Secrecy is the root of the Clinton email scandal

The Washington Post has published a lengthy article by Robert O’Harrow, Jr. called “How Clinton’s Email Scandal Took Root.” Much of the article covers ground familiar to those who are following this saga. However, the story is still worth reading.

For one thing, it illuminates Clinton’s motive for using a private device. O’Harrow writes:

The scandal has pitted those who say Clinton was innocently trying to find the easiest way to communicate against those who say she placed herself above the law in a quest for control of her records.

I doubt that, for purposes of determining whether Clinton violated the law, it matters whether her motive was convenience or a quest for control of her records. However, O’Harrow’s piece, without saying so, shows that her motive was control, not mere convenience. It makes this clear in two ways.

First, O’Harrow shows that security officials emphasized to Clinton and her staff on multiple occasions the security risk associated with using her BlackBerry. For example, not long after Clinton became Secretary of State, Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell wrote: “Any unclassified Blackberry is highly vulnerable in any setting to remotely and covertly monitoring conversations, retrieving e-mails, and exploiting calendars.”

Clinton told Boswell that she “get[s]” this. However, she continued to use her private BlackBerry.

Clinton also continued to use her private BlackBerry and her home brew server after she issued a June 28, 2011 memo urging State Department employees to “avoid conducting official Department business from you own personal email accounts.” The memo was a response to reports that Gmail accounts of government workers had been targeted by “online adversaries.”

Because Clinton and her top staff were well aware of the serious risk of using private email accounts, it seems unlikely that they assumed these risks for a reason no more substantial than convenience. To do so would be wanton even for Hillary Clinton.

Second, Team Clinton’s response to the idea of the Secretary getting a government-issued BlackBerry linked to a government server leaves little doubt that Clinton’s main motive was secrecy. In an email to key Clinton aide Huma Abedin, State Department official Stephen Mull wrote:

We are working to provide the Secretary per her request a Department issued Blackberry to replace personal unit, which is malfunctioning (possibly because of her personal email server is down.) We will prepare two version for her to use — one with an operating State Department email account (which would mask her identity, but which would also be subject to FOIA requests).

(Emphasis added)

Abebin replied: “let’s discuss the state blackberry. doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”

A government-issued BlackBerry would have been as convenient to use as a personal one. That’s why Clinton requested one. However, it would have been subject to FOIA requests. That’s why, once this became clear to Team Clinton, the idea didn’t “make a whole lot of sense.”

Based in part on this email exchange, Judge Emmet Sullivan, a Clinton appointee, has said in open court that legitimate questions have been raised about whether Clinton’s staff was trying to help her to sidestep FOIA. Use of private email was an important part of that scheme.

It seems clear, then, that Clinton wasn’t using a personal BlackBerry tied to a private server for reasons of convenience or because she and her staff were “BlackBerry addicts.” She was using the device to keep her records secret.

This is the root of the Clinton email scandal.

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