Politics & Policy

The E-mail Scandal Won’t Doom Hillary

(Andrew Burton/Getty)
But it should make liberals feel uneasy about continuing to support her.

Historically, the Clintons have proved to be politically indestructible. To paraphrase the movie Aliens, to truly destroy the Clinton-Industrial Complex, you’d have to nuke it from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

Given that alone, I doubt that the unfolding controversy over Hillary’s e-mail schemes spells her doom.

The basic details are as follows: In 2009, a week before she started her job as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton had a personal Internet server registered at her home address. She then used her own domain name, “clintonemail.com,” to conduct all of her business — for the State Department, but also presumably the Clinton Foundation and other matters, be they nefarious or high-minded.

The server was registered under the name Eric Hoteman — someone who doesn’t exist. But it’s almost surely Eric Hothem, a Washington financial adviser and former aide to Clinton who, according to the Associated Press, has been a technology adviser to the family. Tony Soprano would be envious.

This system allowed Clinton to maintain control over her e-mail correspondence. No third-party copies would be stored on, say, government or Google hard drives. Matt Devost, a security expert, succinctly explained to Bloomberg News the point of having your own private e-mail server: “You erase it and everything’s gone.”

Depending on whom you ask, this was a violation of Obama-administration policy, long-established State Department rules, the Federal Records Act, or all of the above. Moreover, outside the ranks of Clinton-Industrial Complex employees, contractors, and supplicants, there’s a rare bipartisan consensus that it was, to use a technical term, really, really shady.

Team Clinton’s initial response was as expected: Send out oleaginous flacks to shoot the messenger and befog the issue. That failed. Even normally reliable resellers of Clinton spin at MSNBC balked at the prospect of keeping a straight face as David Brock, a prominent Clinton remora, tried to demand an apology from the New York Times for breaking the story.

Then Mrs. Clinton weighed in to somewhat greater effect. She tweeted, “I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible.”

This was a reference to the “55,000 pages” of e-mails Clinton handed over to the State Department in response to a request. It’s also a classic bit of misdirection. Among the swirling issues at play is whether Clinton handed over all of her official business e-mails as required. (The State Department offers no clarity on this.) The whole point of having your own private server is that no one can check to make sure you didn’t selectively delete or withhold e-mails.

The number of pages is also meaningless. First, if you’ve ever printed out e-mail, you know that “pages” and “e-mails” are not synonymous terms. But even if they were, so what? I could release 99.99 percent of all my e-mails, and you’d see little more than boring work product, press releases, spam, and appeals from Nigerian oil ministers. My incriminating stuff could remain invisible — valuable snowflakes held back from a blizzard of chaff. If you don’t think the Clintons are capable of such legerdemain, I refer you to the Clinton-inspired debate over billing records and the meaning of “is.”

This points to another reason why I think Clinton will survive this mess. If there’s a damning e-mail out there, it’s been deleted, and the relevant hard drive would be harder to find than Jimmy Hoffa’s body. So critics are probably left with the task of proving a negative.

The real significance of this moment — and a partial explanation of the media firestorm over it — is that time is running out to stop the Clinton freight train.

Nothing in this story is surprising: not the desire for secrecy, nor the flouting of legal norms, nor the cynical attempts to shoot the messengers — and certainly not the staggering hypocrisy. (In 2007, then-senator Clinton denounced the Bush White House’s far more defensible use of “secret” Republican National Committee e-mail addresses for campaign business as proof that “our Constitution is being shredded.”) It’s all vintage Clinton.

At some point down the tracks, when yet another fetid cloud of Clintonism erupts into plain view, many smart liberals will look back at this moment as the time when they should have pulled the emergency brake and gotten off the Hillary train.

The unease they feel now will be nothing compared to the buyer’s remorse to come.

— Jonah Goldberg is a senior editor of National Review and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him by e-mail at goldbergcolumn@gmail.com or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2015 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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