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Clinton Emails server hides records from FOIA?

March 20, 2016

Quick but novel concept.

Secretary of State Clinton’s use of a private email server allowed her to effectively escape the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which would otherwise have allowed future generations access to her communications. Once enough time passes that they can all be safely declassified, future historians as well as voters could form a better picture of her actions and motivations while Secretary of State.

I’ve said before, and I still believe, that concern with Clinton’s email server on national security grounds is overstated overemphasized — a classic witch-hunt by Republicans in congress. Her unnecessarily hawkish policies as Secretary of State caused large scale death and destruction in Libya and elsewhere. As a politician, her affinity for special interests  {sponsors/donors who are working to preserve an inequitable status quo} raise questions of integrity that I think are more important than any hypothetical damage that may or may not have been caused by her email practices as Secretary of State. But I do think that government accountability (or lack thereof) is super important, so for that reason I find the FOIA aspect of the email server story worth talking about. [note- this paragraph edited in response to comments]

(In reality, Clinton was probably more motivated by securing her privacy from rival power centers within the U.S. government, which is surely a real concern to anyone in any government, but I doubt she lost sleep over limiting future critics’ access to her communications).

The email-server-vs-FOIA connection comes to me from a Democracy Now interview segment/transcript about Secretary of State Clinton’s support for regime change in the Honduras, which is in line with my view of her in the George H.W. Bush / Kissinger mold of foreign policy – not something to be proud of.

[update 2016.03.28 — WAPO article adds detail ]

[update 2016.03.29 — extensive video from 2016.03.19, commentary from a former DC US attorney about the legal aspects ]


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  1. The FBI doesn’t do partisan witch hunts. There’s a reason not a single professional in the intelligence community is backing her on this.

    • I should’ve been more clear, I didn’t mean to imply that the “partisan witch hunt” part applied to the FBI investigation that’s going on now. While I can’t help but wonder if the FBI, in their anti-terrorism and national security efforts, do occasionally indulge in a witch hunt, I have no reason at all to believe they’re partisan.

      I meant the partisan witch hunt comment for the congressional drama that happened a few months ago (I think), which I think I posted on at the time. So I wanted to reconcile this post with my previous one.

      Overall, my sympathy for Clinton is pretty limited, as you can probably guess.

      But the private email server is really the least of her sins, in that any damage it may have caused is hypothetical at this point. I.e., large numbers of people did not die as they did as a consequence of some of the policies and actions of the State Dept. under her. Nor are allegations of having a personal email server as bad as allegations of influence peddling, alleged to reach figures in the high $10M / low $100M range. She could well have kept her official State Dept. communications separate from her communications as a politician / friend of whatever industry. If she had, then I don’t think there would’ve been objection to her using private email server for the non-State-Dept. stuff.

      If the only grounds on which she can be officially admonished are those of national-security paranoia, we’re not in good shape at all.

      Thanks for the link btw … it’s a little late and this comment is probably coming out like a more severe rant than it needs to be..

  2. The private email server was created precisely to try to hide the influence-peddling (which the FBI is also now investigating). Doing all of her government business on an email server she and her lawyers have exclusive control over allowed her to determine what to release and what not to release when her emails were subjected to lawful Freedom of Information Act requests. She was using her position at State to do favors for companies like UBS who turned around and donated millions of dollars to Bill Clinton’s foundation.

    The reason the FBI started a security review is because information classified Top Secret and above appeared on her private server, which was completely unencrypted for at least 3 months. If an unsophisticated Romanian hacker could get into her server and read her emails, the Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies certainly did so, especially since she was using her BlackBerry to access her email from Russian territory. Long story short, she broke federal law (actually a bunch of federal laws) by keeping classified information on her private server.

    • PW,

      Thanks again for the links. Again, I would be very happy to have her relationships with her sponsors/political donors brought out into the light, either through FOIA or through an investigation.

      The hacker in the article, though, claims he hacked not her server, but the AOL account of one of her staffers (or so he says. It almost sounds like a joke). Now if her server was set up to do the email protocol without encryption, with no further security layer within the body of the emails, then her IT guy just got himself an amazing deal by getting immunity. I would be absolutely shocked that someone like Clinton wasn’t paranoid enough for that but maybe, just maybe, we will find out. Even if her IT guy used standard security products, if he was even half a computer nerd, he should have advised her, on day 1, that she should not consider the server secure for the application. I bet he did, too – hope he got that exchange in writing.

      But Clinton was perfectly allowed to have her own email server for her own business, and use it to send cat videos or chat with UBS execs in a “non-State-Dept” capacity. That right should be defended, IMO. Of course if her cat videos turn out to be top secret, or chats with UBS execs turn out to ultimately amount to a quid-pro-quo that’s not appropriate, those themselves are what should be investigated.

      What bothers me is that there is so much more enthusiasm for going after the top secret stuff.

      • “What bothers me is that there is so much more enthusiasm for going after the top secret stuff.” Of course there’s more enthusiasm for that — putting Top Secret materials on unclassified servers was flagrantly illegal and jeopardized national security. Nobody objects to Clinton’s use of non-goverment email for non-government stuff.

      • ugh, I meant compared to the allegations of influence peddling.

        Given she may end up being President, seeing any of those investigations through would be a bold career move for the investigator. Under the circumstances, I hope it happens. I’m just not going to cheerlead for the national security angle — in my opinion, we’ve had quite enough of that as a driving force in government, and it really hasn’t worked out too well.

      • I’m certain the FBI will recommend charges (just as they did with Petraeus) but whether Obama’s Department of Justice will comply is another matter. However, the fact that immunity was granted tells me that some kind of indictment against someone is certain. Whether the hammer drops on Clinton or just her aides a la Bridgegate remains to be seen.

      • FYI, i’m changing the wording of the original post a little bit in response to your comments, in case anyone else reads it…

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