If the members of the GOP presidential primary field had any sense, they would get together and announce that they are, as a group, retiring to a Tibetan monastery for two weeks of silent contemplation. Because right now, every headline chronicling Donald Trump’s immigration obsession, or highlighting squabbles between sitting governors about who hates Obamacare the most, distracts from the story that any sensible Republican wants front and center for as long as it lasts: Hillary Clinton’s email scandal.
The former secretary of state has been bombarded in recent days by a string of embarrassing revelations about the private email server that she used for all her correspondence while serving as the nation’s chief diplomat between 2009 and 2013.
Clinton insists that her staff turned over all of the emails relevant to her position as secretary of state before having the remainder scrubbed. Clinton had been dogged by calls to turn the server over to a third party – a request she finally complied with after the inspector general for the intelligence committee determined that a high percentage of a sample of emails its investigators examined contained classified material.
Clinton has adamantly denied that she used the system to send or receive materials that were classified “at the time” of transmission. But subsequent examination of the emails that she turned over has resulted in increased expressions of concern from the intelligence community. On Monday, it was announced that an additional 305 emails were being examined to see if they contained sensitive material.
On Tuesday, NBC News reported that officials in the Federal Bureau of Investigation said they were “optimistic” that they would be able to recover data on the Clinton server despite the fact that technicians had made an effort to “wipe” the machine’s memory, presumably at Clinton’s behest.
Even if everything Hillary Clinton has insisted about her use of a private email server is absolutely true, Republicans interested in weakening the Democratic frontrunner ought to be stepping back and letting the story dominate as many news cycles as it can. In that way, it goes to the heart of Clinton’s greatest vulnerability: People don’t trust her, and on the email issue, her argument boils down to “Just trust me.”
Clinton claims that she had staff identify all emails related to the State Department and that those emails were turned over. Those that were personal in nature were erased. She claims that in doing so, she fulfilled all her obligations with regard to the Federal Records Act.
She has a credible argument insofar as federal rules require public officials to determine which of their emails constitute public records and must be preserved. However, in most cases, those decisions are made with the knowledge that government-controlled email servers exist as a backup. Clinton’s decision to use a private server eliminated that failsafe.
In a news conference Tuesday afternoon, when a reporter asked, specifically, whether she had “wiped” the server, Clinton demonstrated exactly why Republicans ought to let this issue take center stage for as long as possible.
“Did you wipe the server?” she was asked.
“What, like, with a cloth or something?” she joked.
Clinton went on to claim that she had no understanding of the technical details of erasing electronic data and refused to say whether or not she had ordered staff to erase its memory.
“We have turned over the server,” she said. “They can do whatever they want with the server to figure out what’s there and what’s not there. That’s for the people investigating it to try to figure out.”
She described the decision to hand over the server as an act of extraordinary cooperation with investigators, but that doesn’t hold a lot of water when her next statement sounded like a challenge to investigators to find something incriminating.
The best thing any Republican running for president could do right now is to just shut up and let this play out.