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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

   

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