If Hillary Clinton fails to be elected president, there is a strong chance that books about the 2016 campaign will note today as a major day in the crumbling of Clinton’s previously “inevitable” path to victory. Prior to this week Sanders was behind but in a statistical tie with Clinton in New Hampshire. The latest poll shows Sanders with the lead. This represents tremendous momentum when compared with his eight percent support in March. National polls this early have virtually no predictive value in a nomination battle, and an early victory can have tremendous impact on subsequent states and the national polls.
Polls can still change in either direction between now and February, and a victory in New Hampshire certainly is no guarantee of winning the nomination. What makes this election different from previous elections is the scandal surrounding the Clinton campaign, and the email scandal become much worse for her. Top secret emails were found on Clinton’s private server, contradicting her previous denials, and Clinton has agreed to surrender the server, now realizing that it would be subpoenaed if she refused this request from the Justice Department.
From an ethical standpoint, this is not the worst aspect of the email scandal. Ethically she did worse in violating principles of transparency, in destroying evidence, and in receiving financial rewards from parties she provided favorable decisions to as Secretary of State. I do not believe Clinton intended to violate laws regarding classified information, but his appears to have been a consequence of her foolish decision to use a private server, and this is what places her at serious risk of criminal prosecution.
Prior to this latest development, The New York Times reviewed the controversy to date and pointed out the legal ramifications. This was before the report that top secret information was present:
In the case of Mrs. Clinton’s email, the F.B.I. is conducting an investigation of just how the classified material was stored in Denver, as well as on a thumb drive kept by her lawyer, Mr. Kendall, and whether it might somehow have landed in the hands of adversaries. Officials say the bureau at this point has no target in mind and no evidence that a crime was committed.
But the investigation takes place in an administration that has taken an especially hard line on the handling of classified information.
Scott Gration, ambassador to Kenya, resigned after a 2012 inspector general’s report accused him of flouting government rules, including the requirement that he use State Department email. “He has willfully disregarded Department regulations on the use of commercial email for official government business,” the report said.
A New York firefighter and decorated combat veteran who served in the Marines in Afghanistan, Jason Brezler, is currently fighting dismissal from the Marine Corps for sending, via his personal account, an email attachment the government says was classified. His lawyer, Kevin Carroll, says he sent the message in response to an emergency request from a base in Afghanistan.
Mrs. Clinton and her aides have noted that the material the inspectors general call classified was not labeled as such in the emails. But in 2010, Thomas Drake, a former senior National Security Agency official, was indicted under the Espionage Act for keeping an agency email printout at home that was not marked as classified. (Mr. Drake pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.)
J. William Leonard, a former director of the government’s Information Security Oversight Office, said that in Mrs. Clinton’s case, criminal charges like those against Mr. Drake are highly unlikely. But as a former security official, he said, he was dismayed by her exclusive use of private email. The State Department has an obligation to monitor unclassified email for exactly this kind of classified spillage, he said, as well as to protect computer systems and provide emails to Congress or the public when required by law.
“The agency can’t fulfill those legal responsibilities if it doesn’t have control over the server,” Mr. Leonard said.
Besides these cases, there have been two high profile prosecutions regarding improper handling of classified information, David Petraeus and, as I discussed last week, former Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger. If the reports of classified information on Clinton’s private server are true, and if Clinton is treated like the others, she will be indicted. Possibly the “Clinton Rules” will apply here with others receiving the blame, and she will escape such a fate, but this would still seriously harm her in an election campaign. The Republicans might very well also destroy themselves and Clinton could still win, but nominating Clinton now looks like too great a risk for any political party to take. Those who deny the magnitude of this scandal are like those who tried to write off Watergate as a “two bit burglary“.
Chris Cillizza wrote that This e-mail story just keeps getting worse for Hillary Clinton. After pointing out how this is happening he noted:
Then there is the news reported by McClatchy News Service that two of the four classified e-mails discovered on her private server were “top secret” — the highest possible security classification. Clinton has previously said that she never sent or received any classified material via her e-mail account; “I am confident that I never sent or received any information that was classified at the time it was sent and received,” she said last month.
For someone who is already struggling to bridge a trust deficit with the public, the revelations about the classified e-mails on Clinton’s server hurt. If Clinton’s claim that nothing she sent or received was classified at the time are proven wrong, that does her even more damage…
There’s simply no way to see these latest development in the long-running e-mail story as anything but bad news for Clinton. The turning-over of her private server not only takes control of its contents out of her hands but also likely ensures this story will be in the news for far longer than she’d like.
He also speculated that now that the server is out of her hands, it might be possible to recover many of the 31,000 emails which she had deleted from the server. There is already evidence that some of the email involving Libya and terrorism was deleted and altered, contrary to her claim that it was all personal email. The New York Times article quoted above also pointed out:
In June, the State Department said that it had not been able to find in Mrs. Clinton’s emails some 15 messages from Sidney Blumenthal, an old friend and aide, who had independently turned them over to the House Benghazi committee. The messages involved Libya — Mr. Blumenthal was passing along analysis from a former C.I.A. officer — and they appeared to involve policy.
The Clinton campaign has not explained the discrepancy. In sorting through more than 60,000 emails, it is easy to imagine slip-ups. But this small window on the deletion process, carried out privately by Mrs. Clinton’s lawyers and aides, offered little assurance to skeptics that the work email collection was complete.
Ron Fournier reviewed the latest developments in a story entitled The Queen of Paradox and Her Crumbling Stone Wall:
It’s safe to assume two things changed Clinton’s mind: political and legal pressure. First, the public’s trust and approval of the Democratic front-runner has plummeted amid revelations that she established an email system that violated federal policy, thwarted congressional oversight, and skirted the Freedom of Information Act.
Second, facing sharp questions and rebuke of a federal judge, Clinton just this weekend declared “under penalty of perjury” that she has turned over to the government all of the emails that were federal records.
The FBI is investigating the security of her email system, which she unequivocally declared to be ironclad in March. “There is no classified material,” she said.
The untruth revealed, Clinton changed her story in July to claim that no email was specifically marked as classified. Not that it matters. Clinton wants Americans to ignore the fact that federal rules put the onus on government officials like the secretary of State to protect classified material, even when it’s not marked as such.
Know this: Government officials have been convicted of mishandling unmarked classified material. And this: The fact is, any chain of events or excuses that led to the disclosure of these documents begins with Clinton’s decision to go rogue with government email.
This is her fault, all of it.
Including her no-win situation. If the FBI is able to recover deleted email from her server, it’s almost certain that more classified documents will be discovered (given what has already been found in the tiny sample size). That would raise more questions about her judgment.
Furthermore, a thorough autopsy of the deleted email might lead to details about other embarrassing topics, such as Benghazi (a GOP fetish), or the intersection of Clinton Foundation donors and State Department business (“Follow the money,” a Democrat close to Clinton told me in March). Though this is pure speculation, her closest allies worry about what might be found.
If the deleted emails can’t be recovered, Clinton will never be able to clear her name. Only the most blindly loyal and partisan voters will accept her word and ignore the serial deception. Even people like me who have known and respected Clinton for years will walk into the voting booth asking ourselves, “What is she hiding?”
Sure, she might win. Just look at the weak spots in the GOP line. But why win this ugly? Why commit Americans to another four years of a politics and government they can’t trust? Why run a grind-it-out, 20th-century campaign amid the rise of purpose-driven millennials?
Why not be an aspirational, transformational leader—the architect of a presidency that matches her potential.
The polling results out of New Hampshire suggest that Americans might turn to Bernie Sanders, rather than Hillary Clinton, to be that aspirational, transformational leader.
Update: Democrats are said to be in “near panic mode” with new talk about Biden or Gore running.