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“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

“Look Over There!”: The Plot Thins On The Clinton Email ‘Scandal’

So over the weekend, the Times, which had already walked back some of the wilder implications of its Hillary Clinton-email reporting, did so just a little bit more. It did it under a provocative (though basically defensible) headline that tried to make it sound like the plot was thickening, but in fact this plot is thinning faster than Tony Blair’s hair (seriously, have a look).  What began life two weeks ago as another “Clintons play by their own rules” mega-scandal is now pretty clearly devolving into a “what do you expect, it’s the government” saga that is about as dog-bites-man as it gets.

The Times headline, on A1 Saturday, proclaimed: “Emails Clinton Said Were Kept Could Be Lost.” The article, co-bylined by the reporter who broke the original story and another, reported that the State Department did not start automatically archiving the state.gov email traffic of deputies until February of this year. This bit of information came from department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who discussed this at her daily briefing the day before (i.e. last Friday).

Now. Remember what Clinton had said at her UN press conference last week—that even though she used a personal address, everything she wrote to her deputies’ state.gov addresses was archived: “The vast majority of my work emails went to government employees at their government addresses, which meant they were captured and preserved immediately on the system at the State Department.”

She’s right that they were captured, but that doesn’t mean they were archived, according to what Psaki said Friday. So the Times put those two factoids together and produced its Saturday piece, the most dramatic possible reading of events, which opened by informing readers that contrary to what Clinton had said, not everyone at State was required to archive their email correspondence, so maybe some of those emails she told us had been preserved had quite possibly not.

It’s a defensible news story. But here’s the thing. If you read farther down into the article—and certainly, if you read the transcript of Psaki’s Friday briefing—the picture that is very clearly beginning to emerge here is one of a lumbering department (is there any other kind when it comes to matters like this?) taking a long time (shocking!) to get itself into compliance with regulations and laws. Toward the end of the Times article, it quotes experts saying the kinds of throw-up-your-hands things that people say when they think a situation is unfortunate but not genuinely a scandal (“it really is chaos across the government in terms of what agencies do, what individuals do, and people understand that they can decide what they save and what they don’t”).

As for the State briefing, here’s what happened. Psaki fielded a question that went: “You had said that you would check—yesterday, you said a couple of times that you’re now automatically archiving…the emails of certain principals.” Psaki said yes, that process started in February of this year (there’s your news). Somebody else asked, naturally enough, why not until February of this year:

Psaki: “Out of an effort to continue to update our process. Our goal, actually, is to apply an archiving system that meets these same requirements to all employee mailboxes by the end of 2016. So it’s only natural that you’d start with the Secretary, which we did in 2013; that you would progress with other senior Department officials, and we’ll continue to make—take steps forward.”

Then somebody asked, again naturally enough, why not sooner. “I’m sure,” she said, “if we had the technical capability to, we would have, and it’s just a process that takes some time.” And then later: “This has been a process that’s been ongoing, and obviously, it’s not only time-consuming and requires a lot of effort on the part of employees to do it in other ways, but they have long been planning to do this. It’s just something that it took some time to put in place.”

You get the idea. Anybody shocked to hear those words? A government agency got a directive, and it’s taking a long time to implement it!

Now, you can blame Hillary Clinton for all this if you want to. She was the boss, and in some sense the buck stops at the boss’s desk. But don’t you think the secretary kinda has bigger things on her mind than this? “Hey, Steinberg, forget Middle East peace and Russia and just go find out where we are on compliance with that 2009 National Archives and Records Administration directive!”

In other words—a lot of what has happened here would probably have happened no matter who was secretary of state. If the secretary had been John Kerry then or Dick Holbrooke or whomever—why, even if it had been Clinton scold Maureen Dowd!—the department would almost surely have operated exactly as it did in terms of regulatory compliance. So, if some of these records weren’t preserved, it wasn’t a Clinton thing. It was a State Department thing.

Now obviously, the issue of whether we can trust that Clinton and her staff made an honest effort of determining which of her emails were public and which were private remains. That’s a fair question, although it’s one we’ll probably never know the answer to (just as we’ll never know it with Jeb Bush). As I wrote previously, Clinton needs to learn some lessons from this episode, and one is that suspicions will linger about her.

She ought to be cognizant of this. Not long after she becomes a candidate, for example, she ought to say that this episode has taught her about the importance of transparency and propose that if she is president, her administration will set up a system by which some kind of independent third parties will go through high-level officials’ emails to determine what is and isn’t public. This would constitute direct acknowledgement that she gets why that looks funny to people, and it would not only put the whole thing to bed, she’d get actual points.

But in the meantime, here’s what we’ve learned. On March 2, when the story broke, this was dynamite—a scandal that might prevent Clinton from even getting in the race. Then it emerged that the original Times report overstated things a little. Then it emerged that all kinds of other former secretaries of state and cabinet officials do more or less what Clinton did (some quite a bit less). Then it emerged that Jeb Bush took seven years to release all his emails and chose which ones to put out just like Clinton did. Then it emerged that other Republican candidates also have transparency issues at least the equal of Clinton’s. And finally, it emerged last Friday that the State Department performs certain administration functions rather slowly.

And remember, the only reason we’re going through all this anyway is that the Republicans, who’ve investigated Benghazi six ways to Sunday and come up with nothing on her, are now taking rocks they’ve already turned over and turning them back over. The whole Gowdy committee is nothing but a capital-P Political sting operation. It’s clearer than ever now that this is a committee to investigate Clinton that has one job and one job only: find something, anything, that might keep her out of the White House.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 16, 2015

March 17, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, Republicans, State Department | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Clinton Rules Are Back”: Big Holes In AP Report On Hillary’s ‘Homebrew’ Email System

Have you heard about that mysterious, vaguely sinister “homebrew” email server located in the Clinton family’s suburban New York home? That was yesterday’s big revelation by the Associated Press, repeated everywhere, evidently without further reporting or checking by outlets both here and abroad. The headline: “Clinton Ran Own Computer System for Her Official Emails.”

Now that’s a very hot story — but is it true? Several very large holes have now appeared in that tale – and the usually reliable AP seems to have quietly abandoned the most incriminating assertions in a rewritten version.

Today’s Daily Banteran online publication I would recommend, by the way – carries a sharp post by Bob Cesca dismantling the AP story. As Cesca points out, the AP’s original lede indicated that Clinton was “physically running her own email” via a “computer server” located in “her family’s home” in Chappaqua, NY. But by the fourth graf, the AP story conceded: “It was not immediately clear exactly where Clinton ran that computer system.”

Moreover, Cesca reports, the AP seems to have misinterpreted the registration documents that formed the basis of its story – and the location of the Clinton email server is most likely to be found at Optimum Online, an Internet service provider owned by Cablevision in nearby Stamford, Connecticut. Not as sexy as that secretive basement setup in Chappaqua, but a lot more plausible. The Banter post names all the eager beavers, at outlets ranging from Gizmodo to Breitbart and the Washington Post, who broke out with indignant riffs on the AP’s “scoop.”

Cesca’s full post is well worth reading, and serves as fresh warning of what we ought to have learned from all the previous cycles of “Clinton scandal”: Withhold judgment until all the facts are available, and don’t immediately believe everything you read, even in news sources that normally appear trustworthy. The Clinton Rules are back — which in journalism means there are no rules at all.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, The National Memo, March 5, 2015

March 6, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, State Department | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Same Old Stink Of Insinuation”: Hillary Clinton’s Emails; Is This A Scandal? Or A ‘Scandal’?

To someone who has watched many “scandals” that were expected to ruin Hillary Rodham Clinton evaporate into the Washington mist — even after a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist predicted she would end up in prison! – the current furor over her email habits hardly seems earth shaking.

Now it isn’t unreasonable to ask public officials to conduct public business on government email accounts, but there was no such ironclad rule when Clinton became Secretary of State. In hindsight, it might have been better for her and the public if she had done so. Yet many prominent people, both in and out of government, have preferred private email, in the belief that those accounts provide stronger encryption and safeguards against hacking.

So far, the former Secretary of State doesn’t appear to have breached security or violated any federal recordkeeping statutes, although those laws were tightened both before and after she left office. She didn’t use her personal email for classified materials, according to the State Department. The Government Executive magazine website nextgov.com offers an admirably concise review of the legal and security issues here.

Certainly Clinton wasn’t the first federal official or cabinet officer to use a personal email account for both personal and official business, as most news outlets have acknowledged by now – indeed, every Secretary of State who sent emails had used a personal account until John Kerry succeeded Clinton in 2013.

As for the issue of archiving Clinton’s emails, which is required by federal regulations and law, the Washington Post suggests that she violated an Obama administration edict by using her own account. But that was still “permissible,” according to the Post, “if all emails relating to government business were turned over and archived by the State Department.”

Did Clinton – or more to the point, someone with line responsibility for such bureaucratic housekeeping – observe that rule? Last year, the State Department requested that all of the living former Secretaries of State turn over relevant emails for its archives. To date, only one of them has complied: Hillary Clinton. Her aides provided more than 50,000 emails to the government – and sent about 300 to the House Select Committee that is still investigating Benghazi.

Angry Republicans on that committee, plainly frustrated by years of failure to find any evidence that incriminates Clinton or President Obama in the loony conspiracy theories cherished by Tea Party Republicans, are behind the email stories first published by the Times. In fact, Clinton’s use of a private account has been publicly known for nearly two years — but that fact didn’t seem to trouble the Republicans until now, as she prepares to run for president. And today the House Government Operations Committee, chaired by Rep. Jason Chaffetz — a right-wing extremist whose own business card lists his Gmail address – is poised to take up the “investigation.”

This unappetizing scenario is most reminiscent of the bad old days, when a House committee chair “investigated” the tragic suicide of White House aide Vince Foster by pumping several pistol rounds into a watermelon in his back yard. Back then, various Senate and House committees chaired by Republicans endlessly “investigated” Whitewater, the FBI files, and other putatively scandalous matters, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, with no purpose beyond selective, salacious leaks to reporters at the top newspapers and networks. Then everybody would feign outrage for a day or a week or a month, until the latest whatever passed into oblivion.

Someone might ask the congressional Republicans (and their media enablers) what they expect to find now. Is there any evidence of actual wrongdoing by Clinton and her staff – or merely the same old stink of insinuation? Will they seek testimony from former Secretary Powell, former White House aide Karl Rove — whose RNC.com emails mysteriously disappeared before a prosecutor could obtain them – or any of the thousands of other ex-officials who have used private email addresses to conduct government business? Or will they simply continue a political hunting expedition with taxpayer millions, which is what they seem to believe they were elected to do instead of governing?

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, The National Memo, March 4, 2015

March 5, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, Public Officials, State Department | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Ignorant Inquisitors”: Capitol Hill’s Angry Little Men Keep Making Hillary Clinton Bigger

Anyone truly concerned about the safety of U.S. diplomatic personnel abroad – and that should include every American – has fresh reason for fury over last September’s disaster in Benghazi and its aftermath. But the target of public anger should not be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose conduct has been exemplary ever since the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three of his brave colleagues lost their lives last September. Far more deserving of scorn are the likes of Rand Paul (R-KY), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and all the other grandstanding, conspiracy-mongering, ill-informed politicians who questioned her Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

Four months after the tragedy occurred, Republicans on both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee still seem to be obsessed with the talking points provided to UN Ambassador Susan Rice before she appeared on television to discuss the incident. According to Republican folklore, unsupported by facts, the Obama White House engaged in a conspiracy to conceal the true nature of the terrorist attack by mischaracterizing it as a “demonstration.” The continuing focus on that trivial issue – long since explained by Rice herself, as well as retired General David Petraeus and others, under oath – understandably provoked an exasperated Clinton to scold Johnson, one of the dimmer idols of the Tea Party.

When the Wisconsin Republican began to harp on this topic yet again – interrupting her answer, after stupidly asserting that Clinton could have resolved any questions about the attack with “a very simple phone call” to the burned-out Benghazi compound – she responded sharply:

With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because there was a protest or was it because there were guys who went out for a walk one night who decided they would kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and to do everything we can to make sure it never happens again.

No doubt Clinton’s utterly sane retort will undergo dishonest editing, in the style of James O’Keefe, to make her sound cavalier or arrogant. But it is the Republicans in Congress whose attitude toward the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his fallen comrades has seemed cynical and false, ever since they first sought to exploit the incident politically during the presidential campaign. Meanwhile, having historically supported reductions in federal spending on diplomatic security, they have done nothing useful so far to enhance the safety of Americans serving abroad. Worse still, their questions to Clinton indicate that very few of them, even at this late date, have bothered to learn the basic facts surrounding the Benghazi incident.

By contrast, Clinton has assumed responsibility in a meaningful way ever since September 11 – which is to say that she has taken action to ensure a serious response. As required by law, she empowered an independent investigation, which resulted in dozens of recommendations for improved security and held several high-ranking State Department officials to account for the lapses in Libya. It is worth noting that Thomas Pickering, the distinguished former diplomat who led the probe, fixed culpability for the security flaws at Benghazi at “the assistant secretary level,” rather than with Clinton herself. Nobody in Washington understands the workings of the U.S. foreign service better than Pickering, who served in top positions under both presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Certainly not Johnson or Paul, who rather comically asserted that “if [he] were president,” he would have fired Clinton. Always hard to imagine, a Paul presidency seemed even more remote when he quizzed her about obscure right-wing conspiracy theories involving Syria, Turkey, and Libya.

As Joan Walsh observed in Salon, those irate and ignorant inquisitors on Capitol Hill appeared small and peevish in their confrontation with Clinton, a woman whose serious, diligent, tireless approach to public service has armed her with an enduring popularity at least three times greater than her Republican adversaries in Congress. Their feeble attempts to cut her down, echoed by the usual loudmouths on radio and cable television, only make her bigger.

If they persist, she probably will be president someday.

 

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, January 24, 2013

January 25, 2013 Posted by | State Department | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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