How Hillary Clinton can defeat herself
If Hillary Clinton didn’t do anything wrong, why is she so reluctant to talk about it?
It is hard to call her barely legal use of her personal account to conduct government business a “scandal,” since she so resolutely refuses to sound scandalized by it.
Yet even supporters of her expected presidential bid must ask themselves: How would they feel if Dick Cheney, as vice president, mixed his government and personal emails in a personal account on a personal at-home Internet server?
How would they feel if he told us that he deleted 30,000 of those emails and responded “trust me” to question about whether none had to do with the public’s business?
Worse, if Clinton has nothing to hide or even feel embarrassed about, why did she avoid facing reporters about the bubbling “Emailgate” or “Servergate,” as some called it, for more than a week?
Why did she not come forward until two days after Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and leader on national security issues, admonished her on “Meet the Press” to “step up and come out and state exactly what the situation is. … I think, at this point, from this point on, the silence is going to hurt her.”
One would think so. Yet her remarkably glib and casual responses to questions about her email destruction (“I didn’t see any reason to keep them”) and her justification for mingling public and private emails (“convenience”) recall some of her ugliest past episodes, just as she appears poised to throw her bonnet into the ring as a presidential candidate.
There were the billing records from her law firm about the Whitewater land deal that could not be found during that investigation, yet miraculously turned up in the White House two years after they were subpoenaed.
There was her reluctance to release even the names of her consultants during her failed effort to enact health care reform.
Servergate itself resulted from disclosures uncovered by the Republican-backed House investigation of the attack on an American compound in Benghazi, Libya. Thanks to Clinton’s suspicious behavior, the overblown Benghazi investigation has taken on a glimmer of new life, even if only in Republican eyes.
But does she care? Her persistent tendency to resist and refuse oversight and transparency until the last subpoena is issued shows tone deafness to public suspicions. Yet her penchant for hardball fits with remarkable ease in the uncivil atmosphere of polarized Washington — an incivility that surged memorably with Republican attacks on her husband’s presidency.
Today we have President Barack Obama dodging Republican obstructionism with unilateral executive actions to redefine immigrant residency status and negotiate arms control agreements without congressional approval.
In response, we have 47 senators signing a letter to Iran’s leaders that undercuts President Barack Obama’s ability to sign a nuclear arms control deal with Iran without Senate approval. So much for the old American adage about politics ending at the water’s edge.
Onto this political landscape comes the prospective candidacy of Hillary Clinton, who appears to have learned one of the most cynical political lessons from her days as a member of the House Judiciary Committee staff that investigated Richard Nixon’s Watergate abuses: Don’t leave a paper trail.
These days, the paper trail is digital. Emails can be easily contained, managed and deleted if you happen to own your own server, which Clinton just happens to own.
This story’s not going away. The very notion of leaving the documents on Clinton’s private email account and private server up to Clinton has given new life to Rep. Trey Gowdy’s House select committee on the Benghazi raid.
“One thing that’s clear,” said Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican, “is that we don’t get to grade our own papers in life.”
But Clinton thinks she does. She insists that she can be trusted to let us, the public, know what she thinks we should know. Even if she turns out to be correct on the law, her blindness to appearances of impropriety makes her sound like her own worst enemy.
Perhaps her sense of inevitability stems from expectations that her Republican rivals will self-destruct. She may be right. But self-destruction isn’t limited to one party.
Clarence Page writes for The Washington Post.