The last time an email caused this much of a political storm was, well, never. It’s unlikely anyone with even the slightest modicum of interest in politics would have missed the coverage of Hilary Clinton’s newest “scandal.” From Politico to the New York Times, which first broke the story, the internet is alight with commentary on her actions. The reactions to the former secretary of state’s decision to use a private email server have possibly said more about the state of America’s political climate than anything else. While there isn’t a whole lot of information to contest and for that matter any evidence of illegal activity, the fixation on Hillary Clinton’s email usage highlights the Clinton family’s polarizing image in the American media.
The narrative to the story is relatively straightforward, despite what some may suggest. What is general knowledge, ascertained from Clinton’s own admissions in a press conference, are simple: upon taking the job, Clinton decided to use a private email address for both personal and job use, a decision she made out of “convenience.” The email address is from a private server of the Clintons and not a government account, which she used to conduct official correspondence, none of which contained classified information, according to Clinton. Earlier this year, the state department requested previous secretaries of state to provide any work-related emails from their private email accounts for record keeping purposes, so Clinton is actually one of many being asked to hand over her emails. Most of the controversy arose from Clinton’s decision to withhold about half of the emails from the aforementioned account due to privacy reasons. She has stated that she handed over all work related emails, amounting to roughly 55,000 pages of correspondence. Clinton has recently requested the state department release all of the emails she sent for transparency.
Apart from the withholding of emails, which is at the least ambiguous and at the most a bit suspicious, several mini-controversies arose during the two-month delay in Clinton handing them over and her usage of a private email account for work. To add to this, the House Select Committee on Benghazi is seeking access to the emails, perhaps to look for new information on Clinton’s actions in Libya. However, until the state department reviews all the emails, concerns over Benghazi or her usage of classified information are without much credence. Perhaps the only contestable issue at large is the interpretation of the 2009 Federal Records Act, which discourages, but does not expressively prohibit the work-related use of private email accounts for government employees. Moreover, Clinton has maintained that she acted in accordance with the law. As for her decision to withhold emails, Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, stated that she had a right to determine which emails were work-related, but her decision to have a private email account reduced transparency.
Transparency, or the lack thereof, appears to be a recurring issue for the Clintons. Ultimately that is entirely what the controversy is: had Clinton used a government email account, it would have been a government employee sorting which emails are work-related and not Clinton herself. It is a lapse in judgment on her part, but has no trace of anything sinister or illegal for that matter. This isn’t nearly damning enough to deter a run for office; it hardly even registers as much of a scandal.
Republicans are correct in pointing out that this is one of a series of moves by the Clintons that highlights their obsession with privacy, for better or worse. But what are we to make of U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) poorly veiled critique of Clinton, in which he proudly asserts he has never sent an email before? Or Mike Huckabee, seeing the controversy as more evidence of the Clinton’s kinship to the Godfather. Politico even erupted with articles likening the scandal to Watergate, arguing Clinton’s press conference amounted to telling the press to “go to hell,” or claiming that the scandal hearkens back the “30 years of the slimy, predatory Clinton enterprise.” Surely these are overreactions?
The sometimes vehement and sometimes absurdly critical commentary from the right suggests anxiety over Clinton’s eventual run for presidency. It also represents a general, perhaps bipartisan, fatigue with the Clintons. The only thing this faux-controversy really accomplished is to further the mystique of the “Clinton Rules,” which appears to be the worry of many Republicans. Just see Rick Wilson’s on Politico, where he warns fellow Republicans against playing by the Clintons’ “game” and engaging in the email fiasco. This media firestorm over a hiccup in Clinton’s campaign suggests an odd fascination with the political minds of Hillary and Bill.
The email controversy is really just an excuse for critics of the former Secretary of State to bring up long-held worries. Although it would be wrong to say it has been much ado about nothing, many have welcomed the issue as a convenient distraction. While the words of President Obama reverberate from Selma and Republican senators express their antipathy towards a nuclear deal with Iran, perhaps the safest political football being thrown around right now is the email issue. No wonder so many politicians want to make it a focus; it’s a distraction from real issues and cheap political capital.