talking about it as though it actually were something scandalous.”

I don’t say that to justify Clinton’s original decision to set up the private server. She shouldn’t have done that, not only because it was against department policy, but also because she should have been extra careful, knowing her history, to make sure she minded her Ps and Qs on everything like this. She should have known that once she started running for president there were going to be FOIA requests and lawsuits and investigations of everything she did as Secretary of State. So yes, that was an error in judgment. But it wasn’t a crime — and it appears that no bad consequences for the country came of it — so we shouldn’t treat it like it was.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, March 4, 2016

March 6, 2016 Posted by | Clinton Emails, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Powell, Rice Received Sensitive Info Through Private Emails”: Targeting Someone You Detest, Opposed To Someone You Like

When the political world’s interest in Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails was near its peak, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza defended the media’s fascination with the story. “Democrats, ask yourself this,” Cillizza wrote in August. “If this was a former [Republican Secretary of State] and his/her private e-mail server, would it be a ‘non-story’?”

As a rule, I continue to believe that’s a smart way for political observers to look at every story. If the situations were reversed, how would you react to a controversy? If the accusations targeted someone you detest, as opposed to someone you like, would you see the story as legitimate?

The problem in this case, however, is that Cillizza’s question wasn’t really a hypothetical. We learned nearly a year ago from a Politico article that former Secretary of State Colin Powell “also used a personal email account” during his State Department tenure. Several months later, MSNBC found that Powell conducted official business from his personal email account managed through his personal laptop.

“But wait,” Clinton’s critics in the media and Republican circles protest, “what about emails that were later deemed to include sensitive information?” NBC News reports today that both of the Bush/Cheney-era Secretaries of State fall into the same category.

State Department officials have determined that classified information was sent to the personal email accounts of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and the senior staff of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, NBC News has learned. […]

In a letter to Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy dated Feb. 3, State Department Inspector General Steve Linick said that the State Department has determined that 12 emails examined from State’s archives contained national security information now classified “Secret” or “Confidential.” The letter was read to NBC News.

According to the report, of those 12 emails, two were sent to Powell’s personal account, while the other 10 were sent to personal accounts of senior aides to Condoleezza Rice.

None of this is to suggest Powell or Rice’s office is guilty of wrongdoing. In fact, Powell told NBC News the messages in question include information that’s “fairly minor.”

There’s no reason whatsoever to believe otherwise.

The political salience of news like this, however, is that Clinton’s critics would like voters to believe she’s at the center of some damaging “scandal” because of her approach to email management. These new details suggest Clinton’s practices were fairly common, and unless Republicans and the media are prepared to start condemning Powell and Rice with equal vigor – an unlikely scenario – it’s starting to look like this entire line of attack lacks merit.

Or as the NBC News report put it, the new findings “show that past secretaries of state and senior officials used personal accounts to conduct government business and occasionally allowed secrets to spill into the insecure traffic.”

As for Chris Cillizza’s question – if we were talking about a former Republican Secretary of State, would it be a “non-story” – it would appear the answer is, “Yep.”

 Postscript: Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, said in a statement this morning, “Based on this new revelation, it is clear that the Republican investigations [into Clinton’s emails] are nothing more than a transparent political attempt to use taxpayer funds to target the Democratic candidate for president.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 4, 2016

February 5, 2016 Posted by | Clinton Emails, Colin Powell, Condolezza Rice, State Department | , , , , | Leave a comment

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