Hillary’s insufficient excuse

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the press Tuesday in New York about her use of a personal email account for official communications. Xinhua photo by Niu Xiaolei.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the press Tuesday in New York about her use of a personal email account for official communications. Xinhua photo by Niu Xiaolei.

As a member of Hillary Clinton’s Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, I realize I am an imperfect messenger on this subject.

The thing is, this whole email thing is pretty bad.

It won’t sink her. It won’t derail her. It won’t stick to her long term. This will be in her rearview mirror, and she will move on soon. I am not suggesting this is the long chased-after poison pill for her political career. It isn’t.

But it is a big deal. You should think it is a big deal. You should care, regardless of your political affiliation, and it should absolutely impact your opinion of her in an intensely negative way.

I’ll talk about why in a moment, but let’s get the obligatory, absurd, but apparently necessary disclaimers out of the way first. In 2011 it came to light that Gov. Mitt Romney’s staff had purchased their state-owned hard drives and wiped the emails from the Romney administration from government servers. In addition, Jeb Bush used a private email account on a server he owned while serving as governor of Florida.

In both of these instances, the individuals in question were flouting transparency and unethically attempting to control access to their work while serving the taxpayers of the states they ran. There are no excuses for deleting emails or setting up your own email server outside of wanting to be your own gatekeeper and thinking you are above having to answer to the people who elected you.

So no, I’m not selectively picking on Hillary Clinton because she is a Democrat.

It very much bothers me that I have to even make that disclaimer, because when any situation comes up like this, it must be judged on its own merit. The most obnoxious thing in the world is when a politician — of either party — gets caught red-handed doing something nefarious, and their political opponents start saying things like, “well, yeah, but you never said anything when [insert person here] did the same thing!” As if a previous person behaving badly somehow excuses or makes less bad a current person behaving badly. Critics’ hypocrisy in not going after one of their own does not invalidate their criticism.

But I’m safe because I despise what Romney and Bush did as well. So back to Hillary.

If staffers on Capitol Hill or the state department did what Clinton did, or even suggested doing what she did, they would have been fired with cause immediately. Having worked on the Hill myself, the process of email setup and delivery, phones, and the like are militantly enforced, and it isn’t even an option to disregard those regulations.

The reason why people who work for the government have their emails routed through government servers is for a combination of recordkeeping, security, and guaranteed availability for compliance with transparency requests, such as under the Freedom of Information Act.

When a public official goes to great lengths to set up his or her own private server, and then uses it to conduct state business, the official is in control. If you send a FOIA request for, say, Hillary Clinton’s correspondence with government officials on a particular subject, she — rather than the federal government — has controlled access to those records. That means she could claim something doesn’t exist, even if it does.

Imagine, for a moment, Richard Nixon in 2015. This is a man who taped himself saying incriminating things that would have led to his impeachment. When ordered to turn over his tapes in response to a criminal investigation, he refused, claiming executive privilege, and said that the tapes were his property.

What if all Nixon had to do was delete the record? Would you trust that he wouldn’t have done so and made the problem go away? I’ll remind you he deleted over a section of tape and then went through an elaborate process of suggesting a secretary accidentally did it.

When a public official, particularly one with access to classified material, who is as important and central to government operations as the Secretary of State, decides that she has the right to be her own gatekeeper for her records, why would anyone trust her? This is exactly the reason transparency laws exist.

Do I think Hillary Clinton was secretly plotting the overthrow of the U.S. government with Chinese radicals bent on our destruction? No. Do I even think she did anything wrong that she committed to email? Probably not, actually.

But that she has any defenders, particularly from the American left who have been at the forefront of transparency laws in this country, is embarrassing. No one should accept what she has done and excuse it away.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.