Hillary Clinton, a Woman of Her Words
Hillary Rodham Clinton, by her own admission, is running for president of the United States for the fourth time. It apparently doesn’t get any easier.
It was back in 1992, while ostensibly stumping for her husband, that Mrs. Clinton told an audience of women, “If you vote for him, you get me.” Bill Clinton himself quipped in New Hampshire that he’d coined a new campaign slogan: “Buy one, get one free.”
Four years later, after Mrs. Clinton had helped staff the administration, fired White House Travel Office personnel, overseen a health care task force, and sat in on cabinet meetings, Americans realized that this co-presidency talk was no joke. This gave some voters pause and others confidence: Either way, the Clintons got a second term. Bill had to retire in 2001, but Mrs. Clinton had already secured a Senate seat in New York—where she’d never lived—as a steppingstone to her third presidential bid in 2008.
She narrowly lost the Democratic Party nomination that year to a phenom from Illinois few people saw coming. Now, during her fourth presidential campaign, it’s clear that Mrs. Clinton still isn’t over it, and that she knows whom to blame. Not Bill, for making the couple’s last two years in the White House an open book on his sex life. Not Barack Obama for cutting in line. Not her own campaign staff for mismanaging their delegate counts.
No, Mrs. Clinton’s animus—the scapegoat for every bad headline, alarming poll number, and impertinent reporter’s question—was on display in Tuesday’s interview with CNN’s Brianna Keilar: It’s all the Republicans’ fault, and by extension, the media’s. This worldview was succinctly expressed in a telling exchange between Keilar and Clinton:
“We see in our recent poll, that nearly six in 10 Americans say they don’t believe that you’re honest and trustworthy,” Keilar asked. “Do you understand why they feel that way?”
“Well,” Clinton responded, “I think when you are subjected to the kind of constant barrage of attacks that are largely fomented by and coming from the right…”
“But do you bear any responsibility for that?” Keilar pressed.
“I can only tell you, Brianna,” the candidate replied, “that this has been a theme that has been used against me and my husband for many, many years.”
It’s an incongruous argument, if you think about it. Clinton is essentially claiming that the mere fact of having a longtime reputation for deviousness is itself exculpatory. The whole interview had a similar quality.
But Clinton has been so cloistered and inaccessible since announcing her 2016 campaign that the fact of the interview was news in itself. She hadn’t taken questions about her secret email system since her March 10 news conference at the United Nations in which she said that the entire reason she set up a parallel email system on a secret server was to avoid the inconvenience of having two cell
She reprised this line Tuesday to Keilar. It seems to contradict a video of Clinton speaking to female Silicon Valley executives that emerged within hours of her U.N. news conference. In answer to the question “iPhone or Android?,” Clinton replied, “iPhone,” before adding, “In full disclosure—and a BlackBerry.” She continued: “I’m like two steps short of a hoarder. So I have an iPad, a mini iPad, an iPhone and a BlackBerry.”
Nor was her answer to Keilar about why she destroyed records that were under subpoena very forthright. “You're starting with so many assumptions,” Clinton said. “I’ve never had a subpoena. Again, let’s take a deep breath here.”
Although critics pounced, it’s possible both answers were essentially truthful. Regarding her account of the number of smartphones, Clinton’s first answer concerned her state of mind in 2009. The second was in 2015. If she became more tech-proficient in those six years, she’d hardly be the only one.
As for the subpoena, “never” is not the right modifier, but in the context of the question, it seems that Mrs. Clinton was saying that by the time she received the March 4, 2015 subpoena from the House Select Committee on Benghazi she had already wiped her server clean of the 33,000 emails she deemed personal.
Republicans plausibly argue that those emails were already covered by a 2013 subpoena issued to the State Department by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. In any event, almost every expert on federal document preservation, Republican and Democrat, says Clinton skirted legal obligations to preserve all communications relating to her work at the State Department—and that government archivists, not Clinton, arbitrate which are personal and which are official.
Clinton just denies this flatly. “There was no law,” she told Keilar. “There was no regulation. There was nothing that did not give me the full authority to decide how I was going to communicate. … When I mailed anybody in the government, it would go into the government system.”
Little of this is true. There is a law, and it’s called the Federal Records Act, and she followed neither its letter nor its spirit. Moreover, all her emails did not “go into the government system” because many of the people she emailed about State Department business did not work for the U.S. government. In addition, a 2005 State Department rule requires employees to conduct work on an authorized informational system with “the proper level of security control to provide nonrepudiation, authentication and encryption, to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the resident information.”
If all this wasn’t clear enough, a 2011 directive issued under her name instructed State Department officials to “avoid conducting official Department business from your personal e-mail accounts.” The concern in that instance was foreign hackers, which was prescient, because Clinton’s own private email was later hacked.
Once upon a time, Mrs. Clinton had a clearer understanding of why hiding executive branch email looks so bad. “Our Constitution is being shredded,” she said in 2007 in reference to Bush administration concealment. “We know about the secret wiretaps, the secret military tribunals, the secret White House email accounts. It’s a stunning record of secrecy and corruption, of cronyism run amok.”