The ongoing saga of Hillary Clinton’s emails took another turn Tuesday with the announcement that the former secretary of state will turn over her private email server to the Department of Justice, as well as a thumb drive containing emails that her lawyer has been maintaining custody of. Despite story after story about the scandlet that never add up, the email episode has taken a toll on Clinton’s trustworthiness ratings with voters, partly because they keep hearing talking points about a criminal investigation that wasn’t a criminal investigation.
One such talking point, a particular favorite of Donald Trump’s, is that what Hillary Clinton did is as bad as, or worse than, the misconduct that put Gen. David Petraeus (Ret.) on criminal probation. That talking point was trotted out Wednesday morning by Nicolle Wallace, a woman who has somehow made a career out of attempting to put Sarah Palin in the vicinity of the Nuclear Football, then trashing Palin because she failed. Wallace sensible wondered how the American people could ever possibly discern the intricate differences between what Petraeus did, and what Hillary Clinton is accused of doing. The answer came from an unlikely source, and in improbably devastating fashion:
Nicolle Wallace: I think the discovery of two now-classified emails will raise questions among the public. How is this different from what General David Petraeus was found to have done with his classified material?
Mark Halperin: His was marked classified. Hers was not.
Nicolle Wallace: A secretary of state should know the difference. Again, I think that this cumulative sort of string of dishonesty and of changing their answers and of depending on what meaning of is is and depending on what meaning of classified is, mine wasn’t stamped, his was stamped, I think they are down a rabbit hole of squandering whatever is left of the general public’s trust.
Mark Halperin: People bring up the Petraeus comparison. He took stuff clearly marked classified and gave it to someone who wasn’t authorized to have it.
Nicolle Wallace: Good luck explaining that to the public.
Um, I think Halperin just… did. This is either a testament to the well-concealed brilliance of Mark Halperin, or a demonstration of the weakness of the email story, or a bit of both. We should know in fairly short order, but my guess is that Hillary Clinton doesn’t turn that server over unless she’s sure it’s just more of the same: emails that were not marked classified at the time she sent or received them.
There’s also been a lot of talk about the political wisdom/motivation of this release, with many wondering why she didn’t do it sooner, and whether this is a response to the polling about her trustworthiness. On the latter count, you can bet that this move is Hillary’s best chance to move those numbers, but on the former, releasing the server sooner would have been foolish.
First of all, she was being asked to give it to a partisan Congressional committee, not the Department of Justice, and turning it over then would not have appeased critics, it would have left Hillary’s campaign with an empty quiver. Her opponents and their obedient media would still have asserted that she hadn’t turned over everything, and she’d have had nothing to offer as a response. Strategically, this is a bit of a Breitbart move, where you roll out part of what you have, wait for everyone to scream their objections, then release the material that you think will knock them down.
Turning over the server now still won’t satisfy critics, but it will make Hillary seem more reasonable and transparent to voters, and make her critics seem less so to them. That’s all provided that nothing new turns up from this release, but given the fact that they are turning over the server, that’s not a bad bet.