FBI Director James Comey's brief letter to eight Congressional committee chairpersons updating them that the FBI would investigate further emails from Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton found on the computer of her aide's husband, Anthony Weiner, has shifted the Presidential polls. FBI director James Comey feared "being misunderstood," but surely he knew that Mr. Trump and partisan media would swing into full conspiracy theory combat. From a short note that the FBI would look at more emails, Mr. Trump declared this was an event "bigger than Watergate" and Republican politicians warned of a "constitutional crisis." Let's put her use of a private email server in perspective amidst the spin.
I. Normalcy of Personal/Unclassified Server Use by Government Officials
Government workers routinely use private email regarding their personal communications, including the Republican-designated Director of the CIA. Government officials, even when using government servers for work, have been commonly found to send classified information over unclassified servers. Many agencies routinely fail to retain email records, which is often due to lack of sufficient funding to construct adequate networks and servers.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell not only used a personal email server similarly to Secretary Clinton, but he even advised her to do the same. Powell "told Clinton his use of personal email 'vastly improved' communications within the department, which at the time did not have an equivalent internal system." Condoleezza Rice's aides appear to have received classified information through a private server. A 2016 Office of Inspector General Evaluation of Email Records Management and Cybersecurity Requirements concluded: "Longstanding, systemic weaknesses related to electronic records and communications have existed within the Office of the Secretary that go well beyond the tenure of any one Secretary of State." Hillary Clinton inherited this situation as Secretary of State. She did not cause it. It appears, in fact, that "John F. Kerry is the first secretary of state to rely on a government e-mail account."
II. Hypocrisy regarding Bush Administration Email Practices
Although Trump's surrogates howl of a constitutional crisis because Hillary used a private server for 30 thousand lost emails that were allegedly private, they remain silent about the 22 million emails lost during the Bush Administration, including over clearly illegal actions, such as the authorization of torture, black sites for holding prisoners, and manipulating evidence to go to war, following which the Bush administration refused to cooperate and hand over emails while in power. Republican operator Karl Rove used a private, Republican National Committee-hosted server for official business while he was in the White House. Evidence from an investigation connected to a subpoena suggested that Rove fired U.S. Attorney David Iglesias for refusing to pursue cases against Democrats. One can only imagine what would happen if Donald Trump were President. Yet conservative media attack Hillary Clinton merely for using private emails with no evidence regarding abuse of power.
The alleged crime of Hillary Clinton is that an officer knowingly removes documents or materials containing classified information with the intent to retain such information at an unauthorized location (18 U.S.C. § 1924). But there is no evidence that such occurred and extremely unlikely that it will emerge.
III. Retaining Perspective
The Trump campaign's strategy has been to create public doubt regarding illegality, hoping that if they repeat "email scandal" stridently enough, the scandal will become real in Americans' minds. They can then draw attention from candidate Trump's actual behavior, from his taped recordings of grabbing women by the "p*ssy," to fifteen women going on record that he sexually assaulted them, to his calling on a foreign power (Russia) to hack into a former Secretary of State's email (which seems treasonous), to his refusal to release his tax returns which could show illegality, to his threats of violence and thin-veiled calls for assassinating his opponent, to his threats against media freedom, to his threat not to concede if he loses the election.
The Trump campaign aims to sew confusion so as to cause enough Americans to lose perspective on Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server in government. Unlike Mr. Trump's spinning of the "birther" and "Muslim" conspiracy myths against President Obama, this time, his cynicism might win. It will unless enough Americans pause amidst the spin of hyperbolic innuendo to gain perspective. Mr. Trump's endless scandals don't involve innuendo; they involve his own words and conduct.
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