Presidential Campaign

If Nixon had email, he’d have been just like Hillary Clinton

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In the iconic interview between Richard Nixon and David Frost, the only president ever to resign from office explains why his goal of “political containment” didn’t meet the definition of corruption:

Richard Nixon: The statute doesn’t require just an act. The statute has a specific prohibition; one must corruptly impede a judicial matter.
David Frost: Well, a corrupt endeavor is enough.
Richard Nixon: All right, a conduct endeavor, corrupt intent, but it must be corrupt and that gets to the point of motive. One must have a corrupt motive. Now I did not have a corrupt motive.
David Frost: You … you were …
Richard Nixon: My motive was pure political containment, and political containment is not a corrupt motive.

In the mind of some politicians, “political containment is not a corrupt motive,” and therefore engaging in surreptitious activity in the name of protecting a campaign or administration doesn’t correlate with immorality. History, however, shows that this mindset didn’t help Nixon with Watergate. Fast-forward to 2015 and a similar view of political containment might end up derailing another person’s political ambitions. When a Freedom of Information Act expert writes in Politico that “Hillary’s Email Defense Is Laughable,” questions exist regarding motive and gaps in protocol.

{mosads}Clinton has yet to explain the political utility in storing government emails on a private server. Why not use a server protected by the federal government, especially when foreign governments like China are already hacking the U.S.? It’s true that Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and others have used private email addresses, but only Clinton has been found to store classified data on a private server.

In terms of why inspectors general felt the need to notify the FBI and others about Clinton’s emails, The Washington Post explains that since four emails out of 40 reviewed were designated “classified,” the potential exists for further breaches of security:

The inspector general, I. Charles McCullough III, said in a separate statement that he had found information that should have been designated as classified in four e-mails out of a “limited sample” of 40 that his agency reviewed. As a result, he said, he made the “security referral,” acting under a federal law that requires alerting the FBI to any potential compromises of national security information.

“The main purpose of the referral was to notify security officials that classified information may exist on at least one private server and thumb drive that are not in the government’s possession,” McCullough said in a statement, which was also signed by the State Department’s inspector general, Steve A. Linick.

As a result of potentially compromising national security, Clinton recently walked a tightrope of legal jargon by stating, “I am confident that I never sent or received any information that was classified at the time it was sent and received.” However, this controversy is about the possibility of classified information falling into the wrong hands (because of an insistence on owning a private server storing government emails), not whether or not somebody knowingly engaged in an intelligence breach.

As of now, we are certain that four emails from Clinton’s cache of over 60,000 as secretary of State (there were 30,490 “work-related emails” while Clinton’s team unilaterally deleted 31,830 emails) have been found to contain classified information that should never have been stored on a private server. The next question, after all the ones pertaining to national security and motive, will be the repercussions of Clinton’s secrecy. If an ordinary citizen acted in a similar manner, conventional wisdom states that there would be serious consequences; therefore, what will happen to the former secretary of State?

Most likely, a legal game of cat and mouse revolving around semantics and political leverage will be the end result Clinton’s email controversy. Unless the nature of the classified emails are disclosed (sensitive emails regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could seriously damage her candidacy), then all Clinton has to do is appeal to a base of supporters who think everything is simply a political witch hunt or right-wing conspiracy. According to The Guardian, “Clinton has said she used the private server at her home as a matter of convenience to limit her number of electronic devices.” To many of her supporters, this is more than enough to justify the ownership of a private server as secretary of State.

On the other hand, if you believe that a seasoned politician with decades of scandals simply opted for convenience, rather than a calculated political reason for not allowing her correspondence to flow through government servers, then be sure to vote for Clinton in 2016. Pertaining to the consequences Clinton will face, The Guardian writes that “the chances of her being prosecuted are little to none, because important people with connections rarely are,” so without the political will to press the issue of Clinton’s motives, it’s likely that she’ll be able to survive politically from this latest scandal.

However, this isn’t the first time an American politician’s secrecy resulted in endless investigation and debate. A closer look at this story is eerily reminiscent of Nixon’s cover-ups and the Watergate saga. Current Attorney General Loretta Lynch faces what ABC calls a “potential minefield” relating to the Clinton investigation (with years of ties to President Bill and Hillary) and must now balance her loyalty to the Clintons with the legality of storing classified information on private servers. Like John Mitchell during Watergate, if Lynch isn’t careful, the desire to protect the Democratic Party’s most powerful couple could get in the way of existing laws and the truth.

Regarding a penchant for hiding behind words and definitions, Clinton and Nixon share many of the same qualities. Like good attorneys, the words of both place great emphasis on technical legal definitions, rather than what the average American would describe as a lack of judgement. While Nixon’s focus on “political containment” cost him the White House, a similar type of political containment could have motivated Clinton to engage in using a private server exclusively.

In 2015, Americans can access the Nixon Library and listen to “a portion of the approximately 60 hours of tape subpoenaed by the Watergate Special Prosecution Force (WSPF).” However, there will always be 18.5 minutes of missing tape, destroyed by someone within Nixon’s administration, containing “incriminating evidence” that nobody will ever be able to hear. Clinton and her team unilaterally deleted 31,830 emails, without any oversight, and with the expectation that Americans simply trust that these emails never contained any classified or incriminating data. Basic logic dictates that if the recent investigation of four out of just 40 Clinton emails has already resulted in security failures, there’s a good chance that more classified information and security breaches will be found within the 60,000 other emails.

Like Nixon, Clinton’s “political containment” could lead to an endless legal conundrum, culminating in a political figure being forced to acknowledge that questionable behavior wasn’t done in the name of American interest, but rather personal interest. Ultimately, Democrats can’t survive in 2016 with potentially classified emails floating around days before Election Day. Since more than 30,000 of her deleted emails are deleted — but not gone, and still recoverable — this aspect of the controversy adds an even greater element of uncertainty. “Political containment” is a dangerous thing in today’s networked world, or as Clinton calls it, opting for “convenience.”

Goodman is an author and a journalist.

Tags 2016 Democratic primary 2016 presidential campaign classified Department of State Email Hillary Clinton Jeb Bush private server Richard Nixon Scott Walker State Department Watergate

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