Smart Democrats began dusting off copies of their Plan B for the 2016 fall campaign this week. They were prompted by a devastating report from Department of Justice inspector general, who found that “significant security risks” were raised by Hillary Clinton’s decision to use a private e-mail server at the State Department.
Democrats know that an FBI report, potentially even more damaging, may be leaked in the coming weeks. Even if Hillary faces no criminal liability, she could find the number of Americans who view her as honest and trustworthy dropping below Donald Trump’s numbers.
Hillary Clinton did not want her e-mails subjected to the Freedom of Information Act or subpoenas from Congress, and that’s why she set up a home-brew server. I think we all know that. People around her will tell you that in private if you really get them behind a closed door.
I spoke to a number of top Democratic officials, and they’re terrified, including people at the White House, that her campaign is in freefall because of this distrust factor. And, indeed, Trump has a similar problem. But she’s the one whose numbers are going south.
“Trump lies about his businesses and changes with the wind,” one former Democratic senator told me. “But if Hillary is found to have compromised national security, that will be viewed as more relevant to the job of president.”
Everyone knows that the election is in the hands of independent voters, who are about 40 per cent of the electorate. In the latest CBS News/New York Times poll, 59 percent per cent of independents said that their view of Clinton was unfavorable, and 67 percent said that she was “not honest and trustworthy.”
Even liberals appear close to the end of their patience with the Clintons.
Even liberals appear close to the end of their patience with the Clintons. The Washington Post editorial board said that the findings of the State Department report demonstrate “Clinton’s inexcusable, willful disregard for the rules.” During an MSNBC panel this Thursday, the comments were scathing as panelists ripped Hillary’s refusal to be interviewed by the inspector general and lambasted her obvious lie that her private e-mail practices were allowed by the State Department. “Trump now has ten new words for her: Incompetent Hillary, Dangerous Hillary,” former advertising brand executive Donny Deutsch said in exasperation. “I don’t know how to move the untrustworthy needle” on her, he concluded.
Mike Barnacle of MSNBC said that the report “adds to the weight of voter exhaustion when it comes to the Clintons.” Al Hunt of Bloomberg News noted that the report’s depiction of Hillary’s State Department aides as enablers for her behavior “raises questions about who she surrounds herself with.” A partial answer is that she hires people who are at least as good at stonewalling investigations as Richard Nixon ever was. Only five of the 26 current and former Clinton aides whom the inspector general sought to interview agreed to cooperate.
One reason may be that the last thing Hillary Clinton really wants to talk about is how the office of the inspector general functioned during her four-year tenure at State. Astonishingly, the department had no permanent inspector general during that period, the office being filled by an acting inspector, Harold Geisel. He had been an ambassador appointed by President Bill Clinton and also had close ties to the State Department’s leadership. Those ties would have barred him from seeking the job of permanent inspector general. “It’s a convenient way to prevent oversight,” says Michael Harris, a University of Maryland professor who is an expert on the role of inspectors general in government. Acting inspectors general are “in a position where they could be removed at any moment.”
Geisel isn’t responding to calls from reporters, but the last permanent inspector general before him is. Howard Krongard served as the inspector general for State from 2005 to 2008. He told the New York Post that “it’s clear” that Hillary Clinton “did not want to be subject to internal investigations.” He believes that her actions in seeking to avoid Freedom of Information Act requests and the requirements of the Federal Records Act were clearly premeditated and intentional. That is significant because, as my NRO colleague Andrew C. McCarthy points out, violating those rules is an actual violation of federal law.
The FBI report into her e-mail scandal could spook Democratic delegates if the negative publicity generated by it damaged her poll numbers.
Krongard doesn’t believe Hillary Clinton is in danger of indictment from an Obama Justice Department. He believes that, even if the Justice Department were to pursue a criminal referral on the matter from the FBI, it would be plea-bargained down to a misdemeanor similar to the one that former CIA David Petraeus secured when he was found to have compromised classified information. Hillary Clinton aides have privately told allies they believe she could survive even that development if it was accompanied by a “heartfelt” apology.
Even if Hillary Clinton is capable of such a move, the FBI report into her e-mail scandal could spook Democratic delegates if the negative publicity generated by it damaged her poll numbers. And that could be a devastating political blow for Clinton. Unlike Republican delegates, who are “bound” to vote for the winner of their state’s primary or caucus on the first ballot, Democratic delegates are only “pledged” to support the winner. And they are only pledged to vote for a candidate if they can do so “in good conscience.” One Democratic super-delegate I spoke with joked that the political definition of that phrase is “can they win in November.”
If Democratic delegates decide that Hillary is too much of a political liability to nominate, don’t expect them to turn to Bernie Sanders. Despite polls showing him with a bigger lead over Trump than Hillary has, few prominent Democrats believe that Sanders could survive sustained attacks on his record as a self-proclaimed “socialist.”That’s where Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren would come in. Biden would be sold as a steady hand who would energize President Obama’s supporters, and Warren would be pitched to delegates as someone who could keep Sanders progressives on board. “The implication would be that, at age 74, Biden might serve only one term and Warren would be a natural successor,’ a former Democratic congressman told me.
Senior Clinton adviser Joel Berenson insists that the American people have no interest in what he calls the “gray area” of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail situation. Senator Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.), who is a staunch Hillaryite, told MSNBC that voters will think that she merely made “a mistake trying to protect her privacy.” But that’s not what smart Democrats are privately saying. They know that the inspector general’s report is a preview of coming revelations in the upcoming FBI report, and they are laying the groundwork to implement Plan B if they think it will be necessary.
— John Fund is NRO’s national-affairs correspondent.