As you may have heard, the latest political "scandal" involving a major Presidential contender comes via the NY Times reporting that when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, she refused to have a government email address, and conducted all her work via a personal email account
Hillary Rodham Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of state, State Department officials said, and may have violated federal requirements that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record.
Mrs. Clinton did not have a government email address during her four-year tenure at the State Department. Her aides took no actions to have her personal emails preserved on department servers at the time, as required by the Federal Records Act.
This is dumb on many, many levels and there appears to be no excuse for it happening. First off, using a personal email as Secretary of State seems like a massive privacy and security risk. While one hopes that there was at least some attempt to better secure her personal account by government security experts, it's still almost certainly less secure. Given how much sensitive information the Secretary of State has to deal with, it seems inexcusable that she was allowed to conduct official business via her personal account. That to me seems like an even bigger deal than the part that everyone else is focused on: the failure to preserve her emails as required by law.
Of course, the failure to preserve the emails is a big deal as well. But here's the really stunning thing: there is simply no way that Clinton and others in the administration didn't know that she was supposed to be using a government email address and preserving those emails. That's because both the previous administration and others in her own administration got in trouble for using personal email addresses. As Vox notes
, towards the end of the Bush administration there was a similar scandal involving a variety of high level administration members using personal email
to conduct government business and to avoid transparency requirements
That scandal unfolded well into the final year of Bush's presidency, then overlapped with another email secrecy scandal, over official emails that got improperly logged and then deleted, which itself dragged well into Obama's first year in office. There is simply no way that, when Clinton decided to use her personal email address as Secretary of State, she was unaware of the national scandal that Bush officials had created by doing the same.
That she decided to use her personal address anyway showed a stunning disregard for governmental transparency requirements. Indeed, Clinton did not even bother with the empty gesture of using her official address for more formal business, as Bush officials did.
But that's not all. What the Vox report doesn't note is that the scandal actually carried over to the Obama administration also, as the White House's first Deputy CTO was reprimanded
for using his personal email address as well, early in 2010. So there was both a scandal about the similar use of private email accounts in the previous administration and in the Obama administration. It's impossible to believe that Clinton or the other key people who worked for her in the State Department were unaware of one or both of these issues while she was using her personal email address.
While the White House's email system may be clunky and annoying to use (as I've heard repeatedly), there's simply no excuse for Clinton not to have used it at all -- and for the emails she did send not to be preserved as required under the law. A few years ago, we mocked Homeland Security boss Janet Napolitano for refusing to use email
entirely -- though at least she was upfront about the reason. She didn't want to be held accountable for what she said -- though, the reality was she would still have staff members send emails for her
. Clinton appears to have wanted to be free of that accountability as well, but to still have the benefits of direct electronic communication herself. In short, she purposely ignored the law for her own benefit.