As Hillary Clinton’s clinching of the Democratic presidential nomination inches ever closer, a potential skeleton in her closet threatens to burst forth — the email scandal which she has been treating like the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz (“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”).
As Clinton has raised funds, courted super delegates and ignored the supersized crowds at the rallies of rival Bernie Sanders, she has had little to say about the use of a private email server at her home which has been the source of much controversy since it was revealed in 2015.
No fewer than four times throughout her presidential campaign and its preparations has Clinton faced Congressional subcommittees regarding use of this illegal and unsecured server to send classified emails. Treating the matter like an invisible elephant in the room, Clinton has only laughed off suggestions that a criminal indictment could result from her actions, which would almost certainly have the effect of damaging her presidential bid, likely derailing it.
Clinton first installed the server prior to her tenure as Secretary of State in 2009 and stopped using it in 2013. During this time, the State Department has said that over 2,000 classified emails were sent (Clinton herself has stated that she deleted more than 30,000 of her emails, which she said were personal in nature).
Clinton claims that the emails the State Department has mentioned were designated classified after she sent them. Except no one believes that line of bull. Instead there are many arguments based on messages’ contents that Clinton should have known the material they contained were sensitive. There are also clear instances where what she wrote — for instance, regarding the 2012 consulate attacks in Benghazi, Libya — was at odds with statements she made publicly at the time.
This email scandal has been brewing a long time, despite Clinton’s claims that previous Secretaries of State were guilty of the same offense. Her pooh-poohing of Senators’ claims and arrogant derision of media commentators’ questions (she responded, “I’m not even answering that question” when asked about a possible indictment by Univision’s Jorge Ramos) have only angered her opponents.
Indeed, at least some of her unfavorability rating can likely be chalked up to an “above the law” attitude and seeming belief that government confidentiality regulations don’t apply to her.
For now, she seems to have dodged bullet after bullet in Congress, and ally President Obama’s Justice Department, fronted by Obama appointee Loretta Lynch, has seemingly treaded lightly around the issue. However, the FBI, headed by no-nonsense Director James Comey has been unrelentingly pursuing a long-term investigation of the case.
In March of 2016, the Justice Department gave prosecutorial immunity to Clinton aide Bryan Pagliano, who helped set up and maintain the server at Clinton’s house. This raised eyebrows as it seemed to be the first clear sign that the email investigation was neither over nor winding down.
On the contrary, it appears that it has been picking up steam, and there have been whispers that a grand jury has been convened as regards to a possible indictment. Because such juries are convened in secret, no one can confirm the presence of one.
However, what is known is that in recent weeks, omnipresent Clinton campaign aide Huma Abedin has been interviewed by agents from the Bureau regarding the server and that other interviews have been conducted.
In fact, the FBI has announced that the time is near for Clinton herself to be interviewed, which, according to legal experts, could be the turning point in the investigation. That’s because, according to these same sources, Clinton’s testimony will have to match up with the testimony already given by others.
While it’s known that aides Philippe Reines, Jake Sullivan, Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson have all retained the same lawyer, former Justice Department attorney Beth Wilkinson (some say the Clinton Foundation has paid for this defense), legal observers have said this strategy could backfire if one of Clinton’s aides’ stories or interests veer from those of the others.
It’s also true that Clinton is a high-powered attorney herself, and her testimony in prior Congressional hearings has shown her canniness and tendency to tailor her arguments perfectly for her bureaucratic audiences.
But the repercussions of lying to the FBI are slightly greater than just telling off a senator in a broadcast hearing. At this point, the stakes raise to where an indictment could be recommended if Comey’s FBI believes that crimes have been committed.
It would be politically next to impossible for the Justice Department to ignore a Bureau recommendation to indict Clinton. Unlike Loretta Lynch, Comey is known as a hard-driving straight-shooter who doesn’t play politics and calls things as he sees them. He’s promised that his investigation of Clinton would be thorough, authoritative and nonpartisan. Although it certainly seems to have taken a while to get to this point (word is that up to 150 Bureau agents were involved in this case), the pressure will now be on Clinton to do something that she rarely seems to do these days — tell the truth.
If that truth is not congruent with what’s been stated already to other FBI investigators, it may be time for heads to roll. In Clinton’s case, she had better pray that the head in this matter is not her own.