Clinton email controversy is no joke: Our view – USA TODAY
In 2009, when soon-to-be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton first broachedÂ the idea of runningÂ herÂ work email through a private server atÂ her home in Chappaqua, N.Y., the concept should have been dismissed as laughable.
But it wasn’t, and for reasons more likely having to do with control thanÂ convenience, Clinton went ahead with the plan.Â Now that top secret information, intelligence agency inspectors general, theÂ FBIÂ andÂ federal judges are involved, the matter is farÂ from amusing.
Clinton, though, seems to think she can dismiss the controversy by making light of it. Earlier this monthÂ in Iowa, the presidential candidate joked to a crowd of Democratic Party faithfulÂ about sending future communications over the app Snapchat,Â which famously makes text and photos disappear soon after they are viewed. At a testy press availability onÂ Tuesday, Clinton went for the laughÂ line again after being asked whether her email server had been wiped clean. “Like with a cloth?” she replied, adding that nobody talks to her about the email controversy except reporters.
Maybe she doesn’t get asked about it at tightly controlledÂ town meetings, but the episodeÂ raises serious questions about the Democratic front-runner’sÂ decision-makingÂ and commitment to openness in government. Â One of the many reasons that it was a bad idea to mix personal and business messagesÂ is well known to anyone with an email account: As hard as you might try, you can’t control what comes into your inbox. And if you’re the secretary of State, that’sÂ inevitablyÂ going to include some sensitive information.
Last week, a Justice DepartmentÂ national security investigation kickedÂ into higher gear afterÂ intelligence agency officials determined that top secret information had indeed passedÂ through the private email account. The FBI has takenÂ control of the server and thumb drives storing backup data.Â The number of potentially classified emails involved jumpedÂ from a handful to more than 300, according to aÂ State Department count filed in federal court. A federal judge overseeing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit said, “We wouldn’t be here today if this employee” âÂ Clinton âÂ “had followed government policy.”
Clinton’s stance has evolved from sayingÂ that no classified material passed through her private account (March), to sayingÂ she didn’t send or receive anything that was classified at the time (last month), to saying she didn’t send any material that was explicitly marked or designatedÂ classified (last week).
The laws about handling classified material are complex, and way too much information is classified in the first place. It’s entirely possible thatÂ Clinton didn’t do anything illegal. Even so,Â presidential candidates should be held to a higher standard.
Scandals surrounding Clinton and her husband have a habit of being stoked byÂ bothÂ the Clintons’ penchant forÂ secrecy and their political enemies’ overzealousness. Amid all the investigations and lawsuits, a resolution of the email affairÂ will be long in coming. A couple of things, however,Â are already clear.
One is that Clinton and her team should have turned the server over to the State Department’s inspector general, or perhaps the National Archives,Â for an independent, confidential sorting of the 62,000 messages. Instead, they took it on themselvesÂ to delete about half the messages as personal and scrub the server, raising inevitable suspicions about a coverup.
AnotherÂ isÂ that, contrary to the Clinton camp’s assertion that the controversy is a lot of “nonsense,”Â federal computer security is noÂ joke. Regardless of whether Clinton broke any laws, her decisions about the server represented bad judgment bordering on recklessness.
USA TODAY’s editorial opinions are decided by itsÂ Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view â a unique USA TODAY feature.