Hillary Clinton emails: American politics hasn't seen such paranoia since Richard M Nixon

Three years ago, on Republic Day, Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s trusted aide in the State Department (now a co-chair of her campaign to become President of the United States), sent an email to a colleague: “Have you been going over calls with her for tomorrow?” asked Abedin. “So she knows Singh is at 8?” The Singh referred to in the exchange is then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to whom the then US Secretary of State was scheduled to make a call. The colleague answered Clinton had been in bed for a nap, but would “go over” the matter later. “Very imp to do that,” Abedin responded, adding, “She’s often confused.”

Hillary Clinton. Reuters

Hillary Clinton. Reuters

Clinton had suffered a concussion the previous December, and just five days after these emails, completed her tenure as Secretary of State. She has made her career beyond her stint as First Lady, as a policy wonk, even if many of those stands have proven wonky. More importantly, her state of confusion appears to persist, or at least the ongoing saga of her use of a private email account and server while Secretary, points in that direction.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation or FBI released its version of an interview with her on those pesky emails. The commonest refrain through that document is Clinton “did not recall” many matters that went to the heart of the investigation, like any briefing or training by the State Department related to retention of federal records or “handling of classified information”. The Department’s Office of Inspector General had earlier noted “no evidence” of her seeking approval for using personal email or server despite her “obligation” to do so.

Clinton had repeatedly argued she had turned over all “work-related” emails from her private server; the FBI has since recovered several that had not been previously disclosed. She had also maintained there was no classified information on those emails. The FBI discovered 68 email chains that remain classified; eight were Top Secret. There was more confusion here as Clinton told FBI interrogators that when she saw a C (for Confidential), she “could only speculate it was referencing paragraphs marked in alphabetical order”. Meanwhile, she used as many as 13 devices during the period, but her legal team wasn’t able to locate most of them. In speaking to the FBI, Clinton probably was confronted between choosing to contradict her earlier assertions or appear clueless. She may have opted for the latter.

One celebratory online meme once showed Clinton, in dark glasses, staring at her phone. The legend that ought to accompany that image now should be “delete, delete, delete.” As the The Washington Post commented: “Clinton deleted more emails than she turned over.” It said the “essence of Clinton's argument regarding this email-sorting process was: Trust me.”

Trust, though, is at the core of this case. Clinton appears to want everyone else to believe her but is unable to rely on others. There probably hasn’t been such paranoia in American politics since Richard Nixon was the president of the country.

So, curiously enough, the chief diplomat of a global power claimed to have never discussed any matter of global import by email during her four years heading the State Department. Instead, she apparently relied on receiving classified documents through “diplomatic pouch via courier, secure phone call or secure fax.” All this, of course, during a period when the Middle East was in turmoil, a US Ambassador was killed in Benghazi, and the US Af-Pak policy was going south. No one seems to have been as neurotic about messaging since Osama bin Laden was eliminated in his safe house in Abbottabad.

Clinton can thank the Republican Party for gifting her competition in the form of Trump.

Clinton hasn’t been charged by the FBI, though the agency’s director, while announcing that decision did add, “this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences.” As the announcement came days after the US Attorney General, the FBI’s overall boss, attempted to secretly meet former President Bill Clinton, and after President Barack Obama had already endorsed Hillary Clinton, critics could argue that the system had been gamed.

Clinton can thank the Republican Party for gifting her competition in the form of Trump. Against another nominee, this evidence of brash bad behaviour would have been central to the campaign rather than a filler between Trump firestorms.

Updated Date: Sep 05, 2016 12:50 PM

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