Opinion

State Department Report Too Soft on Hillary Clinton

She said what she needed to say when she needed to say it

HIllary Clinton was willing to sacrifice a little of the public interest in the interest of protecting and promoting herself. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

It’s trite by now to call Donald Trump shameless, but it’s Hillary Clinton who ought to be ashamed after the State Department inspector general released a report detailing just how far she went to hide her public records.  

While the news media played up the 83-page fact sheet as a harsh rebuke, it was really too soft on the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.  

The IG’s office bent over backward to give her every benefit of the doubt. But it’s clear that voters should question the actions of a public official who breaks, circumvents and rewrites rules to protect her political ambition. She and anyone else who knew about her email arrangement, including some of her top aides, abused the public trust.  

To save you the long read, Clinton didn’t ask for permission to set up a private server and route all of her email through a private account.  

“OIG found no evidence that the secretary requested or obtained guidance or approval to conduct official business via a personal email account on her private server,” the authors of the report wrote. But, they concluded, she had an obligation to do so. In addition, by failing to surrender work-related documents held on her private server before she left state, the IG found she violated department policy. And Clinton “never demonstrated … that her private server or mobile device met minimum information security requirements” under federal law.  

As someone who has been under investigation for the better part of the last quarter century — and often absurdly — it’s not surprising that Clinton sees the release of any of her communications as a potential political calamity. The people most interested in her State Department records work at the conservative non-profit Judicial Watch, which was a major driver of the impeachment of her husband.  

[ Clinton Emails Report Lands With a Thud on Capitol Hill ]  

It is not only possible but likely true that she is both paranoid and people are out to get her. Most politicians have long followed a credo attributed to the old Boston ward boss Martin Lomasney that speaks to not leaving a paper trail for your enemies or the authorities: “Never write if you can speak, never speak if you can nod, never nod if you can wink.”  

That just doesn’t work in the modern era of communication, and there’s a tension between Clinton not wanting to leave a paper trail and her ability to do a job that requires instantaneous communication across the globe. The obvious answer: Say what you need to say, when you need to say it and hope that your intentions and actions will be judged as just.  

 If they’re not, maybe voters shouldn’t elect you to that next office you seek.  

So, it’s clear that Clinton acted inappropriately and that those around her enabled her to do so. But there’s no evidence that she sent or received information that she believed to be classified, that anyone was hurt as a result of her unique email set-up or that she had any intent to do anything wrong (other than disregard open-records policy for her own benefit).     

For the record, she also didn’t kill her friend Vince Foster and she wasn’t callous about the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya. Anyone who suggests otherwise is the one who lacks humanity.  

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The question that we’re left with is what the appropriate consequence is for the whole email mess. I think the answer is that she’s getting exactly what she deserves.  

She basically lost 2015 to defending herself against the email scandal and it continues to be a black mark on her record. Like a parent who realizes that her child has the capacity to lie to her, the American voter will have trouble trusting what Clinton says, in part because of the way she did an end-run around the rules and in part because she took months to apologize for it.  

She was willing to sacrifice at least a little of the public interest in the interest of protecting and promoting herself. I have no doubt that every president has made exactly that calculation. Typically, politicians justify such transgressions to themselves by concluding that the good they will do by keeping and expanding their power outweighs the immediate harm.  

Clinton’s handling of all of it should stick in the back of voters’ minds when they go to the polls. And they will have to judge whether her strengths, and Trump’s weaknesses, outweigh her comfort with bending the rules.  

Roll Call columnist Jonathan Allen is co-author of the New York Times-bestselling Clinton biography “HRC” and has covered Congress, the White House and elections over the past 15 years. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.