WASHINGTON — The State Department’s inspector general on Wednesday sharply criticized Hillary Clinton’s exclusive use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, saying that she had not sought permission to use it and would not have received it if she had. The report, delivered to members of Congress, undermined some of Mrs. Clinton’s previous statements defending her use of the server and handed her Republican critics, including the party’s presumptive nominee for president, Donald J. Trump, new fodder to attack her just as she closes in on the Democratic nomination.
The inspector general found that Mrs. Clinton “had an obligation to discuss using her personal email account to conduct official business” with department officials but that, contrary to her claims that the department “allowed” the arrangement, there was “no evidence” she had requested or received approval for it. Hillary Clinton should have asked for approval to use a private email address and server for official business. Had she done so, the State Department would have said no. She should have surrendered all of her emails before leaving the administration. Not doing so violated department policies that comply with the Federal Records Act. When her deputy suggested putting her on a State Department account, she expressed concern about her personal emails being exposed. In January 2011, the Clintons' IT consultant temporarily shut down its private server because, he wrote, he believed "someone was trying to hack us." And Clinton's statements on the issue since then have been full of evasions, half-truths, misdirection and apparent lies.
Now I suppose you could make the argument that this is no big deal, that all politicians dissemble to a certain extent. But this feeds into the Republican partisan argument that Clinton is congenitally unethical and simply can't be trusted. It also destroys the larger Democratic narrative that the only people making arguments about Clinton's trustworthiness are evil white male misogynist Republicans who strangle female puppies in their spare time. My take on this is that Clinton didn't think that the rules applied to her. This is no different than what I've seen or experienced in any large organization. The people at the top often feel free to ignore or selectively enforce rules to their own benefit for "good" reasons. There are rules and then there are rules. Some people can float through life serenely ignoring rules and rising in power and authority. Other people break one minor regulation and find themselves in an immediate world of hurt. The problem with this behavior is not just that the rules are being broken. It's that the pattern of winks and nods at rule breaking by the big shots and simultaneous punishment of rule breaking by the plebeians does a tremendous harm to the very concept of good governance. It raises cynicism and anger about political motives and promises. And that cynicism and mistrust is why Trump has done as well as he has so far. Saying that you should have an equal right to do just as much wrong as people of a different sex or race may be an accurate and even logical statement. But it's hardly an inspiring or winning political slogan. Clinton had better get in front of this as soon as possible. It's true that most people do not know or care about all the various laws and regulations concerning public communications. But people do care about someone who thinks she's above the rules. I understand if Clinton had a concern about privacy. I am a privacy nut. But when I sign on to my corporate server the very first thing I am reminded of is that I don't own communications sent over the company network. The company does. And the same thing is true of government employees. Official business should be conducted over government owned servers and in accordance with good security protocols.