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Friday, December 9, 2016

To someone who has watched many “scandals” that were expected to ruin Hillary Rodham Clinton evaporate into the Washington mist — even after a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist predicted she would end up in prison! – the current furor over her email habits hardly seems earth shaking.

Now it isn’t unreasonable to ask public officials to conduct public business on government email accounts, but there was no such ironclad rule when Clinton became Secretary of State. In hindsight, it might have been better for her and the public if she had done so. Yet many prominent people, both in and out of government, have preferred private email, in the belief that those accounts provide stronger encryption and safeguards against hacking.

So far, the former Secretary of State doesn’t appear to have breached security or violated any federal recordkeeping statutes, although those laws were tightened both before and after she left office. She didn’t use her personal email for classified materials, according to the State Department. The Government Executive magazine website nextgov.com offers an admirably concise review of the legal and security issues here.

Certainly Clinton wasn’t the first federal official or cabinet officer to use a personal email account for both personal and official business, as most news outlets have acknowledged by now – indeed, every Secretary of State who sent emails had used a personal account until John Kerry succeeded Clinton in 2013.

As for the issue of archiving Clinton’s emails, which is required by federal regulations and law, the Washington Post suggests that she violated an Obama administration edict by using her own account. But that was still “permissible,” according to the Post, “if all emails relating to government business were turned over and archived by the State Department.”

Did Clinton – or more to the point, someone with line responsibility for such bureaucratic housekeeping – observe that rule? Last year, the State Department requested that all of the living former Secretaries of State turn over relevant emails for its archives. To date, only one of them has complied: Hillary Clinton. Her aides provided more than 50,000 emails to the government – and sent about 300 to the House Select Committee that is still investigating Benghazi.

Angry Republicans on that committee, plainly frustrated by years of failure to find any evidence that incriminates Clinton or President Obama in the loony conspiracy theories cherished by Tea Party Republicans, are behind the email stories first published by the Times. In fact, Clinton’s use of a private account has been publicly known for nearly two years — but that fact didn’t seem to trouble the Republicans until now, as she prepares to run for president. And today the House Government Operations Committee, chaired by Rep. Jason Chaffetz — a right-wing extremist whose own business card lists his Gmail address – is poised to take up the “investigation.”

This unappetizing scenario is most reminiscent of the bad old days, when a House committee chair “investigated” the tragic suicide of White House aide Vince Foster by pumping several pistol rounds into a watermelon in his back yard. Back then, various Senate and House committees chaired by Republicans endlessly “investigated” Whitewater, the FBI files, and other putatively scandalous matters, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, with no purpose beyond selective, salacious leaks to reporters at the top newspapers and networks. Then everybody would feign outrage for a day or a week or a month, until the latest whatever passed into oblivion.

Someone might ask the congressional Republicans (and their media enablers) what they expect to find now. Is there any evidence of actual wrongdoing by Clinton and her staff – or merely the same old stink of insinuation? Will they seek testimony from former Secretary Powell, former White House aide Karl Rove — whose RNC.com emails mysteriously disappeared before a prosecutor could obtain them — or any of the thousands of other ex-officials who have used private email addresses to conduct government business? Or will they simply continue a political hunting expedition with taxpayer millions, which is what they seem to believe they were elected to do instead of governing?

Photo: World Bank Photo Collection via Flickr

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