Commentators have widely agreed that Hillary Clinton’s four-year stint as secretary of state and first lady was a big success. She showed those old boys a thing or two and banged some really big heads together whilst she was at it. It was also generally known that the immense effort and sheer hard work that she put into her special type of world-leading diplomacy took a lot out of her. It remains to be seen just how much those four years may have cost her health, although Edward Klein’s book Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. The Obamas suggests she is prone to blood clots, fainting spells and may be at serious risk of a stroke.
However, throughout this time, despite showing great passion, drive and determination, when sending e-mails pertaining to all official business, Clinton exclusively used a private e-mail server and account: HDR22@clintonemail.com. Many have considered this decision to be a violation of a federal record-keeping law. There is no guarantee that she kept records of all e-mails related to official business and they were not preserved on department servers either.
While some have been quick to criticise, others have come to her defence. As Marie Harf, the State Department deputy spokeswoman, told Business Insider, “The State Department has long had access to a wide array of Secretary Clinton’s records - including e-mails between her and Department officials with state.gov accounts.”
In a public statement, spokesman Nick Merrill also explained that, in response to a department request, her staff had reviewed tens of thousands of pages of her personal e-mails from her time as secretary of state and had then subsequently handed over 55,000 pages of e-mails. Although this does go some way to disclosure, there remains no definite way of telling how much of her communications have been censored, and how much has been deleted.
Today, it has been further revealed that Clinton has wiped her e-mail server “clean,” meaning that all e-mails have been permanently deleted. The leader of the House committee investigating the September 11, 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi, which saw four Americans killed, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., claims that in recent weeks, Clinton has failed to produce a single new document as per the subpoena that he issued for all Clinton e-mails related to Libya, and in particular, in connection with the attacks in Benghazi. He further claims she has refused to relinquish her server to a third party for independent review.
In a statement, Gowdy has said: “While it is not clear precisely when Secretary Clinton decided to permanently delete all e-mails from her server, it appears she made the decision after October 28, 2014, when the Department of State for the first time asked the secretary to return her public record to the Department.” As he continues: “Not only was the secretary the sole arbiter of what was a public record, she also summarily decided to delete all e-mails from her server ensuring no one could check her analysis in the public interest.”
Clinton’s lawyer, David Kendall, has written to Gowdy in response to explain that, in his view, she had already complied with the order to deliver all such work-related e-mails to the State Department. He also reiterated that Clinton and her legal team had gone through all e-mails and established which were unrelated to work and therefore personal – almost 32,000 e-mails – and had deleted these, while the remaining 30,490 were handed to the State Department as per the agency’s request in December.
This is not the first time that records have been denied. In 2013, Gawker filed a freedom of information request for copies of all correspondence from Clinton’s private e-mail account that were sent between herself and her close adviser and one-time staff member in the White House, Sidney Blumenthal. However, the news site was told by the State Department that the agency could “find no records” in relation to the request. This raised questions of whether they had been deleted or censored.
Gawker also claimed at the start of March that, according to an anonymous insider, at least two other top Clinton aides - Philippe Reines (deputy assistant secretary of state) and Huma Abedin (deputy chief of staff) - were also using private e-mail accounts under the clintonemail.com mailing address to conduct government business during Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. This meant their official communications were also received and sent outside of federal record-keeping regulations.
Although Merrill has denied that Reines was ever given, or has ever used, a private Clinton address, he did not address when questioned by Gawker whether Reines had been using a private account with a different e-mail provider such as Gmail or hotmail.com when conducting official business, and refused to comment on Abedin’s use of her private e-mail address.
There is no doubt that these revelations will all have bearings upon any potential 2016 presidential candidacy and will damage Clinton’s reputation prior to any announcements she may make on her decision to run for the position. It is also unlikely that this matter will go away without further investigation and scrutiny.
Perhaps with the next election so close, there is another agenda behind these recent revelations. It could be argued that it is nothing more than an attempt at landing some dirt that would stick on Clinton. Such claims do little to stem the gutter negative campaigning that has come to represent American politics, and it proves to be a very handy tool for the Republicans preparing to take her on in the election.
Of course, there can be no dispute that it looks bad for Clinton. There is the obvious inference that she has something to hide, especially given the very complex, sensitive subject matters she was dealing with while in office. There is also the undeniable fact that she set her private e-mail account up on the same day that she began her confirmation hearings to become secretary of state and the domain is set to expire shortly after the 2016 election. Perhaps it could be coincidence – but how are we to ever know now that so many thousands of her e-mails have entered an online abyss?
Then there is the defence that perhaps, as other reports have detailed, Clinton disliked using e-mail full stop, and this has all come about as a result. Perhaps her decision to use a private e-mail came down to nothing more than just finding the government e-mail server to be difficult to use. After all, one has to question why someone as shrewd and career-motivated as Clinton would be so naïve as to un-do it all with something as unreliable as e-mail, communicating potentially destructive, confidential information online knowing full well it may be called upon, or even so unaware as to delete everything in one large cover-up. Surely she knew that one day it would come back around, and then there is always the risk that everyone who helped her delete the e-mails could reveal anything they read during the process, making it all defunct?
Then there is the question of what Clinton’s office was doing in the first place while she was using a private e-mail account as secretary of state. Surely they knew? It can’t have come as any surprise when this was all revealed, given that they had been e-mailing her at the address. A leader needs good first and second secretary support to run her office; and so I would be more inclined to look at these people when pointing fingers of blame. Surely, they should have been looking after their boss, making sure she utilised the correct email addresses on all occasions? Had they fallen asleep on the job? How responsible are they now? Why didn’t they say anything while she was in office? There is a certain murkiness here, which is yet to be questioned in detail.
Ultimately, what this entire episode does raise, is the debate of how much disclosure we actually need - a discussion that came to the forefront with the launch of WikiLeaks, a non-profit organisation that publishes confidential and classified information into the public domain. Politics is renowned for being an industry filled with murky revelations and goings on. The recent expenses scandal uncovered within the British government is one such example. There is a lot the public don’t know, which really ought to be disclosed given their vested interest as tax-paying citizens. The same applies to America, and in many respects, handing over all e-mails, regardless of their nature, and conducting them through an official government server, is the only way that the political sphere can ever be effectively monitored and moderated.
Of course, we don’t actually need to see every single e-mail though – and there is always the threat of too much information and what repercussions this has for the security of the government and country. Jeb Bush has taken this recent Clinton scandal as opportunity to show just how transparent he is, and has released an e-book that details his e-mails with Floridians throughout his eight years as governor. There are a whole catalogue of e-mails, again censored, but available in the public domain and, one has to question how much we really need to see? Sure, in the event of serious events, disclosure is needed. But do we need to read every e-mail of every politician?
Ultimately, there is no doubt Clinton will have learnt her lesson. Discretion is key and should she go on to become the first female President of the United States of America, it seems unlikely she would continue using a private e-mail address and would be very much aware of her need for constant disclosure. Let’s also hope, should this day come, that she does not re-hire and rely on the same people who have so clearly let her down during her time at the State Department for she doesn’t not need “yes” people around her, not questioning her every action until it becomes a problem. She needs “no” people that tell her, straight away, to do something different.
Words: Grace Carter and Martin Brown