Now, as you may recall, I am not a reflexive defender of Clinton on this issue. When the news first broke in March of last year, I was critical of her decision, which was a violation of the Federal Records Act, in no small part because I spent such an enormous amount of time criticizing the Bush administration for multiple violations of the Federal Records Act. This isn't a small thing to me.
That said, one of the crucial differences between Bush-era violations, and Clinton's violation—which became clear as additional information emerged—is that Clinton wasn't fundamentally deviating from practices and habits of former Secretaries of State. While I still believe that Clinton made a mistake here, I'm much less annoyed about it than I was in March 2015.
Which, in case it's not already abundantly clear, isn't because I am a Clinton supporter—since I was then, too—but because I have carefully followed this story, even down to reading her emails, and further information has reshaped my position.
What strikes me the most about this situation is that Clinton occupied the office at a time—and I don't think this time has yet passed—when best practices governing sensitive electronic communications are still emerging.
I agree strongly with Paul Waldman's assessment:
[I]t also appears, from what we know so far, that there weren't really any practical consequences for the country because of her decision — no covert operations compromised, no key national security information delivered to our enemies. And cybersecurity experts will tell you that her emails likely would have been no less vulnerable had they been on the State Department's servers, which are the target of constant hacking attempts.That's a good idea. And, frankly, it strikes me as precisely the sort of thing that I've seen Clinton do before—take a lesson and make improvements based on what she's learned.
So maybe the best thing for Clinton to do now would be to say that this whole episode has brought home to her the need for the federal government to dramatically improve its cybersecurity, and she wants to assemble a blue-ribbon commission of experts to devise a plan to reform the systems across the government, one that she hopes Republicans will join with her to pass through Congress within her first year in office so it can be implemented as soon as possible. At least then some good might come of this controversy.
Waldman also notes, quite rightly, that "Republicans aren't making a big deal out of this because of their deep and abiding concern for cybersecurity. They just want something to hammer Clinton with."
And that's a point I made in March of last year, too: "Because I so keenly remember the yawning indifference, of the media and of average USians, to the Bush administration email scandal, I will note that, if this turns into a massive story for Clinton, a potentially presidential-derailing story, it is not because people give a shit about compliance with the Federal Records Act, unless people have suddenly developed an inexplicable fondness for it in the intervening eight years."
Which is a great shame, really. That Clinton's mistake will lead to, bluntly, the even bigger mistake of ignoring the root security issues in order to turn this entire thing into a political football, with no objective but harming the person who might be keenest to fix it.
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UPDATE: This piece by Charles Tiefer for Forbes is definitely worth a read: "State Department Report on Email Vindicates Clinton Rather Than Nails Her."