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“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

“Say No Go”: When It Comes To Severing Ties With The Radical Right, Better Late Than Never

I’d like to nominate, for next year’s John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, every prominent Republican who has declared, unequivocally, that they will vote for a candidate other than seemingly-inevitable GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump in the general election–including former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman and neoconservative writer Max Boot.

Granted, it’s fair to ask why these anti-Trump Republicans didn’t abandon ship years before, considering the wingnuttery that existed in the Republican Party long before Trump’s rise. On the other hand, when it comes to severing ties with the radical right, better late than never.

Do you remember the “Obamacans,” the legions of conservatives and Republicans who declared that Barack Obama, not John McCain, was best suited to become the 44th President of the United States? Christopher Buckley and Colin Powell were the two most prominent names on the list of “Obamacans” who were courageous enough to acknowledge that McCain’s selection of silly Sarah was too sickening to stomach.

The anti-Trump Republicans remind me of those brave “Obamacans.” They also remind me of the Republicans who embraced ex-Republican third-party candidate John Anderson in the 1980 presidential election; while I wish those Republicans had set aside their grievances with President Carter, at least they recognized the radicalism of Ronald Reagan–something a majority of the electorate did not.

I imagine that many of these anti-Trump Republicans were simply in denial about just how pathetic their party had become. Maybe they thought the Tea had cooled off. Maybe they thought there was still some semblance of reason and rationality on the right.

The rise of Trump has been a rude awakening for them. They now realize that in today’s GOP, reason is considered treason. They now realize that the party is so far gone that even Jesse Helms would be branded a RINO if he were around today. They now realize that the virus of viciousness is spreading–and that it’s far more dangerous than Ebola or Zika.

Granted, not all of the anti-Trump Republicans deserve to be considered brave. Former George W. Bush speechwriter Peter Wehner embraced the politics of cowardice earlier this year when he suggested that he would remain neutral in the general election:

Beginning with Ronald Reagan, I have voted Republican in every presidential election since I first became eligible to vote in 1980. I worked in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and in the White House for George W. Bush as a speechwriter and adviser. I have also worked for Republican presidential campaigns, although not this time around.

Despite this history, and in important ways because of it, I will not vote for Donald Trump if he wins the Republican nomination.

I should add that neither could I vote in good conscience for Hillary Clinton or any of the other Democrats running for president, since they oppose many of the things I have stood for in my career as a conservative — and, in the case of Mrs. Clinton, because I consider her an ethical wreck. If Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton were the Republican and Democratic nominees, I would prefer to vote for a responsible third-party alternative; absent that option, I would simply not cast a ballot for president. A lot of Republicans, I suspect, would do the same.

I guess Wehner never heard the words of the late historian and activist Howard Zinn:

I don’t believe it’s possible to be neutral. The world is already moving in certain directions. And to be neutral, to be passive in a situation like that is to collaborate with whatever is going on.

As for the anti-Trump Republicans who will not remain neutral but who will take their votes elsewhere, we should welcome them with open arms into the reality-based community. We should praise their willingness to stand up to the scorn of social media and the abuse of angered allies. We should also respectfully ask them: “Hey, what took y’all so long?”

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 19, 2016

March 19, 2016 Posted by | 3rd Party Presidential Candidates, Conservatives, Donald Trump, GOP Primaries | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Republicans Willfully Misrepresenting Fundamental Facts”: Still Perplexed And Worried About Hillary Clinton’s Emails? Calm Down

Amid the ongoing hysterics over Hillary Clinton’s email server – now turned over to the FBI, along with a “thumb drive” maintained by her attorney David Kendall – it was refreshing this morning that ABC News, at least, appears to understand basic facts about this overblown affair.

In a handy question-and-answer format, the network’s Justin Fishel and Mike Levine explain why the FBI wants to examine the server, namely to ascertain that it contains no classified information, and reiterate what everyone ought to know by now: that despite propagandistic nonsense spread by Republican operatives, the bureau is not undertaking a criminal investigation of Clinton herself.

As noted in the ABC News Q&A:

The Intelligence Community’s inspector general said from the beginning that it made a “counterintelligence referral” — not a “criminal referral” — to the FBI. The main concern was that classified information could be compromised because it was sent over unsecured networks and remained in the hands of Clinton or her legal team, not that any crimes may have been committed, a spokeswoman for the Intelligence Community’s IG previously told ABC News.

But even the comparatively sober ABC News analysis omits crucial facts that seem to have eluded many observers – several of which were outlined by Jennifer Palmieri, the Clinton campaign’s communications director, in a useful briefing she posted on Medium. Yes, it is Palmieri’s job to remind everyone of these facts. And it is the job of journalists to report them – not ignore them – so that readers and viewers can understand this story’s context.

As discussed in this space before, the State Department asked the four Secretaries of State who preceded John Kerry to turn over work-related electronic mail for archiving. Only Hillary Clinton has provided any materials so far, sending over 30,000 emails from her server. According to Palmieri, at least 1,200 of those messages will be returned to Clinton, because State officials say they are wholly personal in nature.

(I still wonder why reporters seem so uninterested in the emails sent by Colin Powell on his personal account, particularly concerning Iraq. Powell insists he didn’t keep any of those messages, but nobody seems too eager to test that convenient assertion.)

Palmieri also addresses the confusion over information that wasn’t classified when Clinton sent it but may have been classified since she left office:

It’s common for information previously considered unclassified to be upgraded to classified before being publicly released [as Clinton’s official emails are being examined, redacted, and released by the State Department]. Some emails that weren’t secret at the time she sent or received them might be secret now. And sometimes government agencies disagree about what should be classified, so it isn’t surprising that another agency might want to conduct its own review, even though the State Department has repeatedly confirmed that Hillary’s emails contained no classified information at the time she sent or received them.

We can expect some partisan figures – like Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and his fellow Republicans on the House Select Committee on Benghazi – to continue to willfully misrepresent these fundamental facts. Gowdy seems to believe that smearing Clinton, using millions of taxpayer dollars, is his job.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, August 13, 2015

August 14, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, House Select Committee on Benghazi, Trey Gowdy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“When Journalists Cry Corruption, Make Them Prove It”: Clinton Foundation ‘Scandals’ Are Made Of Smoke And Innuendo

Here are a couple of things you may not know about recent topics in the news.

First, no Secretary of State prior to Hillary Clinton had ever used a government email address or preserved their messages for posterity. And why should they? The law requiring cabinet members to do so didn’t go into effect until after Clinton left office.

(Presumably to make one-stop shopping easier for Chinese and Russian hackers. But I digress.)

Bush administration Secretary of State Colin Powell deleted his emails. Every single one. Condoleezza Rice has said that she simply never used email, which may even be true.

Second, as of 2011 former president George W. Bush had earned at least $15 million giving speeches mainly to corporate and Republican groups. Politico has found more recent information hard to find. It’s private and confidential.

In 2011, Bush pocketed $100,000 to speak at a fundraiser for a homeless shelter in McKinney, Texas. The shelter’s director called the event a success, adding that the former president was his usual charming self. Bush’s standard practice is that reporters aren’t invited and recording devices are not allowed.

“Relative to the Clintons, though,” Politico notes “he’s attracted considerably less attention.” Maybe that’s because George W. Bush has no close relatives running for president. So that when he accepts $250,000 for speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas, it’s not an issue. This event is widely known as the “Sheldon Adelson Primary,” after the billionaire casino magnate who openly auditions GOP hopefuls who oppose online gambling and support Israel.

Anyway, aren’t they all up for sale, the candidates? Clintons, Bushes, Walkers, Cruzes, Perrys, the lot.

Open for business, every single one.

Somehow, however, what would appear the least objectionable buck raking by a presidential candidate during the 2016 campaign cycle has become the most controversial. I refer, of course, to the Clinton Foundation, Hillary and Bill Clinton’s $2 billion charitable enterprise

The Clinton Foundation is credited, among other things, with providing cut-rate HIV drugs to patients throughout the Third World, hearing aids for deaf children in Botswana, and earthquake relief in Haiti; the foundation even fights elephant poaching in Africa — reportedly a passion of Chelsea and Hillary Clinton’s. (And of every other decent human being on Earth.)

Interestingly, the Washington Post’s David A. Fahrenthold recently produced a remarkably fair, snark-free account of the Clinton Foundation and its proprietor, a veritable force of nature. Despite being a longtime acquaintance of his, like thousands of Arkansans I almost can’t comprehend the life Bill Clinton has chosen. His life of endless banquets, celebrity galas, and international jetting around would make me crazy.

But then what have I done for the destitute and afflicted? Watched a lot of Red Sox games and read a thousand novels — that’s what.

Meanwhile, the thing to understand about the swirl of innuendo and accusation concerning this remarkable enterprise is that it’s yet another “Swift Boat”-style operation. Written by a career political operative named Peter Schweizer, the book Clinton Cash amounts to little more than a conspiracy theory touted by the same newspapers that promoted the Whitewater hoax and cheered on Kenneth Starr and his leak-o-matic prosecutors.

Aptly described by Michael Tomasky in the New York Review of Books as an “imitation of journalism,” Clinton Cash basically assembles circumstantial evidence about various potentates and high flyers in the Clintons’ orbit. Assuming venal motives, it then leaps to conclusions unsupported by fact. In most instances, the author hasn’t even interviewed his targets.

After making a promotional deal with Schweizer, The New York Times devoted 4,400 words to a jumbled narrative involving a Canadian mining executive who’d pledged half his income to the Clinton Foundation and the subsequent sale of a Wyoming uranium mine to Russian interests.

Way down at the bottom, however, the determined reader learned that Secretary of State Clinton played no role in the deal whatsoever. At least none that the Times could find. It’s pure supposition.

The newspaper then remained silent as Schweizer appeared on conservative talk shows depicting the foundation as a giant slush fund devoting only 10 percent of its budget to charity. In fact, according to the American Institute of Philanthropy, the real number is 89 percent — an A rating.

Look, any cynic can play at this. Check out your hometown society page. That doctor’s wife at the Heart Fund gala: Is it about charity, or about people back home in Turkey Scratch seeing her socializing with a Walmart heiress? How about the architect? Does he care about sick kids, or is he about getting the contract for the new hospital wing named for the heiress?

Does Bill Clinton do all this for humanity, or does he just need more attention and admiration than us “normal” people? Does Hillary want to be president for America’s sake, or for her own?

The correct answer is all of the above.

But when journalists cry corruption, make them prove it.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, June 10, 2015

June 10, 2015 Posted by | Bill and Hillary Clinton, Clinton Foundation, Journalism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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