Editorials

Come clean, Ms. Clinton

STUMBLING BLOCK: Hillary Clinton’s emails, sent when she was secretary of State, continue to cause controversy.
STUMBLING BLOCK: Hillary Clinton’s emails, sent when she was secretary of State, continue to cause controversy. AP

Remember when Hillary Clinton’s advocates were touting her candidacy for president because there were no scandals left to uncover? She’d been investigated so often (and unfairly), they said, that you could rest assured no embarrassing secrets would pop out of the closet to frighten voters.

Oops!

Ms. Clinton’s campaign is caught up in a scandal over her use of a personal email account routed through a private server when she was secretary of State. The inspectors general for the U.S. Intelligence Community and the State Department have said that at least five emails contained classified information, including two whose content is deemed “Top Secret,” and there may be more, a lot more.

The State Department has said that the emails were not marked as classified. It remains unclear whether employees knew the origin of the information. But none of this gets her off the hook: her department, her account, her responsibility.

Why she was using her own account and a private server to begin with? Ms. Clinton has said that the use of personal email by State Department employees was allowed at the time, but State Department and White House officials won’t say whether she sought or received prior approval from anyone, or whether anyone objected to it later.

To her supporters, this may all seem like small potatoes as Washington scandals go. But Congress is sure to delve deeper, and there is no telling what could turn up. It’s not just Republicans in Congress doing the investigating, either. The emails are the focus of scrutiny by the aforementioned inspectors general, as well as the FBI. New questions arise almost daily. The odor lingers.

Don’t forget what happened to Gen. David Petraeus, who was accused of providing classified information to his biographer and mistress while he was director of the CIA. He had to plead guilty earlier this year to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information, though the FBI recommended felony charges. Lesson: Playing fast and loose with classified material will get you in trouble.

As it happens, Gen. Petraeus’ attorney in that matter, David Kendall, a prominent Washington lawyer, is also Ms. Clinton’s attorney in her own email imbroglio. Coincidence? Uh-huh.

This controversy calls into question the basic premise of her candidacy — namely, her experience in government and expertise in intelligence matters. Most troubling is that it raises questions about Ms. Clinton’s judgment.

The motives for her actions and her sensitivity regarding the use of classified information remain unclear, other than an apparently selfish desire to keep control of her own emails. That is not the prerogative of public servants, especially the nation’s top diplomat, who regularly sends and receives sensitive messages. All government officials must relinquish a measure of privacy, whether they sit in the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee or at Foggy Bottom in the nation’s capital.

Ms. Clinton and her defenders claim there’s nothing to worry about. It may indeed turn out to be much ado about nothing, but that won’t put the issue to rest. The public needs an airing of the facts, and Ms. Clinton needs to take this scandal seriously and come clean about everything.

It’s too bad that the questions dogging Ms. Clinton have become a distraction from serious discussion of the campaign issues she has raised, like inequality and climate change. She only has herself to blame.

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