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Eric Fehrnstrom

Are Clinton’s memory lapses a health issue, or just dishonest dodging?

Hillary Clinton spoke at a rally in Tampa on Tuesday. Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

The stories about Hillary Clinton’s failing health at first glance seemed like more vapors from the gaseous swamp of this year’s toxic presidential race. The coughing fits, a photo showing her being assisted in walking up a set of stairs, taking off weekends from the campaign trail, it all seemed like just another political chew toy for conservative websites to gnaw on, but which had little practical meaning for most voters.

“Can we just stop talking about Hillary Clinton’s health now?” The Washington Post plaintively asked in a recent headline.

But new documents from the e-mail scandal that continues to shadow her campaign cast serious doubt on her understanding of national security risks and possibly her underlying health.

According to recently released notes summarizing Clinton’s interview with the FBI, known as a 302 report, Clinton couldn’t recall something more than three dozen times. On her inability to remember security briefings upon leaving office, she blamed the concussion she suffered in 2012, which led to a blood clot in her brain.

“Clinton stated she received no instructions or direction regarding the preservation or production of records from (the) State (Department) during the transition out of her role as secretary of state in 2013. However, in December of 2012, Clinton suffered a concussion and then around the New Year had a blood clot. Based on her doctor’s advice, she could only work at State for a few hours a day and could not recall every briefing she received,” the report said.

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Among other details Clinton couldn’t remember: training on how to handle classified information, whether she used her power to classify information, receiving e-mails that didn’t belong on her unsecure private server, the process for nominating a target for a drone strike, which aides had access to her e-mail and whether she received any public record requests for her e-mail.

She also claimed to be unfamiliar with the basic markings on classified material, not knowing that “(C)” at the beginning of a paragraph stood for confidential information. She thought it expressed some kind of alphabetical ordering, even though there was no (A) or (B) to indicate a consecutive sequence.

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Clinton’s FBI interview evokes former president Ronald Reagan’s hazy recollection of events in the 1990 Iran-Contra trial of his national security adviser, John Poindexter, for obstruction of justice and lying to Congress.

In videotaped testimony, Reagan revealed alarming gaps in his knowledge of the people and events surrounding the arms-for-hostages deal. Under questioning, Reagan said “I don’t recall” or “I can’t remember” 88 times. He couldn’t even remember the name of his Joint Chiefs chairman, General John Vessey Jr.

“Oh dear, the name I know is very familiar,” Reagan said. “I don’t think this was my military aide.”

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It would take another four years, until 1994, for Reagan to be formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Many people believe he was showing early signs during that deposition.

Even before the latest revelations, President Obama’s former physician, Dr. David Scheiner, told CNN that the public letter from Clinton’s doctor attesting to her health is not enough.

“I think she should have had a neurological examination, a thorough neurological examination, in 2016,” he said. “We know what happens to football players who have had concussions, how they begin to lose some of their cognitive ability.”

No one is suggesting that Clinton has Alzheimer’s. But she is the one who linked her memory lapses to a concussion. Does her forgetfulness raise the question of a real health issue? Or is it just more of the dishonest dodging we’ve come to expect from Clinton?


Either way, it doesn’t look good.

Eric Fehrnstrom is a Republican political analyst and media strategist, and was a senior adviser to Governor Mitt Romney