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Politics

Hillary Clinton can’t shake the shadow of her emails

Hillary Clinton is stalked by her email controversy.
Top of the Ticket cartoon
(David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

While Hillary Clinton chases around California trying to nail down the Democratic nomination for president, she continues to be chased by the “scandal” over the private email server she used while she was secretary of State. As scandals go, this one is fairly puny, but it is, nevertheless, a nagging problem.

A new report by the State Department’s inspector general slammed Clinton for failing to get authorization for using a private email account instead of the department’s official system. The report also said she had violated the Federal Records Act by not turning over all of her emails before she left her job as the nation’s No. 1 diplomat.

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Clinton aides told the inspector general that she used her own system because she did not want her private emails to get leaked. Contrary to what the report says, Clinton has claimed that she got permission from the department to utilize her personal account for job-related messaging. Officials at the State Department, though, said “Clinton never demonstrated to them that her private server or mobile device met minimum information security requirements.”

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There are quite a few odd details to this story that are being reported on cable news, like the fact that the official procedure for keeping a record of emails at the State Department is to print each one of them out. Imagine the mountains of paper that are piling up in a vast government warehouse somewhere! President George W. Bush’s secretary of State, Colin Powell, never bothered to print his out, despite urging from State Department minions, thus breaking the rules too. President Bill Clinton’s secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, never used email at all. How did she communicate? Post-its?

Over the last year, Hillary Clinton has delivered to the department tens of thousands of the email messages she received or sent during her tenure. The inspector general, however, says she missed a few, which leaves room for conspiracy theorists to imagine she is hiding something really sinister.

The FBI is still investigating whether any top-secret stuff got compromised by Clinton. If they were to find classified material was mishandled knowingly or through gross negligence, somebody could face criminal charges. Out on the campaign trail, Donald Trump has been gleefully saying that the somebody facing jail time could be Hillary.

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Documents get stamped “classified” in a sometimes arbitrary fashion. In many cases, the designation gets tacked on well after many eyes have seen the information. Clinton insists nothing that passed through her email system was classified at the time she saw it. All of this seems a bit sloppy — both on the part of Clinton and the State Department. Nevertheless, it does not, so far, add up to anything close to a real scandal, such as Watergate, Iran Contra or Teapot Dome. There are no burglars breaking into the offices of the political opposition. No money laundering. No trading of arms for hostages. No payoffs to high government officials. It’s just bad email management and, on a less lofty level, plenty of us are guilty of that.

Still, the appearance that Clinton may have fibbed about whether she had permission to have a private account plays into her biggest problem: trust. For a host of reasons — including the cloud of bogus right-wing allegations that has hovered over her since her days in Arkansas, as well as her own inclination to be less than forthright about many questions — millions of voters think Hillary is a liar. This has to be infuriating for her since she surely see herself as a straight shooter compared with Trump, a showman who overstates, exaggerates and fabricates every time he opens his mouth.

Hillary Clinton has been waiting for this one shoe to drop from the State Department. Now, she waits for the other to fall from the FBI. My bet is that it will produce, at most, a bump on the head, not a campaign calamity. Yet even if the FBI gives her full exoneration, those who despise her will not be swayed. Hillary Clinton may be the most examined, investigated and vetted woman in America, but some folks will always believe she is hiding something big.

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