Would you rather have a dishonest president or a clueless president? Electing Hillary Clinton is bound to give us (at least) one of those.
The latest piece of this awful jigsaw puzzle comes from the FBI’s (mostly) declassified summaries of its investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while she served as secretary of state. The documents were released last Friday afternoon, a pre-holiday news dump egregiously timed even by Washington’s cynical standards.
In short, the summaries undermine — again — many excuses Clinton has offered for an arrangement that put the U.S. government’s secrets at risk. They also reveal a few new excuses Clinton and her aides made to FBI agents which are so ridiculous on her face they require us to believe she is not deceitful, just incompetent.
The dismissal anew of certain Clinton excuses is worthwhile, and at times even amusing. Example: Clinton famously claimed she carried only one device, a private and unsecured Blackberry, as “a matter of convenience.” Yet, the FBI documents not only report (again) that she often carried both the Blackberry and an iPad, and sometimes a flip phone as well, but that she went through thirteen email-capable phones as well as five iPads.
Changing devices so often would seem to be rather inconvenient. Although, perhaps conveniently, when the FBI asked for the phones, the Clinton team claimed not to know what had happened to any of them.
Then there’s what is new in the FBI documents.
For one, there’s a sequence of events that comes across as extremely suspicious. In December 2014, Clinton instructed aides not to continue retaining any emails older than 60 days. However, the company managing her server at that point did not delete any of those older emails. Fast forward to March 2, 2015, when the New York Times broke the story that Clinton had exclusively used private email on a private server. The next day, the House Select Committee on Benghazi asked Clinton’s lawyers for “all documents and media” related to the two private email addresses she had used. The day after that, the committee issued a subpoena for the records. After a March 25 conference call with Clinton’s lawyers, an employee for the company had what he described to FBI agents as an “‘oh s—‘ moment,” realizing he hadn’t carried out the instructions from three months earlier to delete the older email records. In the week following the call, the employee went ahead and, despite the subpoena, deleted the files.
Because of redactions in the documents the FBI released, it is difficult to pin down exactly who did what, and when. But the obvious questions from all this include why the employee went ahead and deleted the files after there was a subpoena for them, and whether the files in question should have instead been handed over to the House committee. As we know from the past year-plus of learning about this situation, the Clinton team failed to hand over thousands of emails that other observers deemed work-related. Were there other work-related emails among those deleted files?
A recurring theme is that Clinton and her aides claimed to have tried often to do the right thing but, gosh darn it, things never quite worked out. Once, when her personal Blackberry was acting up, Clinton asked for a government-issued replacement. After two State Department officials advised that emails sent on the State system would be subject to open-records laws, a Clinton aide dropped the request, citing a bogus concern about migrating data.
When State began rolling out a new email archival system, Clinton’s team blocked implementation for themselves. Once, investigators reported, Clinton said she “requested a secure Blackberry … but she could not recall the reasons why State was unable to fulfill this request.” Yet another time, a plan to set up “an Internet-connected, stand-alone computer” in her office so she could check her private email, but for reasons not explained, “a stand-alone system was never set up.”
When it comes to Clinton’s handling of classified information, a number of new excuses crop up. First, there’s her claim she didn’t differentiate among various levels of classification — even though the government explicitly protects more-sensitive information far more jealously than less-sensitive secrets.
Clinton also claimed not to remember any training about classifying information — since, as secretary of state, she was authorized to do so — and “could not give an example of how the classification of a document was determined.” In a paraphrase of her remarks that is itself perfectly Clintonian, the FBI reports Clinton “did not recall receiving any emails she thought should not have been on an unclassified system.”
No emails “she thought” were classified. Depends on the meaning of “is” — er, “classified” — I guess. It just happens that, in hundreds and hundreds of cases, what “she thought” was determined by others to have been wrong.
But one story really takes the cake. FBI agents asked Clinton about email chains marked “(C),” which “ostensibly indicat(ed) the presence of information classified at the confidential level.” Her response? “Clinton stated she did not know what the ‘(C)’ meant … and speculated it was referencing paragraphs marked in alphabetical order.”
At this point, the agents should have been doubled over in laughter as they handcuffed her for an obvious instance of perjury. Were they — and are we — really to believe someone who had served for eight years as first lady, eight years as a senator and four years as secretary of state really was so clueless as not to know what classification markings meant? Or that for “(C)” to have been a matter of “alphabetical order” would require there also to have been an “(A)” and a “(B)”?
When I wrote a few weeks ago about some other of Hillary’s lies, a reader pointed out I hadn’t mentioned the untruths uttered by Donald Trump. I have relayed my disdain for Trump in several pieces, but let me address this particular concern.
Trump says things that are false because, by many accounts, he won’t spend the time to learn what’s true. Clinton, on the other hand, says things that are false because, as this episode and many others in her career demonstrate, she spends a lot of time trying to obscure what’s true.
Neither is a good look for a potential president. But the latter is the more deeply rooted character flaw.