It’s become far too fashionable, over the decades since disgraced president Richard Nixon’s resignation, to tack the suffix “-gate” onto political scandals. The usage no longer conveys much useful information. In most cases, it’s mere cliche.
Not so when it comes to the revelation that, as US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton essentially privatized her work email. This is definitely Watergate-level stuff.
Clinton’s actions went far beyond those of Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin, who as governors got caught conducting some official business over personal web mail accounts. Clinton ran all of her office email through her own private server, registered under a fake name and physically located in her New York home.
It wasn’t the Watergate break-in per se that cost Nixon his presidency. It was his attempt to cover up his own role afterward, by erasing taped conversations, that got articles of impeachment moving through Congress.
Those articles were drawn up by the House Judiciary Committee, with advice from a legal team including among its members young Yale Law School graduate Hillary Rodham. Two years later, Ms. Rodham married Yale classmate Bill Clinton.
Hillary Clinton knew better.
She knew the Federal Records Act required preservation of her official emails on State Department Servers. Neither she nor her staff took steps to comply with that law during her time in office.
She knew that absent such preservation, her official emails would fly under the radar of Freedom of Information Act requests. That was probably one of two reasons why she did what she did.
The other likely reason was that she knew her conduct as Secretary of State could, at some point, come under legal scrutiny and wanted to maintain control of her emails to frustrate such scrutiny. Just like Richard Nixon with his tapes.
After she left office, the State Department requested copies of her official emails. It received only those her aides, as directed by her, decided to turn over.
On March 4, the US House Select Committee on Benghazi, which is investigating the 2012 attack on an American diplomatic compound in Libya, subpoenaed Clinton’s emails relating to that attack.
Will the investigators get those emails without a fight? Will they get all the relevant emails, or just those convenient to Hillary Clinton’s version of events? And most importantly, how will they know whether or not they got everything?
As a libertarian, I oppose letting political officials keep secrets at all. It’s just too dangerous. It threatens our freedom. Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden are heroes of mine for exposing the illegal and immoral activities of politicians and bureaucrats.
But one need not share my radical opposition to government secrecy to understand that Clinton’s actions go beyond the pale. She didn’t just keep government secrets. She took drastic measures to keep those secrets under her personal control, immune to discovery even by the very government she served.
This kind of behavior cost Nixon his presidency. It should cost Clinton her shot at the White House.
Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.