The quote dates to Ronald Reagan, appropriated by political types from both parties: “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.”
Doing a lot of explaining these days is The New York Times, which did not distinguish itself with its messy reveal-and-revise of the latest twist in the Hillary Clinton email saga. As secretary of state, you’ll recall, she decided to do all of her email communication via private “homebrew” server operated from her home in Chappaqua, N.Y.
Never mind that government and Obama White House policy dictated otherwise. She determined that it would be too inconvenient to carry two cellphones, as if that were necessary, and simply refused to use a secure government address.
Potential problems are apparent. As we wrote in March, there was only one logical reason for Clinton to do what would have gotten any lower-level official fired: to hide official communications from oversight and open records laws. An unsecure home server only increased the chances that sensitive, even classified, material could fall into the wrong hands.
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Unfortunately, The Times mistakenly reported last week that two federal inspectors general had sent a criminal referral targeting Clinton’s email practices to the Justice Department. The IGs for the intelligence agencies and State Department had to clean that up Friday. In a joint statement, I. Charles McCullough and Steve Linick said their action was a security referral, not criminal, and was intended to notify security officials that classified information may exist on at least one private server and thumb drive outside the government’s control.
Clinton’s camp has focused on The Times’ errors, attempting to muddy the waters. Instead, the important information of record also was found in the IGs statement. In reviewing a “limited sample” of 40 emails from the 30,000 Clinton handed over long after leaving office, four included classified material when they passed through her private server, information that remains classified today.
“This classified information should never have been transmitted via an unclassified personal system,” McCullough and Linick wrote.
More than after-the-fact scolding, this forms the basis for the referral to Justice. It also directly contradicts statements from Clinton and her staff, as recently as the weekend, that no information was classified at the time it passed through the Chappaqua server.
Obviously, this would have been far less likely had Clinton simply followed the email rules. So far, we also must trust that she was truthful when she deemed another 30,000 emails nongovernmental and destroyed them.
Clinton clearly is not just any former secretary of state. Party politics will only make it more difficult to determine what damage has been done to national security from her email practices. Republicans will criticize her out of habit; Democrats will defend her reflexively.
That was probable anyway, but Clinton’s status as the Democrats’ 2016 presidential front-runner only amplifies every reaction, and not in a good way. And that’s beyond unfortunate.