Rich Lowry: Return of the Clinton scandals

  • By Rich Lowry
  • Sunday, March 8, 2015 9:18pm
  • Opinion

The grim forced march to a Hillary Clinton coronation just got a little grimmer. The Hillary email scandal — on top of the revelation of continuing foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation while she was secretary of state — is a nice reminder for Democrats about what they are signing up for.

The Clinton Restoration will require routinely defending the indefensible. It will require recalibrating all legal and ethical standards to suit the personal and financial interests of the Clintons. It will require a willingness to use these phrases with a shameless abandon: “old news,” “everybody does it” and “not technically illegal.”

Usually the advantage of having been around national politics forever is that there are no surprises lurking in the background. But what should be the most vetted couple in the world always needs just a little more vetting.

The Clintons come from the Frank Underwood school of politics. What unites Bill’s roguish charm and Hillary’s relentless determination is an eye for the main chance, with adherence to the rules optional.

Hillary Clinton’s self-serving email arrangement is not the worst example, but it is textbook. Pretty much anyone in government knew that if you used your private account for official business, you had to copy your government account for record-keeping purposes. But Hillary didn’t even have a government account.

For this to have been an innocent oversight, we’d have to believe that Hillary — intimately familiar with the workings of government since at least 1979, when Bill became governor of Arkansas, and with the federal government since at least 1993 — didn’t know how government email worked.

And that she happened to set up her own private email account with a server in her own house, registered under a pseudonym, in a fit of technological absent-mindedness.

As The Associated Press notes, homemade servers are inferior to professional facilities that “provide monitoring for viruses or hacking attempts, regulated temperatures, off-site backups, generators in case of power outages, fire-suppression systems and redundant communications lines.”

All of these were mere details compared with the one overwhelming advantage of her own server that clearly trumped every other consideration: “impressive control over limiting access to her message archives,” in the words of the AP.

Impressive, indeed. The New York Times relates all the information requests that have been stymied. Congressional investigators seeking documents related to Benghazi in 2012 didn’t get emails from her account until last month. A reporter from Gawker couldn’t get correspondence between Clinton and former White House aide Sidney Blumenthal. Requests from The Associated Press have been stymied. Same with those of the conservative groups Citizens United and America Rising.

The surest way in Washington to have a Freedom of Information Act request go unanswered was to make one of the self-described most transparent person in American public life.

Recently, Clinton turned over to the State Department 55,000 pages of emails, and now she says she wants them released. But it is her flunkies who decided what to give the department. This is transparency Clinton-style.

The defense from Clinton world has been that everyone conducts official business on private email, so what’s the big deal? But her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, and her successor, John Kerry, both managed to use government accounts. Colin Powell used a personal account — which was wrong, too, although it was prior to National Archives regulations in 2009 clarifying rules for preservation of private emails when used for official business.

Hillary Clinton clearly trampled all over those rules. The legal debate is now whether she merely violated the spirit of the law or actually broke it, the perpetual question with the Clintons.

If Democrats have liked what they’ve seen from Hillary the past couple of weeks, they should relish the prospect of the next two years, when any revelation can instantly put them back in Clinton scandal-defense mode. This is the future they are choosing, apparently without even bothering to consider an alternative with less baggage or higher standards.

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

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