After years of swirling controversy and thousands of hours worth of Press coverage, it appears that one of 2016’s most prominent political ‘scandals’ has finally met its end.
You know… the one about Hillary Clinton’s emails.
If you haven’t been paying attention, here’s the general run-down. Throughout her time in the Senate, Clinton used a personal email, and ran the servers from her home. As odd as this may sound to those of us in the Tech generation, it is a surprisingly common practice for high-level members of Congress to use personal email.
When she became Secretary of State in 2009, she continued to use her personal email and maintain the servers from her home, and no one in the upper echelons of government corrected her at the time. We must emphasize the term continued here, because for 8 years as a United States Senator, she used her private email account to no objection. This wasn’t some malicious move made the second she ascended to the office at State. Framed in context, it is possible to see the reasoning here.
But that doesn’t mean the reasoning was correct. As Secretary of State, part of the job is to have involved interactions with foreign governments, including many folks that the United States would deem as “untrustworthy actors”. If one assumes that a personal server is less secure than those run by the federal government, any electronic communications with said actors carry a great deal of risk. This is what FBI Director James Comey made crystal clear as he announced the results of the agency’s exhaustive investigation into the email saga. From the full transcript of his statement via The Washington Post…
Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.
For example, seven e-mail chains concern matters that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level when they were sent and received. These chains involved Secretary Clinton both sending e-mails about those matters and receiving e-mails from others about the same matters. There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation. In addition to this highly sensitive information, we also found information that was properly classified as Secret by the U.S. Intelligence Community at the time it was discussed on e-mail (that is, excluding the later “up-classified” e-mails).
None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government — or even with a commercial service like Gmail.
In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.
With all the evidence present, it’s clear that the standards for what most people consider ‘best practices’ of electronic communication were not met. But were these failings attributed exclusively to Clinton, or were they at issue in previous administrations? According to a House Oversight Committee Report confirming widespread use of personal emails among Clinton’s predecessors, Condoleezza Rice claims that she used a .gov account, but the State Department was unable to produce conclusive records from her time in the office. Colin Powell, like Clinton, admits to having used a personal email account. Only since Secretary John Kerry has there even been an expectation that Secretaries of State use a government email account. In the wake of these results, it’s important to weigh Clinton’s actions within this context. If she followed the lead set by previous office holders, why are her actions being singled out as exceptional? Is the FBI willing to bring charges up against Secretaries Powell and Rice?? Onky if they run for President, I guess.
Surprisingly enough, there is a bright side to this controversy. Unlike several other GOP-led attempts to destroy Democratic rivals, at least the time and money spent on this one yielded some concrete results. Hillary Clinton’s email practices were a problem, and now she, and the whole federal government will be much less careless with their electronic records.
In any event, the message has been sent.