Alex Brandon/AP/File
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the State Department in Washington, Sept. 12, 2012.

Why did Hillary Clinton rely on 'home-brew' e-mail server?

Reporters found that the computer server that handled Hillary Clinton’s e-mail during her tenure as secretary of State traced back to an Internet service registered to her home in Chappaqua, N.Y.

How extensive was Hillary Rodham Clinton’s use of personal e-mail during her tenure as secretary of State? Let’s put it this way: She apparently had more than just a personal account. She had an entire personal e-mail system.

That’s what the Associated Press is reporting, in any case. An AP investigation found that the computer server that handled Mrs. Clinton’s e-mail traced back to an Internet service registered to her home in Chappaqua, N.Y.

It’s unclear who ran this infrastructure, write AP reporters Jack Gillum and Ted Bridis. They traced it to a “mysterious entity, Eric Hoteham.” It’s possible this is a pseudonym, since the name doesn’t appear in any public databases.

“Eric Hoteham” is listed as the customer at the Clinton house address in Internet registration records. On Wednesday, social media went nuts as self-appointed detectives tried to figure out whether Eric Hoteham was a real person or an anagram or some other symbolic combination.

As the conservative website Twitchy quickly noted, the letters in the name can be rearranged into a number of other phrases, among them “oath crime, eh?” and “Hi come hater.”

“What does ‘Eric Hoteham’ really mean? Twitter sleuths are on it!” Twitchy said.

Wordplay aside, why would Clinton go so far as to rely on her own physical computers to handle her e-mail traffic? After all, she probably was not relaxing from the stress of being secretary of State by writing her own code.

Well, more control is one obvious feature here. Her husband is an ex-president and she hopes to be one in the future. Over the decades, the Clintons may have decided they can rely only on themselves for security and discretion in communications. They’ve long felt under attack from what Mrs. Clinton once labeled a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”

After all, Mr. Clinton’s affair with intern Monica Lewinsky became a matter of public concern almost by accident, as Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr learned of the relationship while investigating other matters, including the Clintons' involvement in the failed Whitewater land deal in Arkansas.

But this example also points out the obvious negative implication for Clinton of the e-mail system revelation. It could easily be interpreted as evidence she has something to hide. That’s certainly how Clinton’s critics on the right see it.

“Every American understands plainly what conditions might lead someone to conduct official business on a private email account that is free from oversight, and none of them are virtuous,” writes Hot Air’s Noah Rothman.

The legal ramifications of Clinton’s personal e-mail use aren’t clear. It’s possible that relevant rules and regulations weren’t in place until shortly before the end of her tenure at Foggy Bottom, or even after. That’s what defenders of her use of her own system say.

“At the time Clinton was Secretary, the Federal Records Act didn’t require federal employees to use government accounts, only to preserve records of their communications. This, Clinton seems to have done,” writes Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast.

But at the least, Clinton will be drawn into lengthy litigation as reporters, advocacy groups, and lawmakers question whether she has turned over relevant records pursuant to Freedom of Information Act requests and congressional inquiries.

That said, Ezra Klein at Vox has an interesting point about this potential mess. Clinton’s personal e-mail system is just a more organized method of avoiding transparency than the methods used by other Washington politicians, he says.

If people have something sensitive to say in D.C., they don’t put it in an e-mail. They call. If they don’t want their phone records subpoenaed, they arrange a meeting. If they don’t want the meeting to show up in official logbooks, they make sure it’s not on the grounds of the White House or other government buildings.

“Clinton deserves the opprobrium she’s getting. But she’s just an extreme example of a widespread problem,” writes Mr. Klein.

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