Hillary Clinton-lovers,-haters, and everyone in between seem to have an opinion about this week’s escalating “Email-gate” drama. One side claims Clinton’s failure to use an official government email account during her four-year stint as Secretary of State indicates a lack of transparency at best — and a crime, at worst. The other side says it's a faux scandal, a slip-up that won't last for more than a couple news cycles. At present, we're in the latter camp.
But first, a recap: the melee began on Monday, when the New York Times published a report revealing that Clinton conducted all her official Secretary of State business using a personal email address instead of a .gov one. Most high-level politicos use a .gov account — it’s more secure (everything is highly encrypted and transmitted from the same protected server), plus every message is automatically documented, The Times writes, “for historical purposes.”
Clinton reportedly used her own server (with the domain ClintonEmail.com) that linked back to her home in Chappaqua, New York. This, according to The Times, “may have violated federal requirements that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record.”
Her emails are now being subpoenaed by the House as part of a probe into the Benghazi, Libya, attacks. We understand why Clinton’s actions are being questioned — no political leader is above accountability. But, we also don’t think this situation warrants all the hand-wringing it’s currently getting — here's why:
Hillary supports the public release of her emails. In a statement on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton’s spokesperson Nick Merrill noted that she “immediately said yes” when the State Department asked for her assistance in keeping track of her email records. Last night on Twitter, Clinton herself responded to the controversy with a tweet saying that she wants the public to have access to the documents, and The Times reports that she has already turned over 55,000 pages.
No one's sure Clinton actually broke a law. As Josh Voorhees notes at Slate, though Clinton’s behavior might have been unseemly, “no one seems to know for sure” which laws — if any — she actually transgressed. The NYT was quite vague in its assertion that she “may have violated federal requirements,” and The Wall Street Journal agreed that it was “unclear whether Mrs. Clinton's practice ran afoul of federal laws and regulations.” Why? Because, those laws and regulations have changed (and keep changing) since Clinton was in office from 2009 to 2013.
Slate adds that a November 2014 law made it legal for a government official, under certain circumstances, to use personal email accounts if they “[copy] or [forward] the email to his or her government account within 20 days.” That stipulation that the messages be forwarded was not in place when Clinton was in office.
When asked for their thoughts on the matter (on Fox News, of all places) two legal analysts weighed in on Clinton’s actions, both concluding that there’s no problem. Criminal defense lawyer Arthur Aidala said, “You can’t be convicted of a crime that didn’t exist at the time that you committed it.” And, former prosecutor Jonna Spilbor agreed: “At the time she did what she did, when she used her own personal email, the law was very nebulous... There’s no law broken.”
She's not the first. Colin Powell used a personal email for business purposes, when he was Secretary. In fact, per The Washington Post, John Kerry, who came after HRC, was actually the very first Secretary of State to use “a standard government email address.”
Everyone loves a campaign scandal. It’s no secret that Hillary Clinton is soon expected to formally announce that she’s running for president next year. It’s also no secret that conservatives don’t like that — er, don’t like Hillary, period. For that reason, many Dems are deeming this brouhaha nothing more than, as the AP put it, a “fishing expedition” — a hunt to dig up dirt to hurt her chances. As Maryland’s Rep. Elijah Cummings told the AP: "Everything I've seen so far has led me to believe that this is an effort to go after Hillary Clinton, period.”
Jeb Lund at The Guardian concurs, writing, “Her private email account is a political football... As with each new Clinton scandal, it feels like going back to high school [where the]...popular kids coast on charm...bullies still have power, gossip rules all, and no one will ever ever learn.”
We do hope that this triggers a broader discussion on transparency and accountability. But, if it doesn't, we're pretty sure it won't keep Hillary out of office.