Hillary Clinton just doesn’t get it.
It’s not enough to be able to say no hard evidence shows hackers ever breached the home-brewed email system she used while Secretary of State. It’s not enough to say that some officials in the State Department, White House and other federal agencies knew she used a personal email account for official business.
And it’s certainly not enough to protest that Colin Powell did it, too, during his tenure.
With a presidential election looming in November, this is about trust – whether voters can trust her to be forthcoming, honest and transparent. Whether she understands that the rules everyone else must follow apply to her, too.
As the damning new report from the State Department’s inspector general shows, Clinton has left ample room for doubt, even among those generally inclined to support her.
She has said she installed a private server in her New York home simply for convenience. But the report reveals that she told an aide she didn’t want “any risk of the personal becoming accessible” – ostensibly via nosy reporters using open-records laws to request her official State Department emails.
She told the Associated Press last September that, while she regretted using private email for public business, the arrangement was nonetheless permitted. “What I did was allowed,” she said then. “It was allowed by the State Department. The State Department has confirmed that.”
The inspector general’s report says it was not, and suggests she would have been told so had she bothered to ask. Restrictions on personal email use, murkier during Powell’s tenure, were clearer during Clinton’s.
Even when repeatedly warned, in person and by memo, of the dangers from hackers trying to access private email systems, she forged ahead anyway. When hacking attempts forced the temporary shutdown of her private server in 2011, she and her staff failed to tell computer security officials at the State Department.
When IT staffers raised concerns about her email arrangement, the report says their superior told them “never to speak of the secretary’s personal email system again.”
This represents more than an error in judgment. This was a powerful government official willfully disregarding the same rules for which J. Scott Gration, former U.S. ambassador to Kenya, was subjected to disciplinary proceedings.
She says her personal email usage, while a mistake, was “not unique.” But unless she can show another high-ranking official who operated exclusively from a private server stored in a home, it was, in fact, unique.
Regardless of whether the FBI’s ongoing inquiry finds criminal wrongdoing, Clinton has a problem – and it goes far deeper than just email protocols. Until she finds a way to demonstrate more candor and forthrightness to the American people, that problem’s not going anywhere.