Hillary Clinton continues to be a polarizing figure. She has been in the public’s eye for over 20 years, as First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State and Presidential candidate. Love her or hate her; you can’t ignore her. She can always be counted upon to stir up controversy. As Gilda Radnor used to say: “It’s always something.”
The latest Hillary issue is with respect to her emails during the period in which she was Secretary of State. As reported by the “New York Times,” Associated Press and various other news sources, she used a private server for all her emails, and, as a result, they were not retained on the official government server, were not archived properly and were not available for scrutiny by Congress and other authorized parties. (On the other hand, hackers and other unauthorized persons would have had easier access, which, among other issues,constituted a national security threat.) As part of the Congress’ Benghazi investigation Clinton eventually submitted 55,000 pages of these emails, but no one can be certain of whether or not there are more that have not been disclosed. There are legitimate doubts as it was Clinton’s staff that reviewed the emails before determining which ones would be disclosed.
There is no doubt that Clinton did not comply with the Obama Administration’s policy regarding emails, which, quite properly, requires officials to conduct their government business primarily on an official government server. Any business emails on a private server are required to be forwarded to their government account. The obvious reasons for this policy are national security and public disclosure and access to authorized persons.
The more serious question is whether or not she also broke the law. The law’s definition of a federal record is broad and open to interpretation, but, in my experience it is extremely difficult for a public official to claim a separation between public and private communications. For example, in my experience dealing with the SEC it always maintained that any communication had at least a partially public element. Following that logic, as long as Clinton was serving as Secretary of State virtually any email she would have sent or received could be construed as pertaining to government business. For example, an email pertaining to the Clinton Foundation might seem, at first glance, to be a private email. But, it has been disclosed that some donors to the foundation, especially foreign governments and multi-national corporations that do business with the federal government, may have likely donated expecting a “quid pro quo.” This would have major ramifications not only for a Secretary of State, but also for a President, should she be elected. Therefore, foundation or not, these emails should be treated as government business. In summary, in the interest of full disclosure and common sense, all emails should have been run through and maintained in her public email account.
Supporters and critics are already weighing in. Supporters include, David Axelrod and Senators Schumer and Pelosi. Critics include Senators Darrell Issa, Ted Cruz and Trey Gowdy, who have called for an investigation and the hiring of an independent agent to examine the emails. In addition, Gowdy has expressed suspicions that the disclosed emails did not include any from the time period that Clinton had traveled to Libya despite the fact that she was photographed using her handheld device. Furthermore, Jason Baron, former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration, cites the significance of timing. He opines that all emails should have been handed over no later than on the date Clinton left office.
It’s true that Clinton is hardly the only public figure to have utilized a private email account. Others include, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Chris Christie, all of whom may also be running for President. Be that as it may, at the very least, Clinton has created an unnecessary issue and distraction that she doesn’t need as she seeks to become the first female president. In addition, to paraphrase Mike Huckabee, former politician turned news commentator, it re-enforces her image problem as one who skates right on the edge of right and wrong and, perhaps, over it.
Many prominent Democrats, such as Senator Barbara Boxer, while not exactly critical of Clinton in this matter, have nevertheless urged her to resolve the matter before it lingers too long and causes serious damage to her campaign. In this regard, Clinton has leaked the fact that she will be holding a news conference shortly at which time she will address the matter fully. If you’re a Clinton supporter, you’d best hope that the news conference puts the matter to bed once and for all. Personally, I have my doubts.