How Obama learned about Hillary Rodham Clinton's peculiar e-mail

President Obama says he insists on transparency in his administration’s conduct. That raises questions about Hillary Clinton’s controversial e-mail as secretary of state, and it may account for a drop in her poll rating on honesty.

Gaston De Cardenas/AP
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton wave at a university conference sponsored by their Clinton Global Initiative at the University of Miami, Saturday in Coral Gables, Fla.

If those messages from – his secretary of state using a personal e-mail address and private server rather than the more secure government system – were an odd way of communicating sensitive diplomatic information, they apparently didn’t seem so to President Obama.

At least that might be concluded from the revelation that Obama learned about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s controversial e-mail system like the rest of us: through news reports this past week, as he told CBS in a weekend interview broadcast Sunday.

Without indicating any particular concern, Obama told Bill Plante: "I'm glad that Hillary’s instructed that those emails about official business need to be disclosed."

"I think that the fact that she is putting them forward will allow us to make sure that people have the information they need," he said. "The policy of my administration is to encourage transparency, which is why my emails, the Blackberry I carry around, all those records are available and archived.”

True, Obama’s message traffic no doubt is highly filtered, so he may never have had the opportunity to note her e-mail address. Remember when the Secret Service took control of his personal Blackberry about 10 seconds after he was sworn in as President?

Once the controversy became known, Clinton tweeted: “I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible.”

The problem is, that review could take weeks or months. Those e-mails total 55,000 pages, and as Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post wrote the other day, “Those are the e-mails that Clintonworld decided should be turned over…. not exactly the classic definition of transparency.”

Meanwhile, the special House committee probing the terrorist attack on a US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, has issued subpoenas for some of Clinton's personal e-mails, and the Associated Press says it’s considering legal action for long delays on its Freedom of Information Act requests for records related to Clinton’s tenure at the Department of State.

To political professionals and the reporters who follow them, the 2016 presidential election may be just around the corner. To the typical voter, it’s many months off, and they aren’t paying much attention. 

Clinton leads in all the polls – both against any potential Democratic challengers and against any Republican hopefuls.

In the latest Real Clear Politics polling average of Democrats, she gets more than four times as many votes as the next two (Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren). In a mock general election, she beats all Republicans by landslide margins.

But as Bloomberg reports, “Her use of a private server for her communications has prompted concern over the security of sensitive information that may have been e-mailed to Clinton. It also has fed into perceptions of secrecy that grew out of the Clinton White House, when the then-first lady fought efforts to turn over documents related to the Whitewater investigation and her health-care task force.”

Writing in under the headline “Hillary in Nixon’s Shadow,” Todd Purdum also touches on an aspect of Clinton’s history and character that seems to go beyond the current flap.

“The real damage from the email controversy,” he writes, “may lie less in any specific embarrassing revelations (though if history is any guide, there are bound to be some) than in the seeming proof that the aspect of Clinton’s personality that is suspicious, defensive, contemptuous of the press and scornful of political adversaries will never change.”

The results of a new Fox News poll, taken as the e-mail news broke, are likely to be seen by Clinton supporters as biased given the source. But they may portend an increasing challenge for her.

“The poll was also taken while Clinton is being dogged by allegations of an apparent conflict of interest stemming from the Clinton Foundation taking foreign donations at the same time Clinton was secretary of state,” the International Business Times reports. “On honesty, 44 percent of voters polled said the trait describes Clinton, a drop of 10 percentage points from the 54 percent who in April 2014 said Clinton was honest and trustworthy. A little more than half of respondents in Thursday’s poll said Clinton wasn’t honest and trustworthy.”

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