Yesterday, the Washington Post’s editors weighed in on the new report from the State Department’s Inspector General regarding Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Their editorial is a classic example of a familiar genre — expressing disapproval of misconduct by politicians one likes, while dismissing without analysis the possibility that the behavior is criminal.
The Post has even come up with the perfect phrase with which to pull this off. It finds Hillary guilty of “willful misjudgment.” “Misjudgment” suggests innocent mistake. “Willful” suggests some level of wrongdoing.
I’m not sure there can be such a thing as a “willful misjudgment.” The term certainly doesn’t apply to Clinton’s use of the email server after being told (including by a memo she signed) that this is improper.
If you “judge” that you can use a private email server but then receive authoritative notice that you shouldn’t do so, this is no longer a “misjudgment,” it is a willful violation. If the notice comes from you, then to call the violation a “misjudgment” is as cynical as it gets.
The editorial makes clear that the facts found by the Inspector General’s Report are as I just described them. It also points out that after a staff member “raised concerns” with another official about Clinton’s personal email server, the staff was instructed “never to speak of the Secretary’s personal email system again.”
In addition, the Post reminds us that Clinton received notice that some emails are considered federal records under the law and that she should print and file those in her office and, before leaving office, surrender all emails dealing with department business. She did so only about two years after leaving office.
The final paragraph is the “money ball.” It begins by serving up the “others did it too defense,” as if Colin Powell’s occasional use of personal email, prior to the issuance of the standards that prevailed during Clinton’s tenure, is comparable to what she did.
The Post then informs us that Clinton’s conduct was “not illegal.” It does so not in argument, or even a sentence, but in a subordinate clause: “While not illegal behavior, [Clinton’s conduct] was disturbingly unmindful of the rules.”
“Disturbingly unmindful.” “Willful misjudgment.” Whatever the Post is paying this writer (or writers) is not enough.
If Clinton’s behavior is self-evidently “not illegal,” why is the Obama Justice Department still investigating? Why do legal experts such as former Attorney General Michael Mukasey perceive illegality?
The Post treats the absence of criminal behavior by Clinton as settled. Clearly, it is not.
A reader sees similarity between the Post’s editorial and statements made about Bill Clinton’s behavior during the Monica Lewinsky matter. Then, people like Joe Lieberman (and most likely the Post, though I haven’t researched this) criticized President Clinton for his “immoral” personal conduct, while asserting that he did not commit any high crime or other misdemeanor.
By doing so, they could profess outrage at Bill Clinton’s conduct and hold themselves out as fair-minded critics of unacceptable conduct. At the same time, they could take their man’s side on the key issue of whether there had been an impeachable offense.
This approach isn’t always a dodge. There can be serious misconduct that doesn’t rise to the level of a crime or a “high crime and misdemeanor” for impeachment purposes.
But in the case of the Hillary Clinton email scandal, the Post owes its readers more than exoneration by subordinate clause.