Of all the scandals surrounding Hillary Clinton, none have more of an admission of guilt from Clinton herself than the scandal surrounding her use of private mail servers and software for official State Department emails during her tenure as Secretary of State during Barack Obama’s first presidential administration.
Although Clinton has officially admitted to using private servers, against government and State Department rules, she’s denied that there were security risks taken, despite the fact that it’s on record that Eastern European hackers on at least two different occasions in 2012 tapped into her servers and looked at information.
The FBI has also investigated the security of her email software. Cyber security experts have gone on record as saying that her servers had evidenced numerous “amateur hour” vulnerabilities.
After her admission that she had in fact used private servers for official business, Clinton also confessed to deleting as many as 32,000 “personal” emails, although how personal they really were is up for contention because we’ll never know their contents. What is clear, however, is that while she was Secretary of State, Clinton had obviously gone to some lengths to keep her mail from being stored and archived as all government employees (including employees of the State Department) are required to do by law.
How is it that she has avoided punishment or jail time for this offense when past high-ranking government and cabinet members have been held to a higher standard? For instance, when it was discovered that John Deutsch, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, had used his America Online account to handle classified information, he agreed to be criminally prosecuted but was later pardoned by Bill Clinton on Clinton’s last day in office.
Is it because of the close relationship between Hillary Clinton and her boss, Barack Obama, that she’s been able to escape censure and/or punishment in this case? Or have her years of experience as a beltway lawyer taught her valuable lessons about the extent and limitations of the powers of Congressional committees — a number of which she has had to testify in front of?
And of course, it must be asked if these same committees have had access to all the pertinent facts about this case. What we know so far is that rather than insisting on using a secure government email account, Clinton chose instead to locate a private email server at her house in Chappaqua, New York that she shared with her husband, the former president.
Obviously, in making use of a private server, Clinton felt that she needed to keep at least some of her business hidden. Unfortunately, “private,” when it comes to email transmission, doesn’t always equal “secure.” While Clinton clearly took the step of having the server set up, she at the same time also claimed ignorance about how emails technically function. The consultant who set up the server had neither an official government security clearance nor expertise in secure email software. Despite this, the server was set up so Clinton (or anyone else) could access it from anywhere in the world while she was traveling.
Surely the importance of such an email account should necessitate elevated security guaranteed by trained experts. Is it very realistic that the consultant who set up the system couldn’t also have left a “back door” open so that they could peek at important emails that this extremely prominent public citizen was sending and receiving? How do we know that this same consultant was not offering these prized emails to the highest foreign bidders after they had completed their installation? Now, I’m not saying this in fact happened, but these are all questions that need to be investigated.
The emails of a Secretary of State are not like emails an average citizen would send; they frequently express very private and candid views on foreign policy and international relations. Their recipients could be ambassadors, members of the military or heads of the intelligence community. Of all emails not to be secure, these would surely be some of the last a government would want made public.
If Clinton really didn’t know how emails technically functioned, how could she be sure that the emails she deleted were really gone? To irrevocably and securely erase files from a data storage unit is actually harder than it seems; unless you have very technical skills, there are nearly always “fingerprints” left behind that allow semi-sophisticated users to recover nearly every message or file that has been discarded. But apparently to Clinton, this wasn’t a concern. What was more of a concern was the ability to keep her messages out of the public record and away from the scrutiny of history — probably permanently.
In 2013, Clinton changed servers and had her previous mail server sent to New Jersey to be partially wiped clean of information. Backups of what files remained were later given to the FBI.
Of course, none of these events might have been made public had it not been for the horrific separate scandal of Benghazi which unfolded in 2012 and the resulting multiple investigations afterward. It’s due to these investigations that Clinton finally was forced to admit her use of the private servers and agreed to turn over her extant emails to the State Department, in the wake of a New York Times article on the scandal in March 2015.
Unfortunately, since then, emails have been discovered that were inexplicably not among those given to the State Department, including sensitive messages to Clinton advisor Sidney Blumenthal and to David Petraeus, then-Director of the CIA. At least three separate Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits and dozens of others have been filed to release all of the emails, including those given to the State Department. On July 20, 2015, a U.S. District Court judge, Richard J. Leon, angrily demanded that the State Department comply with his orders to release the emails and in August gave the department a strict eight-month timetable to do so.
In the meantime, Clinton has defended her decision to use the server, pointing to past Secretaries of State who had also made use of private accounts at one point or another. However, no evidence has come to light that such secretaries deleted any of their messages or intended to elude government archiving of their records. Investigative journalist Bob Woodward compared Clinton’s emails in the case to ex-President Nixon’s tapes in the Watergate scandal.
As Clinton continues her run for the presidency in 2016, this issue is far from resolved. This scandal, in association with her other scandals, such as Benghazi, Whitewater and numerous others, will continue to plague her self-proclaimed reputation for honesty and integrity and likely has given voters more than enough grounds to refrain from supporting her for president or for any other office.
In the end, if more incriminating information is revealed, Clinton may have more to worry about than simply not being president; she may have to make extremely strenuous efforts not to have her trademark pantsuits exchanged for standard-issue prison stripes.