The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at WSJ written by the editor, James Taranto.
Out on a Limb
Answers to Questions Nobody Is Asking
“Chelsea Clinton Would ‘Absolutely Consider’ Politics”—headline, Sky News website, March 10
Hillary Clinton’s big press conference this afternoon started off unpromisingly. “Just a minute,” Mrs. Clinton told the eager reporters. “Nick is calling on people.” Nick called on a guy who identified himself as being from “Turkish television.” We are not making up his question: “If you were a man today, would all of this fuss . . . be made?” She demurred—“Well, I will—I will leave that to others to answer.” One strongly suspects the question was a setup, designed to have someone else play the “gender card” on Mrs. Clinton’s behalf.
She probably should have waited, because it isn’t as if she had a lot of other cards to play, and eventually some reporters asked tough questions. Mrs. Clinton managed to advance the story, though not to her advantage. In her opening statement, she revealed that as she and her aides were selecting which emails to print out for the State Department archives, they deleted countless thousands of others: “At the end, I chose not to keep my private personal emails—emails about planning Chelsea’s wedding or my mother’s funeral arrangements, condolence notes to friends as well as yoga routines, family vacations, the other things you typically find in inboxes.”
A reporter remembered this and asked the obvious question: “How could the public be assured that when you deleted emails that were personal in nature, that you didn’t also delete emails that were professional, but possibly unflattering?”
That put her on the defensive: “Well first of all, you have to ask that question to every single federal employee.” The reporter didn’t have the presence of mind to interrupt and say, “OK, you first.” She let Mrs. Clinton stonewall at some length, as if it were reasonable to demand that mailmen and Amtrak conductors be held to the same standard as cabinet officers. But how about a compromise: ask every single federal employee who is running for president.
It’s quite possible that even the emails still exist; it’s unlikely that someone who claimed with a straight face that the server was secure because “it was on property guarded by the Secret Service” would have the technical savvy to erase the evidence irretrievably. Little wonder, then, that Mrs. Clinton insisted “the server will remain private.”
One question that didn’t get asked but should have: Were emails about contributions to the Clinton Foundation—including from foreign governments—among the printed business emails or the destroyed personal ones?
Meanwhile, have you noticed that the White House’s story on the Clinton email scandal keeps changing? On Friday the Hill quoted senior adviser Valerie Jarrett: “The president has a very firm policy that emails should be kept on government systems.” But she gave him an out: “We establish the policy here, but then we leave it up to every single agency to determine how to adhere to that policy.”
The Hill also quotes press secretary Josh Earnest: “Very specific guidance has been given to agencies all across the government, which is specifically that employees of the Obama administration should use their official email accounts when they’re conducting official government business.”
On Saturday the Associated Press reported that in an interview with CBS News, President Obama said “it was through news reports that he first learned that Hillary Rodham Clinton used a private, nongovernment email account while serving as his secretary of state.” But on Friday Politicoreported that the White House knew in August:
Sources familiar with the discussions say key people in the Obama administration and on Clinton’s staff were aware that the revelation could be explosive for the all-but-announced candidate for president. But those involved deferred to Clinton’s aides, and they decided not to respond.
That’s not necessarily inconsistent; it’s possible that Obama’s aides “deferred” to Mrs. Clinton’s and did not tell the president. At yesterday’s press briefing, however, Earnest admitted that Obama “did over the course of his first several years in office trade emails with his secretary of state.” Earnest said the president “did know” Mrs. Clinton’s email address but “was not aware of the details of how that email address and that server had been set up or how Secretary Clinton and her team were planning to comply with the Federal Records Act.” (That probably should have been “whether,” not “how.”)
Does the White House’s inconsistency here suggest that the president is in some political trouble over the email scandal? The Washington Examiner’s Brian Hughes thinks so; he has a piece titled “4 Reasons the Hillary Emails Are Hurting Obama”: “1. The White House story has shifted. . . . 2. Obama looks in the dark, again. . . . 3. Democrats are starting to panic. . . . 4. Obama is already stuck talking about Hillary.”
Color us unconvinced. If this were a Republican administration, the media doubtless would be clamoring to find out what the president knew and when he knew it. But it isn’t. Further, Mrs. Clinton is understood to be an independent operator and a senior enough figure that it almost seems unfair to hold her nominal former boss accountable for any misconduct on her part. And of course she is the one (presumably) running for president, not him.
Who is hurt by the White House’s erratic responses here? Mrs. Clinton. With their unpredictable comments, Obama and his aides signal that they don’t (to use a phrase he favors) “have her back,” providing an additional element of uncertainty for her to contend with as she attempts to bluff the scandal away.
If Mrs. Clinton is the Democratic presidential nominee next year, Obama will do his partisan duty and support her, just as she and her husband supported Obama in 2008 and 2012. But for now, it isn’t hard to imagine that Obama is enjoying the spectacle of his rival turned frenemy twisting in the wind.
Here’s one other angle: On Friday Lee Smith, writing at Tablet magazine, noted that various Obama supporters in and out of the media were piling on Mrs. Clinton and mooted the following theory:
The Obama Administration dispatched its big guns this week to take out a major political rival whose mere presence poses a threat to a hoped-for breakthrough with Iran. . . .
This week’s tarring of Hillary Clinton is part of the White House’s political campaign to shut off debate about its hoped-for deal. It’s not hard to see why they’re anxious. With [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s speech forcing lawmakers and editorial writers to face up to the proposed agreement’s manifest problems, the administration fears the prospect of Democrats jumping ship and signing on to Kirk-Menendez sanctions legislation that also would give Congress oversight on the deal. So far, the White House has managed to keep Democratic lawmakers in line, no matter how much they seem to question the wisdom of the proposed deal. Hillary Clinton, gearing up for a 2016 run in which she is likely to put some distance between herself and Obama’s dubious Middle East policies, is the one major national Democratic figure who can give Democrats in Congress cover.
We found this intriguing but also far-fetched, so we didn’t mention it until now. But before she got to the emails today, Mrs. Clinton denounced the 47 Republican senators who’ve signed an open letter to Iran’s rulers with the aim of scuttling a deal: “Either these senators were trying to be helpful to the Iranians or harmful to the commander in chief in the midst of high-stakes international diplomacy. Either answer does discredit to the letters’ signatories.”
Suddenly, Smith’s theory is at least plausible.
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