Hillary Clinton held a press conference to discuss the email controversy but wound up stonewalling and creating even more questions. The news conference was basically an expanded version of her tweet, just as misleading and reveling little actual information. Considering the Nixonian feel to this scandal, I was waiting for someone to ask if, besides whether Hillary will be keeping her private server, whether Chelsea will keep Checkers.
Clinton began with a statement with four points (full transcript here), which included misleading statements, following by further misleading statements in answers to questions. First:
First, when I got to work as secretary of state, I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two.
Looking back, it would’ve been better if I’d simply used a second email account and carried a second phone, but at the time, this didn’t seem like an issue.
There are so many problems with this response, besides the obvious of violating the rules based upon convenience. Phones were able to handle multiple email accounts, so there might not have been a need to carry more than one device. If her preferred device could not handle more than one, what is the big deal about carrying more than one? Before smart phones got to their current state, I generally carried two, and sometimes three, devices to handle my professional and personal communication. Today she said she didn’t want to carry two phones but in recent interviews she has stated she uses two phones, and has also discussed the large purse she carries–large enough for all the phones and electronic devices she needs.
Her comments on convenience also suggest that Clinton might have wanted to continue to use the email system she was accustomed to, rather than changing to a government system as Obama did when he took office. However, hacked email has demonstrated that the domain she used was not set up until January 13, 2009–one week before she took office and the day her Senate confirmation hearings began. How was it more convenient to set up her own domain as opposed to using a government email address?
Her second point is technically true but misses the point:
Second, the vast majority of my work emails went to government employees at their government addresses, which meant they were captured and preserved immediately on the system at the State Department.
What about the minority which weren’t sent to the State Department? We know for a fact that Clinton discussed government matters with people who weren’t even in government at the time as a result of Sydney Blumenthal’s email being hacked. It will be interesting to see if this email is included in the email she ultimately sent to the State Department.
Her third point:
Third, after I left office, the State Department asked former secretaries of state for our assistance in providing copies of work- related emails from our personal accounts. I responded right away and provided all my emails that could possibly be work-related, which totalled roughly 55,000 printed pages, even though I knew that the State Department already had the vast majority of them. We went through a thorough process to identify all of my work- related emails and deliver them to the State Department. At the end, I chose not to keep my private personal emails — emails about planning Chelsea’s wedding or my mother’s funeral arrangements, condolence notes to friends as well as yoga routines, family vacations, the other things you typically find in inboxes.
No one wants their personal emails made public, and I think most people understand that and respect that privacy.
She did not release the email until well after she left office in response to demands. She failed to release all the email and refuses to have an independent source judge which is personal and which should be preserved on government servers. In the meantime, she has used her private servers to fail to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests and requests from Congress for her email.
Her elaboration on personal email while answering questions raised another red flag. She spoke of email with her husband. It sounds reasonable that she might not want personal email with her husband released–until you read that Bill Clinton has only sent two emails in his entire life, and none since leaving office.
Her fourth point:
Fourth, I took the unprecedented step of asking that the State Department make all my work-related emails public for everyone to see.
A minor point compared to many of her other comments, but while she talks about the public seeing her email, it will be quite some time before her email goes through the screening process and is really available to the public. Again, only the email she selected to release will be reviewed for eventual release to the public.
Since this scandal began, Clinton supporters have been engaged in a campaign of denial, distortion, and attacking their critics as described by David Corn. One way they have misled, repeated by Clinton with her claims that she did not violate the rules, has been to discuss rules made after she left office and pretend that changes in the rules in response to abuses during the Bush years never occurred. Of course Clinton was well aware of such ethical breaches when she accused the Bush administration of shredding the Constitution with acts such as using private email for government business. Politico debunked the claims that Clinton did not violate the rules last week:
Unfortunately for these pro-Hillary groups, the regulations that are relevant to Schmidt’s report – the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) requirements – have been in place since at least 2009, when Clinton became secretary of state.
According to Section 1236.22 of the 2009 NARA requirements, which Schmidt provided in an email, “Agencies that allow employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency must ensure that Federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency recordkeeping system.”
In short, the State Department was required to ensure that Secretary Clinton’s emails, including those on personal accounts, were preserved in an agency record-keeping system. The failure to ensure such preservation would therefore likely be in violation of the federal requirements, though it’s not clear whether all of her personal emails – or just those related to official business – would be required.
Schmidt believes that all of Clinton’s emails would be required, and pointed to a 2008 definition from NARA that defines federal records as “documentary materials that agencies create and receive while conducting business that provide evidence of the agency’s organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and operations, or because they contain information of value.”
In addition to the regulations from 2009, President Obama issued a memorandum in 2011, also when Clinton was still in office, strengthening these ethical requirements. AP added, in fact-checking the news conference today, that Clinton ignored “very specific guidance” from the White House:
CLINTON: “I fully complied with every rule I was governed by.”
THE FACTS: At the very least, Clinton appears to have violated what the White House has called “very specific guidance” that officials should use government email to conduct business.
Clinton provided no details about whether she had initially consulted with the department or other government officials before using the private email system. She did not answer several questions about whether she sought any clearances before she began relying exclusively on private emails for government business.
Federal officials are allowed to communicate on private email and are generally allowed to conduct government business in those exchanges, but that ability is constrained, both by federal regulations and by their supervisors.
Federal law during Clinton’s tenure called for the archiving of such private email records when used for government work, but did not set out clear rules or punishments for violations until rules were tightened in November. In 2011, when Clinton was secretary, a cable from her office sent to all employees advised them to avoid conducting any official business on their private email accounts because of targeting by unspecified “online adversaries.”
Even if Clinton’s defenders were right that she did not violate any rules, her conduct was clearly both unethical and foolish, contributing to the reputation of the Clintons for opposing transparency and believing that different rules apply to them than to others.
AP also debunked other statements from Clinton. She said, “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material.” AP pointed out how this might be technically true but is misleading:
The assertion fits with the facts as known but skirts the issue of exchanging information in a private account that, while falling below the level of classified, is still sensitive.
The State Department and other national security agencies have specified rules for the handling of such sensitive material, which could affect national security, diplomatic and privacy concerns, and may include material such as personnel, medical and law enforcement data. In reviewing the 30,000 emails she turned over to the State Department, officials are looking for any security lapses concerning sensitive but unclassified material that may have been disclosed.
Plus we can never be certain of the facts when Clinton decided which email would be sent to the State Department and which would remain on her private server or be destroyed. She was somewhat contradictory on this point, but it appears that she did destroy tens of thousands of email.
AP also questioned the security measures used by Clinton:
CLINTON: “It had numerous safeguards. It was on property guarded by the Secret Service. And there were no security breaches.”
THE FACTS: While Clinton’s server was physically guarded by the Secret Service, she provided no evidence it hadn’t been compromised by hackers or foreign adversaries. She also didn’t detail who administered the email system, if it received appropriate software security updates, or if it was monitored routinely for unauthorized access.
Clinton also didn’t answer whether the homebrew computer system on her property had the same level of safeguards provided at professional data facilities, such as regulated temperatures, offsite backups, generators in case of power outages and fire-suppression systems. It was unclear what, if any, encryption software Clinton’s server may have used to communicate with U.S. government email accounts.
Recent high-profile breaches, including at Sony Pictures Entertainment, have raised scrutiny on how well corporations and private individuals protect their computer networks from attack.
Vox has more on the security questions, along with a good summary of the controversy prior to the press conference.
This is unlikely to be the deciding issue in the election, especially considering that so many Republicans also have issues with private email. The significance is more in how Hillary Clinton responded to the first major controversy of her soon-to-be announced campaign.
I’m sure her supporters bought every word, but others will question her claims that she used a personal server for convenience as opposed to avoiding scrutiny. It is especially difficult to believe Clinton considering she has already used her private servers to avoid Freedom of Information Act requests. She is asking Americans to trust her while preventing any verification in destroying email, and refusing any independent review of the email she did not turn over to the State Department.
If Clinton handled this crisis so poorly, will she self-destruct during a presidential campaign? At this point I don’t believe that any other candidate can stop Hillary Clinton, but Hillary Milhouse Clinton sure might stop herself. At least she self-destructed during the primaries in 2008, leading to the nomination and election of Barack Obama. As she is likely to win the Democratic nomination in 2016 with only token opposition, this time many Democrats fear (and Republicans hope) her self-destruction will lead to a Republican victory in 2016.
Update: AP Files Suit Over Clinton Email, Media Fact Checks Clinton, and Al Gore Goes To Iowa