Hillary, What Are You Doing?

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Mar 03, 2015 7:30 PM
Hillary, What Are You Doing?

Hillary is reportedly launching her presidential campaign next month, and she’s already creating obstacles before she hits the ground running. The latest controversy surrounding the former Secretary of State was her use of a personal email account to conduct affairs of state, which appears to be a breach of the Federal Records Act. Then again, as Katie reported earlier this morning, the use of one’s personal email account for official business isn’t entirely alien to this administration:

This isn't the first time the Obama administration has been caught evading federal records laws by using personal email, which ultimately allows officials to escape scrutiny under the Freedom of Information Act and Congressional investigation. During Operation Fast and Furious, former Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer got caught forwarding and editing official information about the scandal to his personal email account. Former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano claimed she didn't have an email account. IRS officials caught up in the targeting of conservatives, including Lois Lerner, used a personal email account to conduct official government business. Former DOJ Civil Rights attorney and current Labor Secretary Tom Perez used his personal email account during his time at DOJ for official business. Just yesterday, a federal judge ruled the EPA lied about transparency in response to FOIA requests, and in the past, EPA officials have been caught violating federal records laws by using personal email to conduct government business.

It should be noted that Rep. Trey Gowdy’s (R-SC) select committee that’s investigating Benghazi uncovered this development. Additionally, members of media, including Lawrence O’Donnell, seem stupefied, calling this story “unusual” and “a shocking breach of security” (via Mediaite):

New York Times reporter Jeremy Peters said this is definitely “unusual,” but only adds to the idea that Clinton is not very “forthcoming” and “not all business is being conducted in the open like it should be.” MSNBC senior editor Beth Fouhy also wondered, “Where were the State Department lawyers who allowed this to go forward?”

Fouhy said, “She understands rules and protocol, and for her to just willingly violate it just to preserve some semblance of privacy just really makes no sense.”

O’Donnell, meanwhile, was just baffled at how the Secretary of State could be “using a not-secure, commercial email system” the entire time. He called it a “stunning breach of security and said, “If it’s true that she never used a State Department email address, we have something that, at first read, has no conceivable rational explanation to it that is legitimate.”

On top of finding an explanation for this, if there is one, there's a frantic scramble to staff her long-awaited presidential bid. Right now, the S.S. Clinton is akin to a ghost ship, with no one really able to push back attacks against her, specifically the allegations lobbed at the Clinton Foundation, where the organization is accused of taking money from foreign governments while Clinton served as Secretary of State. At least one donation is being reported as an ethics violation.

The massive campaign machinery is in place, but for now, it’s up to “a small corps of well-regarded, loyal and badly overstretched aides who have been forced to deal with an avalanche of requests about the foundation, starting with reports that officials solicited millions in donations from foreign governments,” according to Politico:

While reporters scramble to divine the precise date Clinton will announce her candidacy (the consensus opinion since late last year is that has she’ll jump into the race later this month or in April), Clinton insiders say assembling and deploying staff is a far more important milestone.

“We have had our head up our ass,” one former senior Clinton aide told POLITICO, reflecting the general view of a half-dozen Clinton loyalists. “This stuff isn’t going to kill us, but it puts us behind the eight ball.”

Attempts by Clinton’s tiny personal PR staff have been less than effective. The revelations about the Clinton Foundation have made backers nervous, and Clinton’s inner circle has been coordinating with the foundation as it has become clear that the network of outside groups designed to defend and protect Clinton before her launch have been insufficient.

Pro-Clinton groups, like American Bridge, have also launched a counteroffensive against the email revelations, but have fallen short (via Politico):

A pro-Clinton armada of progressive groups led by David Brock – Media Matters For America, American Bridge and Correct The Record – is waging an aggressive effort to dismiss the coverage of Hillary Clinton's potential violation of federal email requirements as "deceptive."

The news of Clinton's use of personal emails for official business was first reported by The New York Times.

The Times article, by Washington-based reporter Michael Schmidt, stated that Clinton's exclusive use of a personal email address at the State Department "may have violated federal requirements that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record." In reports and press releases, Brock's groups argued that Schmidt's article neglected to mention that the relevant portions of the Federal Records Act pertaining to such requirement did not go into effect until November 2014, after Clinton's tenure at State.

Unfortunately for these pro-Hillary groups, the regulations that are relevant to Schmidt's report – the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) requirements – have been in place since at least 2009, when Clinton became secretary of state.

According to Section 1236.22 of the 2009 NARA requirements, which Schmidt provided in an email, "Agencies that allow employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency must ensure that Federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency recordkeeping system."

Yet, earlier today, the former head of litigation at NARA, Jason Baron, said Clinton didn’t break the law–and that the Federal Records Act is “amorphous.” Though Baron said in the Times piece that “it is very difficult to conceive of a scenario — short of nuclear winter — where an agency would be justified in allowing its cabinet-level head officer to solely use a private email communications channel for the conduct of government business.”

It should be interesting how the media treats this kerfuffle to that of the Bush administration, who lost 5 million White House emails in 2007. John Podesta, Clinton’s probable campaign manager, said in the Wall Street Journal at the time “At the end of the day, it looks like they [the Bush administration] were trying to avoid the records act ... by operating official business off the official systems.”

So, does this show that Hillary doesn’t want to be president? If she does want to succeed Barack Obama in 2017, she’s been making it a lot harder for herself, especially given the fact that she’s a hyper-partisan figure whose favorability ratings sink the longer she sits in the spotlight.

Ron Fournier at National Journal wrote that the former First Lady should probably pack it in and call it a night concerning her presidential ambitions:

Perhaps Hillary Rodham Clinton shouldn't run for president.

Maybe she should stay at the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, where the former secretary of State could continue her life's work of building stronger economies, health care systems, and families. Give paid speeches. Write best-selling books. Spend time with Charlotte, her beloved granddaughter.

Because she doesn't seem ready for 2016. Like a blast of wintry air in July, the worst of 1990s-style politics is intruding on what needs to be a new millennium campaign: Transparent, inspirational, innovative, and beyond ethical reproach.

Many senior Democrats are angry [with the Clinton Foundation and personal email account developments], though not yet mad enough to publicly confront the Clintons. "This story has legs as long as the election," said a Democrat who has worked on Capitol Hill and as a presidential campaign manager. "She will be tripping over this crap until the cows come home."

Another presidential campaign veteran who held a Cabinet-level post in Bill Clinton's White House fretted out loud about the fact that the former first lady is breezing toward the Democratic nomination.

"We can't have a coronation when she's handing Republicans an inquisition," the Democrat said.

But now I wonder whether there is a part of her that doesn't want to be president. She seems to be placing obstacles in her lane before the race begins. Is this sabotage or something else?

My concern is that Clinton does not see this controversy as a personal failing. Rather, she sees it as a political problem that can be fixed with more polls, more money, and more attacks. In a Politico story about the push to assemble a presidential campaign staff, a former senior Clinton aide said, "We have had our head up our ass. This stuff isn't going to kill us, but it puts us behind the eight ball."

Due respect, Clinton's problem isn't a lack of staff. It's a lack of shame about money, personal accountability, and transparency.

In all, this is something Team Clinton surely didn’t want weeks before the launch of her national campaign. Cheers!