Saturday, April 21 , 2018, 8:56 am | Fair 56º


Susan Estrich: Hillary Clinton and Her Server Strike a Nerve for Critics

It’s always nice to know, as I sit here writing, that somebody out there might be listening. This week, I know for sure. My last column essentially asked: What’s the big deal about Hillary Clinton’s emails if she’s turning them over anyway?

Thanks to everyone who wrote to make it clear just what a big deal this is for them.

And then, in classic Clinton damage-control mode, Hillary herself held a news conference at the United Nations on Tuesday to try to answer the critics. 

In this case, however, rather than putting out the fire, I fear the Clinton Machine may be fueling it.

Clinton acknowledged that using two email addresses — one for official government business and one for private matters — “might have been smarter.” For sure. But the Clinton office has refused to turn over the server itself (where the emails and the forensic evidence as to when they were written and where they were sent, etc., are stored), giving Republicans (and my new pen pals) reason to scream bloody murder.

One of the first things I tell my clients is to be careful about emails. People write in emails things they would never actually write down on paper. They speak in shorthand that may make sense at the time, but sounds pretty bad when read later. They are full of boasting and criticism and loose language. And of course, the first thing the government asks for when it investigates the company or its executives are the emails.

In the corporate world, it’s common to convict an individual or company based not on evidence the government has collected independently, not on secret witnesses or ex-employees, but solely on their own emails.

No one is better at damage control than the Clintons, so you have to wonder why they haven’t just handed over everything, hook, line and sinker, all at once, putting out the fire with the sheer weight of the documents. I have no inside information, but my guess is that there’s no smoking gun on any of the servers, that there is no smoking gun at all, and this is a controversy that centers on talking points for the Sunday talk shows — but some of the back and forth correspondence probably would have been better communicated by telephone.

My guess is there’s nothing in there about the Clinton marriage or her political ambitions that we don’t already know — good and bad. So why not turn it all over? 

By not handing over the server, Clinton has invited just the sort of speculation she doesn’t need. Instead of putting the story to bed, as we say, she has given it new legs.

According to Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., “This is truly about getting the facts out for these poor families and the American people.”

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who chairs the Benghazi investigative committee in the House of Representatives, used the failure to produce the server as a justification for further investigation.

“Without access to Secretary Clinton’s personal server, there is no way for the State Department to know it has acquired all documents that should be made public,” he said, adding that there remain “serious questions about the security of the system she employed from a national security standpoint” — although it appears that it was at least safe from Edward Snowden, which is more than can be said for the official servers.

But Gowdy also now has an excuse to call Clinton to testify again — and to do so without looking like a partisan bully.

It’s unlikely any of this will end up having a bearing on the 2016 race. Absent a smoking gun, we tend to have short attention spans. Clinton will get by this.

But privacy is something you don’t get if you’re running for president, as the Clintons know better than anyone, and Hillary Clinton’s desire to preserve hers is just not going to work in the current climate.

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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