(AP Photo/Kevin Lamarque, Pool, File)
The first thing is to document them wherever possible. And emails are so easy to archive, there’s no excuse not to do it.
But Hillary Clinton didn’t. The emails you hear about being released by the State Department are ones they didn’t have in their possession until almost two years after Clinton left office. Some of those emails were five years old by the time the State Department got them, because they were on Clinton’s private server, rather than on a government one.
The Freedom of Information Act requires that government properly store and catalog its documents so that the public can access them. It’s about making government transparent, and Hillary Clinton failed to realize that goal. Even with a private server, all she had to do is put her work emails in a folder that would automatically forward them to the State Department for archiving. But she didn’t manage to take even that simple step.
The second thing you’re supposed to do with your communications is make sure any sensitive information stays secret. Clinton has argued that, even though her email server was unsecured, none of the sensitive information she sent or received was marked “classified” when she sent or received it. But it’s not like information is only of value if someone slaps the heading “top secret” on top of it; the heading is a result of the information being valuable, not the cause. It’s not as if hackers are going to overlook an email just because it doesn’t have a “for your eyes only” sticker on it.
But Hillary Clinton offers another defense: the federal government is too quick to declare information to be classified, when it’s really not. I imagine that Clinton is right about this. But I guarantee she’s not right 100 percent of the time.
And, even if she were, it still wouldn’t be enough: everyone who interacts with her unsecured server – Clinton, her staff, and everyone who sends email to them – has to be batting a thousand when it comes to saying, “I’m sure this isn’t classified, it’s OK to email it unencrypted.”
And if you can’t guarantee that all these people are batting a thousand, then the safest thing to do is to encrypt the server, just in case someone sends you an email containing information that needs to be kept secret. Clinton didn’t.
Swing and a miss.
If these two acts of utter carelessness – not archiving her official communications, and not securing them, either – somehow aren’t in violation of the law, then the law itself is utterly unacceptable.
As the old saying goes: "the real crime is what's legal."
Clinton’s claim that she was “abiding by the rules” should be met with the question, “Why? Why would you follow rules that don’t safeguard your official communications? Why wouldn’t you make an effort to change those rules, instead?”
Clinton has no good answer to this question. She only seems to think her use of a private server was “a mistake” because it got her in trouble, not because it was blatantly irresponsible. Even if she isn't indicted, will voters support a candidate who meticulously follows dysfunctional rules rather than improving on them?
And that’s without delving into two more unseemly aspects of Clinton’s time at State: some countries were negotiating matters with the U.S. (i.e., Hillary Clinton) at the same time as they were donating millions to the Clinton Foundation. This isn’t necessarily a quid pro quo, but it’s suspicious at least.
And, among the classified information found on Clinton’s server was an email from Sidney Blumenthal, her private adviser. Blumenthal contacted her about events in Sudan, handing off information that had apparently been lifted from the National Security Agency. Blumenthal had no security clearance to access NSA information, so where did he get it from?
I’m as wary of predictions as the next pundit in this chaotic election, but Hillary Clinton’s career in politics is over. And it’s all because of the inane rules at the State Department that she opted to observe rather than overturn.
Alasdair Denvil runs The Civil Debate Page.
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