The Clinton email issue has been described as a “scandal” and a “criminal offense”, and has led to full-throated cries of “Lock her up!”. These terms reflect the discussion of the issue that has occurred among her political opponents with Donald Trump leading the way! There is probably little that can be done to prevent Republicans, or persons opposed to Hillary Clinton, from carrying on in this way through November, and maybe even beyond then.
The FBI Director, James Comey, apparently did not find a sufficient basis in all of Clinton’s actions to mount a legal case against her. But he was unwilling to stop there in his own discussion of the email issue. He found it needful to characterize her actions as “reckless” and “careless”. This only led Republicans to cry even louder: “How can actions on the part of a government official be “reckless” and “careless” without being found to be criminal? I personally believe that Comey’s comments were responsible for setting up the specific focus on this issue at the Republican Convention. What is sad about this is that these are not legal terms. Rather, they are terms used by Comey to express what may have been a professional, yet, nevertheless, a personal judgment on the issue.
Clinton on the other hand, has done nothing to help her cause. She has traded on whatever ambiguity there may have been in State Department policies regarding the use of personal servers to justify her decision to make exclusive use of a personal server in conducting her business as Secretary of State. She used the same server for her personal email which she eliminated prior to turning over the contents of her server to federal officials. So she turned over 55,000 emails that were related to official state department business, and eliminated 31,000 emails which she identified as personal. The problem? She was the sole judge of what was official and what was personal, and once the emails were eliminated she had no basis on which to defend her judgment.
The problem facing ordinary citizens when thinking about this issue is that most of us are relatively clueless as to something so rudimentary to this issue as what a “server”, private or otherwise, is. To get a clue I would encourage checking the internet. It is a computer that is used to receive or transmit emails. In the case of most emails that one sends, it is quite possible that the email passes through more than one server. Ordinary email users rely on servers that are outside of their home and owned and operated by such agencies as gmail, google, aol, hotmail, etc.etc. Many businesses because of the volume of their email have their own servers. Federal agencies, like businesses have their own servers.
What is important about the servers used by federal agencies for email reception and transmission? Three things. Security, Record-keeping, and transparency. Federal government systems have been hacked. So they are not totally secure. But Federal agency servers meet whatever standard of security that the federal government has put in place at any given time. There is no assurance that personal servers will meet that same level of security. All emails sent and received on federal agency computers are preserved as official records of the actions of those who sent or received them, and of the agencies which they represent. So federal agency servers are a vital means to keeping records. And because that is so, they also provide a form of transparency to the actions of those who send or receive them and of the agencies which they represent. If you have a question about who said what and when, the stored emails provide ready access to the answer to such questions.
So there can be little doubt that to say the least, to use the language of Secretary Clinton herself, her decision to use a personal server was a “mistake.” My personal opinion is that that word is mild to say the least. The issue is more serious than that language reflects. But if we are to put the issue behind us, as Bernie Sanders so graciously did, we have to focus on a few facts. First, there are far greater issues that should be discussed as this presidential election campaign goes forward than the email issue. Second, however grave a mistake Secretary Clinton may have made, and howver this mistake may influence ones evaluation of her judgment, there is nothing that she can do about it now.
What is done is done. Third, up to this point in time, as bad a mistake as this may have been, there are no apparent consequences from it that affect the security of this country, or undermine the national interest. While there is evidence that government servers have been hacked, there is no credible evidence that Secretary Clinton’s personal server was hacked.
So putting this issue behind us, in the last analysis, is, as Bernie Sanders so wisely recognized, a matter of personal choice. We can get ourselves all wrapped up in this “damned email” business, or we can move on. The gravity of this coming election and of the issues that the parties and candidates have been framing suggest the wisdom of this latter choice.