Opinion

Michael Smerconish: Email double standard benefits Clinton

I’ll leave to those with IT expertise the technical questions about servers, encryption, and cyber security, while I raise seven practical considerations regarding the use of email by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

First, she sure does like to send and receive personal emails!

Her total volume of email between March 2009 and February 2013 totaled 62,320 — of those 30,490 were provided to the State Department and 31,830 were private. I know plenty of people with a similar, 50-50 ratio, but they aren’t secretary of state. It surprises me that her arduous schedule allowed for that many private transmissions. Perhaps it’s because of that hellacious schedule that she used personal email so often as a means of communication with family and friends. Or maybe she was getting spammed.

Second, even if she never used the word, Clinton “deleted” all of her personal email so we’ll never know their contents. Her office worded it this way:

“After her work-related emails were identified and preserved, Secretary Clinton chose not to keep her private, personal emails that were not federal records. These were private, personal messages, including emails about her daughter’s wedding plans, her mother’s funeral services, and condolence notes, as well as emails on family vacations, yoga routines, and other items one would typically find in their own email account, such as offers from retailers, spam, etc.”

Third, while I agree she is entitled to privacy, when I review my “trash” bin I see many emails that are neither entirely professional nor entirely personal. Some colleagues email me about business and offer personal comments. Some friends email me about personal subjects and make comments about my work. Granted, I’m not secretary of state, but doesn’t logic dictate that there was spillover in her emails? The division between those that were handed over to the State Department and those that were personal and deleted just seems too clean a demarcation.

Fourth, Clinton says this was all about efficiency: “When I got to work as secretary of state, I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two.”

My hunch is that convenience was more likely a byproduct of the real goal: control. She wanted to limit the likelihood that an embarrassing email would be used against her in 2016, but by having her office control the flow of the information, the only thing she has commanded is that this issue stay in the news.

Fifth, the situation also raises legitimate questions about a double standard. Scott Gration was forced out as ambassador to Kenya as a result of a 2012 inspector general’s report concerning his tenure. To read the 62 pages of the report is to appreciate that he was removed for a multitude of reasons, but they include his use of private email while in the embassy. The language of the report applies to Clinton, too:

“The ambassador’s greatest weakness is his reluctance to accept clear-cut U.S. Government decisions” on a number of issues, including “the nonuse of commercial email for official government business, including sensitive but unclassified information. Notwithstanding his talk about the importance of mission staff doing the right thing, the ambassador by deed or word has encouraged it to do the opposite.”

This, compounded by a 2011 cable from the State Department under Clinton’s electronic signature that told employees to “avoid conducting official department business from your personal email accounts,” perpetuates a “do as I say, not as I do” approach to management.

“As I was going through it,” Gration told me on CNN, “I did not perceive that it was a double standard because I did not know of Secretary Clinton’s use of a commercial email account. But as I’ve reflected on it in the last couple of days, it does appear like there was a different standard that was used in my case and that has been used in hers.”

Sixth, I don’t begrudge her wanting to limit access for Clinton haters. I agree with her when she said: “No one wants their personal emails made public, and I think most people understand that and respect that privacy.” But I think she may have played into their hands. Knowing they can never be proven incorrect will only unleash the Clinton critics who float new conspiracy theories.

Finally, whether this ultimately affects her White House bid will not be determined by Clinton; it will depend upon the GOP. This — like the tragedy at Benghazi — raises legitimate questions, which — like Benghazi — could easily be overplayed by Republicans, thereby blunting political impact. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., has already said the email revelations warrant “at least” two appearances before the Select Committee on Benghazi he chairs.

Clinton can only hope. Republicans would be politically wise to do nothing, while the media do their job.

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