How Clinton can own her email scandal
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Somehow, somewhere along the campaigning way, badly placed emails became a political "thing."

Without belaboring how we got to that point and altogether glossing over the boring details of the FBI's ongoing digital probe, what once seemed like just another manufactured Republican messaging hit is now on full spigot with the State Department inspector general's crushing audit. Folks like Chris Cillizza here are ringing the cowbells. And even if nearly 60 percent of Americans in an October YouGov poll said, yeah, they were "sick and tired of hearing (Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHere's who Biden is now considering for budget chief Clinton praises Dolly Parton's cold shoulder top from vaccination: 'Shall we make this a trend?' Trump was unhinged and unchanged at CPAC MORE's) damn emails," today it's one (of a few) uncompromising excuses to roundly dislike her — at least according to H.A. Goodman here.


Clinton world strategists appear absolutely shaken, unsure and befuddled in their response to this. No one on that team has yet cracked the code for it. What they haven't done is simply take a play out of presumptive Republican nomineeDonald TrumpDonald TrumpHouse passes voting rights and elections reform bill DEA places agent seen outside Capitol during riot on leave Georgia Gov. Kemp says he'd 'absolutely' back Trump as 2024 nominee MORE's (so far) genius "Book of Campaign Trail Tactics" and own it.

By "owning it," we don't mean like this, as reported by CNN:

"I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two," [Clinton] said. "Looking back, it would have been better if I'd simply used a second email account and carried a second phone, but at the time, this didn't seem like an issue."

Or this, from an interview with Univision:

"I did turn over all work-related e-mails in an effort to help the State Department make sure that their records were complete. And those are the facts. Now that doesn't mean I will ever convince these partisans who are, you know, trying to make all sorts of allegations. But I think the American people understand that."

No, those explanations have always been wack, at best.

Instead, "owning it" means shaking it all up like a bottle of taxed soda. That strategy would hum something like this:

"Hey, listen: So, I admit I made a mistake here. It is what it is. Hindsight being what it is, yeah, I would've done it much differently. I didn't mean to break any rules, and I'm sorry it went that far.

"But, let's be real, it's really hard to trust the security of government networks and servers these days. Do you trust our nation's cybersecurity? Our networks are just so vulnerable, our cybersecurity is so porous, and, keeping it 100, I just had a really hard time trusting that on certain levels. And I wasn't the only one, apparently. Just ask Colin. Just ask Condoleeza.

"But, seriously, just ask the 21.5 million Americans who were, just last year, victimized when the Office of Personnel Management was hacked. Nearly half of all Americans are victims of cybercrimes — half. Almost half of all American companies have been hit by data breaches. We saw $18 billion in losses to credit card fraud. Cyberterrorism is very real, Wolf [let's just give this one to CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, who is always asking her about this, and just because it sounds cool to say "Wolf" at the end of a sentence]. It is, perhaps, the most lethal and yet least-talked-about national security threat."

So, at this point in the conversation, any hardheaded interviewing journalist who smells candidate okey-doke will frown, push back and say, "You didn't answer my question." This is where Clinton gets politely ratchet:

"Well, you keep talking about emails, but what you really need to talk about is cyber terrorism. Emails, among many digital tools we rely on daily (heck, we rely on this stuff every minute of the day, now), are being hacked and used to hurt Americans, too. We should really be ashamed that we're not talking about cyber terrorism enough, despite the fact that data breaches cost us, globally, $575 billion — and that's from the breaches we know about.

"It's really a silent war we're fighting here. There are already so many casualties: I mean, $25 billion in losses to Americans devastated by identity theft. Why aren't we talking about that? If we're going to talk about emails, we've got to talk about that, we've got to make Americans understand how serious this is, and how serious the threat is from bad cyber-actors like China and Russia and, yes, terrorist groups like ISIS [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria]. And I haven't even begun to talk about the threat to our basic infrastructure and how hackers can severely compromise or even destroy our water systems, our electrical grids, nuclear power plants and shut down our bank accounts, our ability to make basic purchases of fuel and food. That's really scary and that's something we're going to talk about a lot during this campaign. As a nation, we really need cyber awareness."

Clinton should flip the script on her email scandal conversation. Every news cycle-dominating headline should be equally matched with vigorous focus on cyber awareness. This doesn't necessarily avoiding the scandal; what it allows is an unusual degree of space to discuss it on her own terms by reaching for the most realistic policy issue near it.

It's not like she can do anything about the FBI investigation other than wait for it, so she has nothing to lose in that regard. And it's not like she's openly blasting or thumbing her nose at the FBI. Nor is she exactly calling out the federal government since the feds will be the first to admit their networks are an antiquated mess. Would you want your private or confidential emails sitting on a government network, where some federal agencies are still using Windows XP? Of course not — and neither did Secretary Clinton at the time.

If she does this, she doesn't look stupid: In fact, she makes up for an abundance of digital ignorance shown during her wipe-the-server-clean joke last year. Let a few late-night hosts use this new talking point as fodder in their monologues. Why not? She could use the bump in attention. She actually starts looking much more tech savvy in a world that's increasingly defined by technology and humanity's struggle in adapting to it. In recent Gallup polling, Americans surveyed did identify cyber terrorism as a top-three security threat. If Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOn The Money: Democrats deals to bolster support for relief bill | Biden tries to keep Democrats together | Retailers fear a return of the mask wars Democrats cut deals to bolster support for relief bill Hillicon Valley: High alert as new QAnon date approaches Thursday | Biden signals another reversal from Trump with national security guidance | Parler files a new case MORE's (Vt.) folks see an opening to talk up data privacy, surveillance and the National Security Agency (NSA), all Clinton has to do is say: "Last I checked, the NSA wasn't stealing our government's secrets or hacking our bank accounts and credit cards or snooping around for a hole in our infrastructure. It's been China, Russia and cyberterrorists like ISIS doing that." So, it's not like this is a stretch. If anything, she opens up a new, fairly noble front and a way for average people to start seriously talking about cybersecurity — which is something we should be doing, anyway.

Ellison is a veteran political strategist and frequent contributor to The Hill. He is also contributing editor to The Root and Washington correspondent for The Philadelphia Tribune, while a frequent contributor to The Hill and the Weekly Washington Insider for WDAS-FM (Philadelphia). He is executive producer and host of "The Ellison Report," a weekly public affairs magazine broadcast and podcast on WEAA 88.9 FM (Baltimore). He can be reached on Twitter @ellisonreport.