Hillary Clinton personal e-mail: big deal or business as usual?

Prior to Clinton, no secretary of State used personal e-mail exclusively. At the least, the action may have violated National Archives rules that government e-mails sent from personal accounts be preserved for historical record.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/File
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton checks her PDA upon her departure in a military C-17 plane from Malta bound for Tripoli, Libya, Oct. 18, 2011. Clinton may have violated federal records laws by using a personal email account for all of her work messages, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

As Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton used a personal e-mail account to send and receive official communications. All of them – she apparently never had a government email address, according to The New York Times, which broke this story Monday night.

This appears to have been a conscious choice on her part. She or someone working for her created a “clintonemail.com” domain on Jan. 13, 2009, according to Philip Bump of The Washington Post. That’s the day her confirmation hearings began in the Senate. It’s one week before Barack Obama was sworn in as president of the United States.

Is this a big deal? Clintonworld argues that there’s nothing to see here and the media should just move along. Previous secretaries of State used their own e-mail addresses for government work, said Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill. When Secretary of State Clinton emailed other US officials at their government addresses, she fully expected those missives to be saved.

When the State Department last year began asking former secretaries for help in retrieving and archiving electronic records, Clinton readily agreed to help, said Mr. Merrill.

“Both the letter and the spirit of the rules permitted State Department officials to use non-government email, as long as appropriate records were preserved,” the Clinton spokesman said.

“Letter and spirit of the rules?” Um, maybe not. Prior to Clinton, no secretary of State used a personal e-mail exclusively. As the Times story notes, many current and former National Archives officials reacted to news of the Clinton account with alarm.

At the least, the action may have violated National Archives rules that government e-mails sent from personal accounts be preserved for the historical record. It’s true that Clinton has cooperated with requests for information, but only she and her aides know whether they’re holding anything back. As far as the Freedom of Information Act is concerned, her e-mails might as well be a black hole.

That’s caused much of the punditocracy to judge Clinton’s email account as a very big deal, indeed. Many on the right are furious, saying the former secretary of State may well be concealing e-mails that bear on the killing of US officials in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012. (The ongoing House investigation into Benghazi discovered the Clinton e-mail issue when staffers asked for relevant government e-mail traffic.)

“Clearly, Hillary had contempt for the mechanisms that provide transparency and accountability for government operations and officials,” writes Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey.

But they’re not alone. There’s face-palming on the left as well. David Corn of Mother Jones tweeted, “The HRC email mess at State is a fiasco. Profoundly dumb move on her part & her aides. Confirms worst suspicions about her.”

The mainstream media is similarly dumbstruck at the implications. Clinton’s personal account was bound to be discovered at some point. Now the revelation has given the House Benghazi probe, headed by former federal prosecutor Rep. Trey Gowdy (R) of South Carolina, a large win.

The revelation calls into question the conventional political wisdom that Clinton has been through so many ideological wars that all the negative stuff about her is already public. Does the Republican opposition research machine have more news it’s just waiting to release?

“Hillary email story feeds the narrative that the Clintons have things to hide and are willing to skirt the rules,” tweets NBC senior political editor Mark Murray.


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