“I don’t want any risk of the personal being accessible.”
That’s from a 2010 Hillary Clinton email explaining her reluctance to use the State Department communication system.
From her work as a young lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate, Hillary should have learned the Nixon-era adage: “It’s not the crime, but the cover-up.”
Instead her career has been marred by self-defeating defensiveness. Dating back to the largely trumped up Whitewater scandal, Clinton has used legalisms, evasiveness and secrecy to make controversies look worse than they actually were.
The email imbroglio, in all likelihood, fits this familiar pattern. (All conclusions, of course, are tentative pending the results of an FBI investigation).
It is plausible that the rationale for her home-brew email server may have been as simple as Hillary wanting to hide that she was writing political emails while serving as secretary of State. In that case, she would have swapped two days of bad headlines (“Clinton Plotting White House Run, Government Emails Show”) for two years of devastating coverage of her handling of State Department emails.
Tuesday’s report on the email issue by the State Department’s inspector general was a portrait in bureaucratic understatement. Again and again, it reported finding “no evidence that Secretary Clinton” had complied with security directives involving the use of her personal email system.
The 83-page document that the inspector general sent to Congress ends with a final page that is nothing more an in-house advertisement. It shows the insignia of the inspector general followed by the admonition, “HELP FIGHT FRAUD, WASTE AND ABUSE.”
It is an apt summary. The FRAUD that Hillary used her email server solely for reasons of convenience has led to the WASTE of her political capital and a torrent of ABUSE by Republicans.
At a moment when Republicans resisting the Donald Trump takeover like Paul Ryan appear to be preparing to surrender, the email report offers them political cover. Now that Clinton has been rebuked by her own State Department, these wavering GOP leaders can say that while they remain troubled by Trump’s prior statements, Hillary is worse.
In fact, “Hillary Is Worse” could easily become an official caucus within the Republican Party. Or vendors at the Cleveland national party convention could peddle to anti-Trump delegates big campaign buttons with a red line through Clinton’s face and the initials H.I.W.
But is she?
Clinton may have been cavalier about State Department security requirements and even lax about the handling of classified materials. But does that disqualify her for the White House compared to a bilious billionaire bristling with admiration of Vladimir Putin and ignorant of the nuclear triad?
The Trump risk
A Trump foreign policy would be a combination of America First isolationism and threats of a global trade war. It should be hard for a Republican to argue with a straight face that Hillary Clinton — a centrist hawk with a hard-won knowledge of the world — would be a riskier choice than Donald Trump, a man whose international relations experience is limited to golf courses and the Miss Universe pageant.
The Republican obsession with Benghazi also shows the limits of anti-Hillary demagoguery. Despite Clinton’s 11-hour ordeal in the face of Trey Gowdy’s House inquisitors, the case against the former secretary of State still seems to be little more than overblown complaints about misleading talking points.
No one associated with American policy toward Libya should be proud of what happened after Gadhafi was overthrown in 2011. But Barack Obama deserves more of the blame for the failure to lead from behind than Clinton, who was always more of an interventionist.
So how is Hillary worse?
The Clintonian penchant for parsing the language in order to mislead — shared by both the former president and first lady — might be troubling. Except when compared to the non-stop outpouring of lies from the man whom the GOP will nominate in Cleveland.
Yes, Hillary’s stubborn refusal to provide the transcripts of her presumably fawning speeches at Goldman Sachs events is a symbol of her obsession with secrecy. But Trump, defying four decades of political tradition, balks at even releasing his tax returns.
For Republicans appalled by Trump, there are, in truth, only two reasons to support the top of the ticket — careerism and a timorous fear of being tarred with disloyalty. It would be more intellectually honest for these Republicans to announce that they are writing in “The Incredible Hulk” for president than to facilely argue that Hillary is worse.
Roll Call columnist Walter Shapiro is a veteran of Politics Daily, USA Today, Time, Newsweek and The Washington Post. His book on his con-man great-uncle will be published in June: “Hustling Hitler: The Jewish Vaudevillian Who Fooled the Fuhrer.” Follow him on Twitter @MrWalterShapiro .