It’s going to be tough to separate fact from spin in the gathering storm around Hillary Clinton’s private email account.
We must, though, because there’s something bigger at stake than her 2016 presidential bid. And that’s this question: How do we ensure both the transparency and security of our government’s communications in an age when our national secrets routinely take digital form?
The New York Times reported Monday that Clinton used private email exclusively to conduct business during her four-year run as Secretary of State. She apparently failed to forward those emails to government servers for preservation, as required by the Federal Records Act.
Then Tuesday, the Associated Press said it traced that email account to a private system registered to her family’s home in Chappaqua, N.Y. – an unprecedented bid for secrecy by a top national official.
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Experts say she put U.S. secrets at risk from hackers and foreign intelligence operatives. The news site Gawker said it learned of the account in 2013 after a Romanian hacker claimed to have broken into a former White House official’s account. The hacker said he found emails to Clinton’s private address concerning the Benghazi attacks.
Much to the Republican Party’s delight, the email controversy revives a persistent, negative narrative about her – that behind the professed devotion to the common man and greater good beats the heart of an elitist who prefers operating behind closed doors.
It dovetails into current questions about the Clinton Foundation, which accepted donations from foreign governments during Clinton’s State Department tenure, including one gift from Algeria that was not properly cleared with the Obama administration.
Clinton isn’t the first to use private email, but her failure to disclose massive batches is troubling. Clinton’s backers say many of her private emails landed on government servers when she emailed other State Department officials.
But key issues remain unclear. What about her private-account emails to representatives of foreign governments? What about emails to U.S. officials on their private or government accounts?
This came about because the State Department asked all ex-secretaries for emails and other records from their time in office as part of an effort to improve its record keeping. Clinton’s advisors turned in 55,000 pages. About 900 were given to the House select committee investigating Benghazi.
How do we know they turned over everything of public interest? At the moment, we have little more than their word for it.
That’s clearly no way to conduct the public’s business. But that was the point of keeping it all – literally, perhaps – in-house at Chappaqua.
A 2014 law bars use of private accounts unless officials copy or forward emails into government accounts within 20 days. That’s good, as we now see.
Meanwhile, the House select committee said it will subpoena Clinton’s private account records. Lawsuits from media outlets are sure to follow.
Our question to Clinton: Why wait? Open non-classified records to inspection now.