The Hillary Clinton email story reached its high water mark Tuesday afternoon. We hope. Best case scenario: the so-called “Emailgate” will recede into the darker corners of the debate, becoming just another in a long line of Fox News and AM talk radio scare-words to rattle off when smearing Clinton. No matter what she had said in her press conference, the drama would’ve continued to play out according to a preordained script. Even if she had taken my advice and delivered her server to the State Department, the script would’ve continue to roll along.
Without question, the congressional Republicans and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) will subpoena both the emails and the server itself, which could turn into a thing because based on what Clinton said on Tuesday, she has no intention of allowing anyone, much less the GOP sift through her email server. There will also be a State Department document dump of as many emails it can redact.
Meanwhile, there are some lingering questions.
Why didn’t she use two Blackberries: one for her personal email and other for her official government email? She said on Tuesday that it was a matter of convenience, and I suppose that’s a solid enough excuse given how, while jetting around the world, it’s more likely to misplace a Blackberry if you have two. You’re literally twice as likely to lose one. Then again, if some members of the press and the GOP are correct, it was part of an elaborate plot. We’ll circle back to the plot.
Why didn’t Clinton just use one device with two email accounts? Eric Bolling from Fox News Channel said, “Are you kidding me? Any tenth grader could set up multiple email accounts on a single handheld device. Does she think the American people are that stupid?” No, but she probably thinks Eric Bolling is stupid.
And to be fair The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza was similarly skeptical. But shortly after, we learned that there was no real way to handle two email accounts on one Blackberry at that time. Mashable‘s Pete Pachal reported:
Prior to 2013, though, there was no standard way to secure a BlackBerry like Clinton’s with two email accounts, at least not without giving the IT person in charge complete dominion over all the data on the phone. To fulfill the criteria that Clinton demanded — secure email that’s not sitting on a cloud service, plus a single-BlackBerry solution — she had just one option: Set up her own email server.
Politically, it was probably not the best choice. But for what she wanted to do, it makes total technical sense.
Sure, she could’ve gotten around this restriction by carrying two phones. Or a phone and a laptop. Or two laptops. So, we’re left once again with two options: she preferred to travel lightly, or she was up to something sneaky. Without evidence of wrongdoing it’s really difficult at this stage to rationally arrive at the latter conclusion without getting into tinfoil hat Clinton Derangement territory.
How secure was Clinton’s server? This is possibly the most valid concern. Clinton said that there weren’t any external breaches of her system. Fine. I guess. But what are the possibilities? Chiefly, foreign intelligence services would surely want to know what the U.S. Secretary of State is talking about via email. There’s also the threat of, naturally, black-hat hackers. The latter group might’ve had a more difficult time discovering Clinton’s domain name without first hacking people she was communicating with. Likewise, the Russian FSB, for example, could’ve easily run through a similar process: tap a Clinton aide or other administration official, discover Clinton’s email details and go from there.
But what would the FSB find in Clinton’s email correspondence? That remains to be seen in the emails themselves. What we do know, at least via Clinton herself, is that classified information was transmitted via a secure internal system, and never via email. She also said that top secret documents were only viewed as hard copies, not digital files.
Furthermore, she said that she only corresponded with foreign officials by way of letters, phone calls and in-person meetings. Never email. To repeat: we have no way of knowing for sure, and frankly it’s entirely possible we’ll never, ever know in spite of all the garment rending in the world.
Nevertheless, while it’d appear to make sense that the State Department’s security is more robust than the server in Bill Clinton’s home office, we know that the State Department servers were hacked on numerous occasions and, as of now, we don’t know for certain if any bad actors were fiddling with her server. I’d imagine that a hacker would’ve rapidly dumped Clinton’s emails online, while a foreign government would obviously keep the emails to itself. It’s also fair to assume that FSB and other overseas SIGINT agencies are tapping U.S. government officials through their dot-gov emails anyway.
Now, back to the supervillain plot. Again, there’s always the possibility it was all part of an elaborate scheme to hide her emails, but if we stop and think rationally about such a plot, we have to acknowledge that email is a form of communication involving two or more participants. In other words, Clinton was sending email messages to people all the time. All of those thousands of recipients have copies of her allegedly double-super-secret emails — emails that we’re led to believe were being hidden via her one Blackberry and a private mail server. Likewise, Clinton received thousands of emails from other people — other people who also have copies of the emails as well as her responses. So, if Clinton was attempting to hoard her emails and to keep them secret as part of a nefarious conspiracy, then she’s arguably the most incompetent supervillain in the history of supervillains because literally thousands of people, mostly government officials whose records are automatically archived, have copies of her emails.
And finally, allow me to be abundantly clear about my view of this story. Do I think it was unwise for Clinton to exclusively use a private email address? Sure, okay. Do I think it’s possible that Clinton used the single device and a private server in preparation for exactly this kind of bombshell? Oh yes, definitely. Anything is possible.
But to borrow Bob Schieffer’s phrase, the inquest doesn’t pass the “smell test.” If we were really concerned about government officials and their email habits, then we’d be speed-dialing every cabinet and sub-cabinet level official from the last 15 years to quiz them about their email as well as to demand copies. If this whole shit-show wasn’t really about Clinton, we’d be talking to some of the GOP presidential candidates about their usage of private email, too. I mean, sure, Jeb Bush wasn’t dealing in international diplomacy — just unimportant matters like, you know, the outcome of the 2000 election. By the way, it was revealed on Tuesday that former Obama administration Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel allegedly used a Gmail account.
But instead of focusing on the right thing, the email story has been driven by preconceived notions about Hillary Clinton rather than a sane review of the facts. To date, no one has been able to adequately explain why she’s the only person being scrutinized like this. And while the facts indicate some obvious problems, both past and present, the problems aren’t exclusively Clinton problems, but a series of government-wide security and transparency meta-problems. That ought to be the centerpiece of the story, and not solely whether Clinton was orchestrating a Frank and Claire Underwood-style flimflam.