While serving as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton used personal e-mail for official business, violating State Department rules and jeopardizing the security of sensitive information. A new report from the State Department’s inspector general says she really shouldn’t have done that.
What is more, the report suggests that Clinton and her staff were generally aware of these concerns, but flouted them anyway in the name of privacy and convenience.
Given that the basic contours of this Clinton e-mail scandal have been widely known for months, today’s report is unlikely to shake up the presidential race.
Still, it drains attention from the positive messages Clinton would prefer to hit on the campaign trail and stokes voters already-pressing concerns about Clinton’s trustworthiness.
What exactly did Clinton do?
Rather than use the State Department’s existing e-mail system, then-Secretary Clinton decided to set up a personal server in her New York home, which she used to communicate with staff, diplomats, and others.
Her precise motivation is unclear, but maintaining a personal e-mail server would have allowed her to work around the inflexible technology available at the State Department, which one former director of policy planning called “so antiquated that NO ONE uses a State-issued laptop and even high officials routinely end up using their home e-mail accounts to be able to get their work done quickly and effectively.”
At the same time, maintaining a home server also allowed Clinton to keep her e-mail records out of the normal flow of document-management, partially insulating them from requests made under the Freedom of Information Act.
Did Clinton knowingly violate department rules?
The inspector general’s report strongly suggests that the Clinton team was aware of the basic e-mail rules.
As a matter of bureaucratic course, Clinton and her staff would have received a variety of memos laying out the strict requirements for e-mail record-keeping and secure Internet usage. In fact, Clinton’s own files contained notes from a cybersecurity briefing on the subject.
Then too, the report summarizes several instances where Clinton staffers actively discussed moving to a more official but still workable e-mail setup for the secretary. Change never happened, but the very fact that it was being discussed suggests a recognition that something needed to be done.
Was Clinton the only secretary of state to use a personal e-mail?
No. In the early years of the second Bush administration, Colin Powell had his own e-mail workaround, and seems not to have kept good records.
But the rules were a lot less austere during Powell’s tenure, and the inspector general argues that this makes a big difference. It’s a mistake to try and exculpate Clinton by pointing to Powell, because she had better reason to know that her use of personal e-mail was contrary to accepted state department practice.
Will this report hurt Clinton?
Most of the issues highlighted in the inspector general’s report are already well known, having first been exposed over a year ago. In fact, it was back in October that Bernie Sanders opined that “Americans are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails.” At the very least, though, the inspector general’s report makes it harder for Clinton to shake off this long-simmering scandal — or break from her reputation as untrustworthy, already a major liability with voters.
Plus, there is still one shoe left to drop.
Shortly after her private e-mail server became public knowledge, Clinton handed over tens of thousands of those e-mails. And that has sparked an FBI investigation about whether Clinton ever knowingly sent classified through her personal account — which would be a serious violation.
For now, it’s not clear when that FBI inquiry will be completed, but if it arrives in the fall, it could finally vindicate Clinton — or doom her hopes for the presidency.
More from Evan Horowitz:
Evan Horowitz digs through data to find information that illuminates the policy issues facing Massachusetts and the U.S. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHorowitz