Writing for the Washington Post’s Plum Line blog, Paul Waldman perfectly captures my feeling about the current state of the Hillary Clinton email-server story and the news media’s role in keeping it going when there’s nothing new. He wrote: “the story is a story because it’s a story, and therefore we need to keep talking about it because it’s a story.”
It’s easy enough to assume now, and Clinton would surely agree, that it would have been better if she had used a government server for her work-related emails when she was secretary of state.
But how big a mistake was it to set up her own server and use that? Was any damage done to national security as a result and, if so, how serious and how disqualifying is it to her presidential ambitions?
The FBI is investigating the matter. I have yet to read or hear that serious damage to national security has been found in the sense that sensitive information reached improper parties who made use of the information to inflict damage on the United States. That would be the big enchilada, or does one mean the full Monty?
On the other hand, some material on the server has been described as sensitive and deserving of a secret classification. We don’t know much yet what it was about and we have no evidence yet that anyone who shouldn’t have seen the material saw the material. Clinton continues to repeat, fairly ritually, that she neither received nor sent any information in an email on her server that was classified secret at the time she received or sent it and she says that the FBI agrees with this statement. (It’s not clear to me that the FBI has publicly confirmed that this is what they have concluded.)
If the investigation finds that U.S. national security was damaged by Clinton’s fairly inexplicable server decisions, we will be able to decide as voters how to take that into account in assessing her as a presidential candidate.
Here’s a slice of what Waldman wrote, after a Clinton press conference, about the media’s questions on the matter at a recent event:
“A reporter asked Clinton at that press conference: ‘Is this an indication that this issue isn’t going to go away for the remainder of your campaign?’ It was an all too familiar meta-inquiry, not about the substance of the issue (though there were questions about that too) but about the questions the reporters themselves are asking, and whether the candidate thinks reporters are going to keep asking them. Unfortunately, candidates get questions like that all the time. How will this controversy affect your campaign? Why aren’t these questions going away? Doesn’t this issue suggest that this is an issue? It’s as if the reporter decides that asking about the substance isn’t getting anywhere, so they might as well treat the candidate like a panelist on The McLaughlin Group. And the candidate never says anything remotely interesting or informative in response.”
It gets more circular. If you are curious, the reporter who asked Clinton whether reporters were going to keep asking her the question was from NBC, according to coverage of the event by reporter Amy Chozick of The New York Times. Chozick’s piece mostly focuses on the earlier, longer exchange about the emails between Ed Henry of Fox News and Clinton. That exchange is pretty hilarious because Henry wanted Clinton to say whether she personally had “wiped” the server before turning it over, but it becomes clear that neither Henry nor Clinton knows what it actually means to “wipe” a server. (I certainly don’t.)
The NBC reporter who asked Clinton whether “this” (presumably meaning the exchange with Henry) means the issue won’t go away for the duration of the campaign was referring to Henry’s question. Chozick’s piece ends thus:
“But by then a visibly irritated Mrs. Clinton had already made her way toward the door. She threw a wristy wave goodbye to the press corps as she said, ‘Nobody talks to me about it other than you guys.’”
Anyway, Watergate babies like me understand that just because something is being “investigated” within the executive branch doesn’t mean that the investigation will be thorough or even honest. But it’s also true that the Watergate scandal wasn’t unraveled by reporters at press conferences asking President Richard Nixon whether he understood that they were going to keep asking him.
I would also be happy if the journo-gaggle would pester Clinton to take clearer positions on several issues.