The Great Email Melodrama

Whether you consider it Emailgate or merely “those damn emails,” the Hillary Clinton private server scandal has ended not with a bang but a whimper. It was laid to rest by FBI Director James Comey, though with some heavy-duty shaming along the way. Director Comey also is a former George W. Bush administration official whose fairness will be questioned only by those gullible enough to believe Santa Claus is secretly a member of the Illuminati.

Comey’s conclusion that “no reasonable prosecutor” would pursue criminal charges under these circumstances was as great a relief to the Clinton camp as it was a disappointment to Trump’s team (and, yes, to many in Bernie World). The FBI director’s findings were the equivalent of the difference between a Texan driving drunk versus texting while driving. Both are stupid and dangerous, but the former is always illegal; texting generally is prosecuted only after a crash.

As Comey intimated, the level of carelessness shown might get a federal employee disciplined or fired, or her security clearance yanked (which can in turn mean being fired), but not put in jail. Donald Trump frequently has — and will again — cite the situation of former CIA Director David Petraeus as someone treated more harshly than Hillary. Petraeus pleaded guilty to misdemeanor removal and retention of classified information, serving probation rather than jail time and paying a $100,000 fine.

The difference is this: Hillary and her staff were careless with classified information. They did the equivalent of leaving it sitting on a car seat while in the grocery store. Petraeus arguably traded sex for classified information — turning over notebooks of secret material to his mistress for her use in writing his biography. As with the Petraeus situation, there is no proof that classified information from Hillary’s emails with her staff reached our enemies, but Hillary’s situation did not open her to the risk of blackmail.

Though in other respects irrational, why Petraeus would break the law to help his mistress/biographer is not difficult to discern. Figuring out what Hillary was thinking would require many more layers of psychoanalysis. Was she so scarred from her husband’s scandals and the resulting scrutiny that she put perceived privacy above security? Or so technically illiterate (as some of her staff suggested) that she did not comprehend the significance of her actions? Her repeated claims about not sending material “marked as classified” is lawyerese at its worst.

Whatever the root cause, Clinton needs to figure it out, identify it to the voters and explain how the same character flaw will not cause more trouble in the future. The FBI’s findings must lead her to include more in her inner circle who are willing to challenge and question her decisions. As many people as knew of the private email server situation, surely at least one must have questioned it —but apparently not loudly enough or with enough pull to get her attention. I nominate Elizabeth Warren to play the not-easily-silenced-devil’s-advocate (and VP) role for Clinton.

A 2007 scandal over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys led to the discovery that presidential adviser Karl Rove and others used a private server for government business, with millions of emails having been “disappeared.” No jail time there either. So this is not the first chapter in the email scandal book, but please, dear leaders, let it be the last. As if we needed a final touch of irony for this Shakespearean-quality drama, Obama last week signed a law strengthening the Freedom of Information Act.

This originally appeared in the July 6, 2016 Waco Tribune-Herald.

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