By Jonathan Tobin
Hillary Clinton may have thought she was defusing the controversy over her exclusive use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state by admitting that it would have been “smarter” for her not to have done it at her United Nations press conference today. But even if you are prepared to accept her excuse that this decision was based on a desire for greater “convenience,” the notion that the nation should simply accept that the process by which she decided which emails could be handed over to the government and which could be deleted amounted to simply telling the country that they were obligated to trust her. Perhaps her many fans will accept that, as will Democrats who feel they have no choice but to sink or swim with their putative nominee for president in 2016. But the resentful tone of her comments during the presser and her adamant refusal to consider any effort to provide some transparency for her private home email server will only fuel more cynicism about her poor judgment. This may be all she has to say about it now, but this story isn’t going away.
Clinton’s attitude was clear. She expected us to simply take her word for it that there was nothing wrong with using a private home email server to conduct government business. That gave her the ability to hold back or delete any work communications that she deemed unflattering, inconvenient or, even worse, indicative of her involvement in her husband’s fundraising abroad for their family foundation.
Though she claimed that she subsequently turned over any email that could “possibly” be work related, the decisions were not made by a third party or even a government official but by her and her faithful staff with no accountability.
When pressed about this practice, she disingenuously claimed that her conduct was no different from that of any government employee who must make a decision about which records are work-related and which are private. But other government employees don’t work exclusively on a private email with a server located in their home.
When asked about the dismissal of an ambassador for offenses that seem suspiciously similar to her own practices, she dismissed it without further explanation. She was never asked about her blistering 2007 denunciations of Bush administration figures for using private emails even though none of them did so exclusively or operated out of a home server to which the government had no access.
But the main takeaway from the press conference wasn’t so much her absolute refusal to allow any neutral party to examine that server or to explain why she provided the emails in printouts rather than electronic form to the State Department to make it harder for them to be examined. Nor is the excuse of “convenience” or even her minor admission of error the real story here.
Rather, it was the barely concealed disdain with which Clinton faced questions about her behavior and the contemptuous demand to be blindly trusted that will be most remembered. Clinton clearly thinks it is beneath her dignity to be held accountable for violating government rules and a practice that runs counter to basic security protocols.
But what Clinton doesn’t understand about what is happening is that while her secretive behavior might have been tolerated while she was married to a serving president or even serving as secretary of state, it won’t wash when you’re running for president.
Instead of simply saying she was wrong and turning over the server to the government archives for it to revisit her decisions, Clinton thinks it is enough to say that her good intentions are enough of a defense for her behavior. Pervading her remarks was a sense of entitlement and impatience with those who don’t take her conduct at face value that is incompatible with the transparency that is expected of prospective presidents. Though she never said the words aloud, it was difficult not to believe that Clinton thought having to fend off 20 minutes of questions about her emails was yet another manifestation of the mythical “vast, right-wing conspiracy” that she still seems to believe is the only reason why Americans don’t trust her or her husband.
Though she answered questions, her lack of good answers and arrogant confidence that she should be trusted were enough to silence the matter seemed more in keeping with the stance of a dowager queen than a presidential hopeful. As long as Elizabeth Warren stays on the sidelines, Democrats may have no viable alternative to Clinton. But even Clinton loyalists watching this performance must now be thinking that she lacks the political instincts required for a successful presidential candidate.