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EmailGate and the Unexpected End of Hillary Clinton

Originally published by ANewDomain:

Will the revelation that Hillary Clinton used a personal email account – that, indeed, she never even had a .gov email account – derail her chances of being elected president next year?

Maybe.

How Hillary Messed Up

Under the Federal Records Act of 1950, which has been amended several times, “all government employees and contractors are required by law to make and preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency.”

During his first full day as president in January 2009, President Obama directed federal agencies to preserve all emails relating to government business so that agencies could add them to paper and other non-digital records requested as part of Freedom of Information Act requests, subpoenaed by judges for judicial reasons, and for eventual transfer to the National Archives for study by historians.

Clinton served as Secretary of State between 2009 and 2013. So clearly her emails fell under the purview of the law.

It is difficult to imagine that, as a high-level politician and recent presidential candidate, Clinton was unaware of this requirement.

In 2007, the scandal over the Bush administration’s dismissal of eight US attorneys centered around precisely the same issue: the destruction of up to 5 million emails authored by Bush Administration and Republican Party officials, which were either lost or intentionally deleted because they weren’t sent using government email accounts.

Upon taking charge of the State Department, Clinton made the same exact move as the Bush people caught up in the US attorney scandal two years before.

end-of-hillary-clinton-ted-rall-chatham-wikimedia-commonsWhereas Bush and Republican party operatives created a private domain, gwb43.com, in order to keep prying Democratic and journalist eyes out of their correspondence, Clinton’s staff registered the domain that she used, clintonemail.com, on January 13, 2009. That was one week before Obama’s inauguration, on the day of her confirmation hearings.

Millions of Americans go to work at new jobs where, as part of the standard human resources package, they receive a new company email account. This happens at countless federal, state, and city government agencies as well.

For some reason, however, Hillary Clinton not only never used her state.gov email address – she was never issued one.

Today the New York Times is reporting that:

… an examination of records requests sent to the department reveals how the practice protected a significant amount of her correspondence from the eyes of investigators and the public. Mrs. Clinton’s exclusive use of personal email for her government business is unusual for a high-level official, archive experts have said. Federal regulations, since 2009, have required that all emails be preserved as part of an agency’s record-keeping system area in Mrs. Clinton’s case, her emails were kept on her personal account and her staff took no steps to have been preserved as part of State Department record.”

In effect, she has erased a significant portion of the history of the foreign policy of the United States of America.

As a result, reports the Times, “political groups and news organizations said that requests for records related to Mrs. Clinton have repeatedly gone unanswered.”

Hillary’s Defenders’ Talking Points

Clinton surrogates took to relatively friendly airwaves on MSNBC and elsewhere yesterday to try to deflect accusations that range from the generally unpleasant – she is sneaky, has something to hide, and/or thinks that she is not subject to the same laws as other Americans – to the downright conspiratorial – somewhere in those deleted private emails is the smoking gun of the 2012 attack on the US consulate at Benghazi, Libya.

Talking Point 1: Clinton did provide more than 55,000 pages of emails in response to congressional and Freedom of Information Act requests.

My take: not terribly convincing.

Though an impressive number, most Americans will think about it a second before realizing that they themselves generate thousands, if not tens of thousands of electronic communications per year, and that a high-powered Secretary of State like Hillary Clinton is no doubt responsible for many more times than that. The question isn’t how many emails she has turned over, the question is, where are the rest of them?

Talking Point 2: She cc-ed her staffers on many of the emails, and those staffers had government email accounts whose records were preserved.

My take: totally unconvincing.

At best, this looks like sloppy disregard for the historical record and the letter of the law, not to mention the understanding that she is a public servant who works for the public, and that the public has the right to know what she was up to during her tenure in office. At worst, it comes off as a disingenuous ploy to cherry pick what she reveals and what she chooses to hide.

Talking Point 3: Secretary of State Colin Powell, her predecessor under George W. Bush, also used a private email account.

My take: lame, but might be enough to convince some.

Powell served between 2001 and 2005, ancient history in the timeline of technological development. By 2009, even insulated, relatively elderly people like Clinton were routinely using email and were aware of the rules and regulations surrounding it. Besides which, as pointed out earlier, federal regulations changed in 2009.

Talking Point 4: Both the Daily Beast and the Democratic media watchdog Media Matters criticized the New York Times, claiming that the Federal Records Act wasn’t formally amended to include email until Obama signed a change in 2014, which was also when the State Department told its employees to preserve all their emails.

My take: if anything can save Clinton, this is it.

Complicated scandals have trouble gaining traction with a distracted citizenry. It’s hard to take on a politician with something like Iran-Contra, which involved money laundering and the Sultan of Brunei. Breaking into Democratic Party headquarters and lying about it, on the other hand, was something that the American people could understand. If Clinton’s defenders managed to muddy the waters by turning this into an arcane debate over the difference between a federal regulation and a federal law, and what qualifies as notification, people may soon get bored and turn to something else.

What Happens Next Year

It is beyond difficult to imagine that the Democratic Party will consider an alternative to Hillary Clinton as its 2016 presidential nominee. At this late date, it would be close to impossible for a rival – currently, no serious contender has presented himself or herself – to raise the money and builds the brand awareness necessary to go against the Republicans in the general election in the fall. So unless this turns really worse really fast, she probably doesn’t have to worry about a fellow Democrat.

One caveat: the real shocker here is that someone with so much political experience, especially fending off political attacks directed at her and her husband, allowed herself to play fast and loose with even the appearance of an ethical or legal breach.

As political experts say, this betrays a surprising lack of discipline. That’s the part that is shocking the establishment. In other words, if this could happen, what else might occur between now and the end of the year?

Assuming that Clinton weathers the storm, the real implications here are for her fall 2016 challenge from the Republican nominee, whoever that is.

Clinton will already be carrying the burden that is also her great advantage: her surname. Presidential elections are always about looking forward; electing another Clinton would be about restoring the past. Further complicating the challenge for her and her political team is that, as a Democrat, making the small-c conservative case for her – be afraid of the Republican, I won’t be as bad – doesn’t come naturally to the party’s liberal base voters.

And those liberals aren’t excited about her in the first place, due to her pro-Republican votes on free trade and the Iraq war, among other things.

The big trouble for Hillary is that Emailgate feeds into an existing negative narrative: that she feels entitled, that she is sleazy, that she is hiding something, that this is about her and not about us, that she is above the rules. Forget Benghazi: this is serious scandal gold for the Republicans.

If I Were Hillary

If I were advising Clinton, I would get ahead of this.

Even if she’s right – that no one told her, and she had no idea that, she was supposed to preserve her emails – she shouldn’t say so. What she should do is issue a semi-apology: “Honestly, I’m not really sure whether I was supposed to save all those emails or not. My top priority was security; I didn’t want hackers to get into national security secrets. But the main point is, public records belong to the public and need to be preserved whether they exist in analog or digital form. I will work with my staff and with federal officials to try to find every single email I wrote during my term as Secretary of State, and of course turn them over to the National Archives. I am proud of my record, so of course I have nothing to hide.”

It might not hurt to show a sense of humor that also might shore up her liberal base. Something along the lines of “maybe I’ll ask my friends at the NSA whether they kept any of my stuff.”

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Presidential Politics: All Personality, No Platform

Distributed by Creators Syndicate (click the link to purchase for publication):

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Hillary Clinton has everything she needs to run for president: money, name recognition, staff, organization. Everything except ideas.

The 2016 presidential campaign will begin in earnest in late summer. This hasn’t snuck up on her; she has known this was coming since at least 2008. Yet here she is, six months before the unofficial start of her run, starting to figure out what she’ll do if she wins.

“People close to Mrs. Clinton say she has not yet settled on a specific platform” on the economy, the New York Times notes in a report about a recent series of meetings she held with 200 economists in order to collect their assessments of the economy.

There’s nothing wrong with asking experts for suggestions about how to fix the problems you want to solve. But you should already have a vision for what America and its economy ought to look like. You should be born with your platform – and, if you decide to run, collect advice from your brain trust on a granular level, concerning how to realize your goals.

If you haven’t always known what you would do if you woke up tomorrow morning as president, and whom you would appoint to help you govern, you have no business running.

Unfortunately, the former senator’s lack of ideas isn’t unique. She reflects a disturbing shift in American politics that most people haven’t noticed because it snuck up on us over time: in the past, politicians ran on a slate of ideas. Now they campaign as personalities.

Look at political buttons from a century ago. FDR ran on “prosperity” and “jobs.” They’re vague — but they’re ideas. And when he won, FDR demanded that his ideas become laws within his first 100 days. Reagan declared that it was “morning in America.” What does that mean? It’s been 35 years, he served two terms, I still don’t know. “Yes we can,” Obama promised in 2008. Can what? It worked because your mind fills in the rest, but it says nothing. “Hope.” “Change.” For/to what?

Reading the diaries of Chief of Staff HR Haldeman, I was surprised to learn that the newly-elected Nixon administration – led by this reputedly hardheaded ideological warrior – spent much of its first year, 1969, recuperating from the campaign it had just won, learning how to use the White House phone system and how to liaise with Capitol Hill before finally sitting down to determine what it actually wanted to do domestically and vis-à-vis foreign policy. I realized that, at least dating back to the 1960 race between Nixon and JFK, presidential candidates haven’t gone into it with much of a vision of how they want to change America. Their primary goal is to get the job, to add the gig to their resume, satisfied that their face may someday end up on a stamp or maybe a coin, and that schoolchildren will forever have to memorize their names.

Think back to the first year of every presidency in recent memory. None, even those like Reagan and George W. Bush who eventually oversaw radical policy changes, pushed major legislation right out of the gate – which is surprising given that a president will never have as much political capital as when he first takes the office. Stepping in during the middle of a global economic crisis, Obama never proposed anything on the economic front and handed off his Affordable Care Act to congressional Democrats throughout his first year. Since 2009 Obama has come off like a guy who achieved everything he wanted simply by having been elected. Bush’s first year was derided as aimless and policy-free until 9/11 gave him a sense of purpose. No major policy prescriptions came out of the Clinton White House for much of his first term.

2016 is once again shaping up as a clash of personalities over ideas, a high school student council-style personal popularity contest – “who would you most rather have a beer with?” (or, in Clinton’s case, are you “likeable enough“?) – as opposed to a debate over the direction of the country. Writing in the Washington Examiner, Michael Barron asks: “Can Jeb Bush — or anyone — come up with a platform for primaries, general, and presidency?”

Implicit in this question is the curious fact that none of the likely contenders for the Republican presidential nomination have yet articulated a platform. Even the most ideologically grounded GOP candidate, Rand Paul, finds himself showcased in a New York Times profile as drifting to the so-called “center” of his party – i.e., away from libertarianism. Isn’t it a little late in the game to be drifting?

Instead of dealing with ideas Paul, who made headlines for filibustering against Obama’s drone strikes and aggressively criticizing NSA spying, is said to be facing “questions about his style and temperament.” Never mind what he wants to do. This is about style: “Does someone who can be so impetuous and unapologetic have the finesse and discipline to win over people who are more naturally inclined to vote for someone else?” asks the Times.

They say we get the candidates and the presidents we deserve, but that’s not true. The system is broken, and has been for a long time. What else can you say about politics that isn’t about politics, but primarily if not exclusively about personality?

We may or may not deserve it, but we need better.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Four Bore Years

The Second-Term Curse Belies Obama’s Optimistic Vision

Breaking news: Obama willing to compromise!

Everybody (<—translation: media types) is talking about an interview in which the President makes his case for reelection. A second term, he argues, would end the current gridlock between the Democratic White House and Republican Congress, leading to some sort of grand bargain–or at least a deal–that would improve the crappy economy.

Here’s the money quote:

“What I’m offering the American people is a balanced approach that the majority agrees with, including a lot of Republicans. And for me to be able to say to the Republicans, the election is over; you no longer need to be focused on trying to beat me; what you need to be focused on and what you should have been focused on from the start is how do we advance the American economy. I’m prepared to make a whole range of compromises, some of which I get criticized from the Democratic Party on, in order to make progress.”

Liberal commentators scoffed (though more in sorrow than in anger), pointing out that Republicans who blocked Obama’s slightly-left-of-Milton-Friedman agenda throughout his first term aren’t going more likely to compromise during his lame-duck second term. Furthermore, Obama is wrong about GOP tactics changing once he hits his constitutional term limit. Nasty–and effective–attack ads aside, it really isn’t personal for them. Republican strategists will work to defeat whoever wins the Democratic nomination for president in 2016 just as hard as they schemed to stymie Obama. Which is, of course, exactly what an opposition party should be expected to do.

Unless they’re Democrats. But I digress.

I couldn’t help noticing two remarkable aspects to Obama’s statement:

First, it tacitly admits that he didn’t get much done on jobs, unemployment and the economy–the issue that has consistently ranked as the voters’ top concern the entire time he’s been president. This is a dangerous gambit. Blaming the other party for leaving a mess and for obstructionism has a poor record of electoral success, particularly on the economy; fair or not, voters tend to hold sitting presidents responsible for the state of their wallets.

Second, it asks us to assume that a president’s second term is an opportunity. In fact, history suggests anything but. The vast majority of the signature legislative and policy achievements by U.S. presidents occurred at the beginning of their first terms: FDR’s first 100 days, LBJ’s civil rights act and his war on poverty, Reagan’s partial dismantling of the aforementioned social safety net. Though slow out of the gate, George W. Bush got a reset in the form of 9/11, which he used to push through all sorts of mayhem: the Patriot Act, legalized torture, and a pair of ridiculous optional wars.

The record of non-achievement of second terms is so grim that you have to wonder why presidents ever run for reelection. Whether you look at Richard Nixon, who won a record 1972 landslide only to resign two years later, or Bill Clinton’s second term, when he was caught in the mire of the Travelgate and Monica Lewinsky scandals, or Ronald Reagan’s second term, which was dominated by Iran-Contra and hobbled by the early onset of Alzheimer’s, it is hard to think a president who got much done during his second term. Look at George W. Bush’s number two: he wanted to privatize Social Security and expand the GOP into a permanent majority party; instead, his popularity sank like a stone.

Why do these guys want a do-over so badly? Must be the free food and rent.

Whether Obama is aware of presidential history or just blowing smoke, you shouldn’t expect much from a second term. If you’re voting for Obama simply to keep Romney out–to deny him a chance to get anything done–that’s fine. But don’t expect Obama to get a liberal agenda–assuming he ever wanted one–through Congress. That ship sailed after the 2010 midterm elections.

Or a grand bargain. That boat was never built.

There are a couple of things Obama could do to mitigate the second-term curse.  He could take his case directly to the American people, asking the citizens to pressure the Republican-dominated Congress to push through popular agenda items like forcing banks to write down principal on homes that have lost value since the burst of the housing bubble, tax subsidies for college tuition, and extending benefits to the majority of unemployed Americans, who no longer receive any. Democrats have forgotten this approach: Obama has failed to rally his supporters, Bill Clinton, another man who put too much faith inside the Beltway, had the same failing.

Another way Obama and the Democrats could make the most of a second term would be to replicate what the Republicans did with Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Contract with America, in other words, to state a list of policies and new laws that voters would effectively be endorsing if Obama wins. After November, Democrats would then be able to argue that they have a direct mandate for their agenda.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Democrats Occupy Occupy

MoveOn Co-opts OWS Rhetoric, Dilutes Its Message

If Democrats were doing their jobs, there wouldn’t be an Occupy movement.

The last 40 years has left liberals and progressives without a party and working people without an advocate. The party of FDR, JFK and LBJ abandoned its principles, embracing and voting along with Reagan and two Bushes. Clinton’s biggest accomplishments, NAFTA and welfare reform, were GOP platform planks. These New Democrats were indistinguishable from Republicans, waging optional wars, exporting jobs overseas and coddling corrupt CEOs while the rest of us—disconnected from power, our needs repeatedly ignored—sat and watched in silent rage.

Barack Obama is merely the latest of these phony Democrats. He’s the most recent in a line of corporate stooges going back to Jimmy Carter.

The Occupiers revolted under Obama’s watch for two reasons. The gap between the promise of his soaring rhetoric and the basic indecency of his cold-blooded disregard for the poor and unemployed was too awful to ignore. Moreover, the post-2008 economic collapse pushed a dam of insults and pain and anger that had built up over years past its breaking point.

Haphazard and disorganized and ad hoc, the Occupy movement is an imperfect, spontaneous response that fills a yawning demand gap in the American marketplace of ideas. For the first time since 1972, the spectrum of Left from liberalism to progressivism to socialism to communism to left anarchism has an audience (if not much of an organization).

Now the very same Democrats who killed liberalism and blocked leftists from candidacies, appointments, even the slightest participation in discussion—are trying to co-opt the Occupy movement.

MoveOn.org, which began as a plea for the U.S. to “move on” during Bill Clinton’s impeachment for perjury, claims to be an independent, progressive activist group. It’s really a shill for center-right Democratic politicians like Obama, whom MoveOn endorsed in the 2008 primaries against Hillary Clinton, who was running to Obama’s left.

All decision-making within the Occupations is consensus-based. Nothing gets approved or done before it has been exhaustedly debated; actions must be approved by 90 to 100% of Occupiers at General Assemblies. It can be arduous.

Without respect for Occupy’s process, MoveOn brazenly stole the movement’s best-known meme for its November 17th “We Are The 99%” event. And no one said boo.

Some Occupier friends were flattered.

Idiots.

Why didn’t MoveOn ask permission from the Occupy movement? Because they wouldn’t have gotten it. “We’re just days from the Super Committee’s deadline to propose more cuts for the 99% or increased taxes for the 1%,” reads MoveOn’s ersatz Occupy “event.”

“So come out and help increase the pressure on Congress to tax Wall Street to create millions of jobs.”

Um, no. Lobbying Congress directly contradicts a fundamental tenet of the movement that began with Occupy Wall Street. Occupy doesn’t lobby. Occupy doesn’t endorse either of the corporate political parties. Occupy doesn’t care about this bill or that amendment. Occupy does not participate in stupid elections in which both candidates work for the 1%. Occupy exists in order to figure out how to get rid of the existing system and what should replace it.

What MoveOn did was shameful. They ought to apologize. Donating a year or two’s worth of their contributions to the Occupations would be small penance. Given how little MoveOn has accomplished since its founding, Occupy would likely make better use of the cash.

On December 7th it was the turn of another Democratic “Astroturf” organization, the “American Dream Movement,” to lift the Occupy movement’s radical rhetoric to promote a very different, milquetoast agenda.

The American Dream Movement was co-founded in June 2011 by former Obama political advisor Van Jones and—turning up like a bad penny!—MoveOn.org.

A written statement for the ADM’s “Take Back the Capitol” threatened to “make Wall Street pay” for enriching the richest 1% and to “track down those responsible for crashing the economy and causing millions of 99%-ers to lose their jobs and homes—while failing to pay their fair share of taxes.”

Sounds like Occupy. Which is great.

Somewhat less than awesome is the content of the “Take Back the Capitol”: begging Congressmen who ought to awaiting trial for corruption and treason for a few crumbs off the corporate table.

“Throughout Tuesday, demonstrators visited the offices of about 99 House and Senate members, from both parties, and most were refused meetings with lawmakers,” reported NPR.

Duh.

What part of “we hate you” do these ACM fools not get?

Robert Townsend, an unemployed 48-year-old man from Milwaukee, managed to meet his Congressman, Republican Thomas Petri. “We asked him if he would vote for the jobs bill. He was evasive on that. And I asked him, ‘Tell me something positive that you’re doing for Wisconsin that will put us back to work.’ He mentioned something in Oshkosh, but that’s mostly for military people. He really didn’t have much of an answer. It’s like he had no commitment to addressing this problem.”

Double duh.

If Congress were responsive, if Democrats or Republicans cared about us or our needs, if Obama and his colleagues spent a tenth as much time and money on the unemployed as they do golfing and bombing and invading and shoveling trillions of dollars at Wall Street bankers, we wouldn’t need an Occupy movement.

But we won’t have one for long. Not if Occupy lets itself get Occupied by MoveOn and the Democrats.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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