Op-ed: The Colin Powell defense

  • By Rich Lowry
  • Wednesday, August 24, 2016 4:32pm
  • Opinion

The influence that Colin Powell has over Hillary Clinton is something to behold. His word is her command. When he tells her to break the law and endanger the nation’s secrets, she doesn’t hesitate. She salutes smartly and does as she is told.

Clinton has been desperate for the moral cover of Colin Powell for her email arrangement since the scandal first broke last year. Now we’ve learned that Clinton told the FBI that Powell advised her to use private email as secretary of state at a dinner in 2009. This escalates Clinton’s email defense from “Hey, Colin Powell did it, too,” all the way to “Colin Powell made me do it.”

The Powell defense has given Clinton shills something to say on TV, but it doesn’t make much sense. While the former general used a private email as secretary of state, it was at a time when the department didn’t have a robust email system of its own. And he obviously didn’t set up his own private server. After Powell left State, the department’s rules steadily got stricter about using official email for State Department business and preserving email records — and Clinton blew through them all.

On the advice, we are supposed to believe, of none other than Colin Powell, the Professor Moriarty of Clinton’s illicit email practices. The New York Times reported last week that at a dinner party hosted by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that included other former secretaries of state, Albright asked Clinton’s predecessors what counsel they would give her. Allegedly, Powell didn’t advise Clinton (channeling Winston Churchill) that “diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions,” or (channeling Will Durant) that “to say nothing, especially when speaking, is half the art of diplomacy,” or even to avoid a land war in Asia. He told her to use private email.

Powell says now that’s not how he remembers it. If Clinton really wanted someone’s permission to use private email, she could have asked the State Department, which she never did. In a new book, the left-wing journalist Joe Conason writes that Clinton had already decided to use private email months before the Albright dinner.

Of course she had, and for own reasons. She wanted to hide as much of her business as possible from journalists and congressional committees seeking information on how she operated. Given the gross intermingling of State Department and Clinton Foundation business, this was only prudent.

If Hillary had her way, no one would know that Clinton Foundation honcho Doug Band tried to get donor Gilbert Chagoury a meeting with the recent ambassador to Lebanon, and Hillary aide Huma Abedin (who, amazingly, held positions at both the State Department and the foundation) was extremely solicitous. No one would know that, in the latest revelation, when Band wanted the Crown Prince of Bahrain to see Hillary, Abedin coordinated with him on trying to set up the meeting.

No wonder that Colin Powell finds Hillary’s effort to enlist him as one of the justifications for her private server so galling. Over the weekend, Powell told a reporter, “Her people have been trying to pin it on me.” Referring to a description of his email practices he sent to her (at her request), Powell said, “The truth is, she was using [her private server] for a year before I sent her a memo telling her what I did.”

No one forced Hillary to use her private email for State Department business in a manner so flagrantly against the rules that in any other circumstance (i.e., if she weren’t the Democratic nominee for president), she would be vulnerable to sanction and prosecution. And no one forced her and her husband to run their foundation as a vast pay-to-play scheme whose inner workings must be shielded from public view. That’s her responsibility and no one else’s — certainly not Colin Powell’s.

Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

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