Jeb Bush vs. Hillary Rodham Clinton: Who has the bigger e-mail problem?

Jeb Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton, potential rivals in the 2016 presidential race, both have problems regarding use of personal e-mail accounts for government business. Clinton’s seems more serious.

Seth Wenig/AP
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to reporters March 10, 2015, at United Nations headquarters in New York, where she said she chose to use a personal email account for government business out of convenience.

For the moment, at least, Jeb Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton have two things in common (three things if you count the family political dynasty bit), one politically good and one potential trouble.

They’re both doing well in the 2016 presidential race among members of their party. And they’re both nagged by questions about their e-mail practices.

Mrs. Clinton leads all potential Democratic rivals (Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, James Webb, and Martin O’Malley) by huge amounts in a mock presidential primary, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average.

Mr. Bush’s position among Republican hopefuls (Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and a few others) is strong if a little more precarious. He trails Walker by 0.4 percent.

Among mainstream Republicans and Democrats, in other words, it’s shaping up to be a Bush-Clinton contest.

On e-mail problems, Bush seems more bumbling than conniving.

First, in a rush to publish eight years of e-mails from his tenure as Florida governor, Bush staff “in the spirit of transparency” unwittingly released constituents' sensitive information – including names, addresses, e-mail addresses, and even Social Security numbers, plus personal stories from people asking then-governor Bush for help. 

More troubling, the Washington Post reported Saturday, “Bush used his private e-mail account as Florida governor to discuss security and military issues such as troop deployments to the Middle East and the protection of nuclear plants, according to a review of publicly released records.”

Citing cybersecurity experts, the Post noted that “private accounts in general are more susceptible to attacks than government e-mail addresses, particularly attacks in which a hacker establishes a look-alike account that allows them to impersonate as the account holder.” Also, in the years just after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, when Bush was Florida governor, encryption technology was far less sophisticated, which could have made Bush’s e-mails particularly insecure while traveling.

Clinton’s e-mail practices seem to have been more calculated and therefore part of a pattern of Clinton secrecy and defensiveness over the years, which could trouble her campaign if she decides to run.

The story began with a New York Times report that as secretary of state she had used only a private e-mail address, and then continued when the Associated Press revealed that Mrs. Clinton was operating her own e-mail server, giving her a greater level of control over her communications.

Then came reports that the State Department has had a policy in place since 2005 warning officials against routine use of personal e-mail accounts for government work, plus evidence that Clinton and her staff were using multiple e-mail addresses to communicate.

The State Department now is wading through tens of thousands of Clinton e-mails to see what can be properly released, a process that could take many months. But the Associated Press announced this past week that it is suing the State Department to gain quicker access to Clinton’s e-mails.

"After careful deliberation and exhausting our other options, The Associated Press is taking the necessary legal steps to gain access to these important documents, which will shed light on actions by the State Department and former Secretary Clinton … during some of the most significant issues of our time," said Karen Kaiser, AP's general counsel,

“The legal action comes after repeated requests filed under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act have gone unfulfilled,” the AP said. “They include one request AP made five years ago and others pending since the summer of 2013.”

At her press conference this past week, Clinton said she had deleted from the 55,000 pages of e-mails she had turned over to the State Department more than 30,000 that were “personal.”

This didn’t sit well with the special House committee investigating the 2012 attack on the US diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans and occurred at a time when Clinton was secretary of state responsible for diplomatic security.

Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R) of South Carolina said he many have to subpoena Clinton’s e-mails.

"I just can't trust her lawyers to make the determination that the public is getting everything they're entitled to," Rep. Gowdy said. “I think an imminently reasonable alternative is for her to turn over that server to an independent, neutral third party," he said, adding that "the House has no business looking at purely personal e-mails."

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