The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at WSJ written by the editor, James Taranto.
Who Is Eric Hoteham?
In a manner of speaking, Hillary Clinton has broken her silence on the State Department email scandal. Pushing back against the invidious stereotype that her advanced age means she’s technically incompetent, she pleaded her case on Twitter, one of those newfangled “social media” sites that are all the rage with the kids. “I want the public to see my email,” she tweeted late last night. “I asked State to release them [sic]. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible.”
Bam, that settles that, now can we please get on with the coronation already? Well, not so fast. There are still some problems here.
For one thing, as we noted Tuesday, the State Department does not actually have all of Mrs. Clinton’s emails from her tenure as secretary of state. In case you missed the news, that’s because she used a private email account for all such correspondence. The State Department has possession of only those emails that her private advisers chose to give it in the past two months.
More to the point, the statement “I want the public to see my email” is about as credible as “I am not a crook.” If she wanted the public to see her email, she would not have bypassed normal regulations and procedures in order to keep it private. And BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski has home-movie footage of Mrs. Clinton telling a supporter in 2000: “As much as I’ve been investigated and all of that, you know, why would I—I don’t even want—why would I ever want to do email?”
Moreover, it turns out the secret server scheme was considerably more elaborate than simply setting up a Gmail or AOL account. The Associated Press reported yesterday that “the computer server she used traced back to her family’s New York home”:
It was not immediately clear exactly where [Mrs.] Clinton’s computer server was run, but a business record for the Internet connection it used was registered under the home address for her residence in Chappaqua, New York, as early as August 2010. The customer was listed as Eric Hoteham.
An aide to then-first lady Clinton was identified in a 2002 congressional report as Eric Hothem, whose name is spelled differently than in the Internet records. Hothem was not available to take a phone call when reached at his office Wednesday.
A parody Twitter account for Hoteham appeared Wednesday after the AP cited the records, sending satirical tweets supporting Clinton’s campaign. Hoteham’s name had not appeared with that spelling in public-record databases, campaign contribution records or online background searches.
In most cases, individuals who operate their own email servers are technical experts or users so concerned about issues of privacy and surveillance they take matters into their own hands.
Bloomberg goes deeper into the technical weeds and finds that Mrs. Clinton’s system “gave her a high level of control over communications”:
“You erase it and everything’s gone,” Matt Devost, a security expert who has had his own private e-mail for years. Commercial services like those from Google Inc. and Yahoo! Inc. retain copies even after users erase them from their in-box.
Although [Mrs.] Clinton worked hard to secure the private system, her consultants appear to have set it up with a misconfigured encryption system, something that left it vulnerable to hacking, said Alex McGeorge, head of threat intelligence at Immunity Inc., a Miami Beach-based digital security firm.
The dispatch sums things up in its headline: “Clinton’s E-Mail System Built For Privacy Though Not Security.” Al-Jazeera America reports that “a current employee on the department’s cybersecurity team” confirms the security point:
The employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing his job, said it was well known that Clinton’s emails were at greater risk of being hacked, intercepted or monitored, but the warnings were ignored.
“We tried,” the employee said. “We told people in her office that it wasn’t a good idea. They were so uninterested that I doubt the secretary was ever informed.”
Mrs. Clinton’s email privatization is a double affront to the public: She sought to conceal her official communications from the government (and ultimately the public) while not taking sufficient steps to keep them from spies and enemies.
The Federalist’s Sean Davis notes that in 2012—during Mrs. Clinton’s tenure at Foggy Bottom—the State Department forced the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Scott Gration, to resign “in part for setting up an unsanctioned private e-mail system.” Davis quotes a report from the department’s inspector general (to which we’re adding paragraph breaks for easier reading):
Very soon after the Ambassador’s arrival in May 2011, he broadcast his lack of confidence in the information management staff. Because the information management office could not change the Department’s policy for handling Sensitive But Unclassified material, he assumed charge of the mission’s information management operations. He ordered a commercial Internet connection installed in his embassy office bathroom so he could work there on a laptop not connected to the Department email system. He drafted and distributed a mission policy authorizing himself and other mission personnel to use commercial email for daily communication of official government business.
During the inspection, the Ambassador continued to use commercial email for official government business. The Department email system provides automatic security, record-keeping, and backup functions as required.
The Ambassador’s requirements for use of commercial email in the office and his flouting of direct instructions to adhere to Department policy have placed the information management staff in a conundrum: balancing the desire to be responsive to their mission leader and the need to adhere to Department regulations and government information security standards. The Ambassador compounded the problem on several occasions by publicly berating members of the staff, attacking them personally, loudly questioning their competence, and threatening career-ending disciplinary actions. These actions have sapped the resources and morale of a busy and understaffed information management staff as it supports the largest embassy in sub-Saharan Africa.
Shannen Coffin of National Review Online argues that Mrs. Clinton’s conduct “raises questions under the federal criminal code”:
A federal criminal law makes it a felony when any custodian of official government records “willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, falsifies, or destroys the same.” The crime is punishable by up to three years in prison. And interestingly, Congress felt strongly enough about the crime that it included the unusual provision that the perpetrator shall “forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States.”
The point is largely theoretical, however, inasmuch as the independent Counsel Act expired in 2000 and the Justice Department seems unlikely to pursue a criminal investigation even if it is warranted.
Yet there may be political consequences for Mrs. Clinton, who has been the all-but-certain Democratic presidential nominee. Now some Democrats aren’t so sure—although others still are.
“Democratic activists in early presidential nominating states say that new controversies swirling around Hillary Rodham Clinton have made them more eager than ever for alternatives in 2016,” reports the Washington Post. “But as they survey the landscape, few Democrats see other credible contenders.”
One Democrat from New Hampshire, Larry Drake, tells the paper: “The problem is, there’s nobody out there who’s not Clinton who’s the equivalent of Barack Obama.” He means Barack Obama of 2008—the political sensation, not the unpopular lame duck: “He was a fresh face . . . and he gave great speeches and he turned out to be electable.”
“Nobody down here wants a coronation,” says H. Boyd Brown of South Carolina. “We need options. Who knows what could happen. It’s always good to have more than one candidate running.” Brown supports someone called Martin O’Malley, who according to the Post used to be governor of Maryland. We thought that was Spiro Agnew, but Maryland is in the Post’s backyard, so we guess they’d know.
A National Journal headline yesterday read: “Democrats Aren’t Rushing to Defend Hillary Clinton.” A New York Times headline today would seem to contradict that directly: “Caught Off Guard by Disclosure of Emails, Democrats Rally to Clinton’s Defense.” But maybe they rallied after contemplating the consequences of being seen not to rush. It must be said, though, that the Times’s quoted defenses are not all that vigorous:
“I don’t think there’s any ill intent in this,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said Tuesday. “I just don’t know how the State Department functions with regard to this.” . . .
“People have different ways of communicating,” said Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland. “I have a granddaughter who does nothing but text. You’ll never find a letter written with her. So everybody’s different.”
As an aside, we suppose it can also be said in Mrs. Clinton’s defense that she doesn’t share the current incumbent’s annoying penchant for posting selfies.
Bloomberg’s Dave Weigel argues that “reports of Democrats fretting about Hillary Clinton’s future have been overstated.” He manages to find some representatives who defend Mrs. Clinton full-throatedly:
“I did not want to believe it, but everything I’ve seen so far has led me to believe this is an effort to go after Hillary Clinton,” said Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of the select committee on Benghazi that first procured e-mails from the off-books Clinton e-mail account. “I think that’s very unfortunate.” . . .
Virginia Representative Gerry Connolly, another member of the House Oversight committee, reacted with similar dismissiveness. . . . As the Virginia Democrat headed to a meeting, he put the e-mails investigation in the context of years of treasure hunts into the Clintons’ lives—the White House travel office, the Whitewater land deal, Monica Lewinsky. “Look how that really worked out for the Clintons,” said Connolly. “Bill Clinton is the most popular living president.”
That last point cuts both ways, though. Perhaps the most popular living president can get away with more than someone who couldn’t even win her party’s nomination seven years ago.
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