She should have known better.
Transparency is not an option for a public official, nor a mere inconvenience to be ignored. It’s standard operating procedure for public officials, and it strains credibility for Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to claim she was unaware.
Ms. Clinton has gotten herself caught up in a totally unnecessary scandal following a disclosure earlier this week that she conducted government business entirely on a private email account as secretary of state.
Read that sentence again: She was secretary state, arguably the most important Cabinet post in the government, and yet, instead of using her government email account, she used her own. Already her apologists, and they are legion, have dismissed this as a tempest in a teapot. Ms. Clinton, they say, was under no legal requirement during her time in office to use a government email account, based on regulations put in place in 2009, the year she took office.
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But that misses the point. First, her department was obligated to preserve her email records, and that didn’t happen until after she left office in 2013. Second, Ms. Clinton and her designated staff members were allowed to pick and choose which emails were eventually turned over to the government and which to leave out as “private.” It also misses the point to claim she had no intent to deceive. It was still wrong.
The government didn’t claim custody of those 55,000 messages until 2014. That was when the department asked several secretaries of state for such documents. There were no rules in place for Ms. Clinton’s predecessors prior to 2009, though. And who’s to say she turned over all the relevant material?
The Clinton camp’s cavalier disregard for the public’s need to know is disappointing, to say the least. If private email accounts aren’t in the hands of the government, they are beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act and congressional scrutiny. That’s why the rules exist. It should be up to government archivists who value transparency over concealment, to exercise their professional judgment about what is personal and what isn’t.
Democrats have protested that Republicans will turn this into a political circus. Of course, they will. Had a Republican done the same thing, a Democratic Congress would pounce on it. And it doesn’t exonerate Ms. Clinton just because her foes on Capitol Hill will seek to turn it to their advantage. This goes beyond partisan skirmishing.
When Gov. Rick Scott got caught up in his own scandal over using private emails to conduct public business, Democrats and transparency advocates were quick to criticize. So were we. Mr. Scott’s claims that he didn’t know the rules were a bit more plausible than Ms. Clinton’s, coming from someone with little experience in government. Former Gov. Jeb Bush’s own release of emails from his time as governor come from an era before government rules about preserving emails became standard.
For Democrats, the problem is that there is no Plan B after Hillary, while Republicans enjoy a wide array of eager presidential hopefuls. The air of entitlement that clings to the Clintons remains a huge vulnerability for Democrats — and a turnoff for voters.
The March 6 editorial, ‘Paving the pinelands,’ misidentified the agency conducting a habitat study. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is doing the review.