FBI clears Hillary Clinton in email scandal, but she should have known better

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Director James B. Comey said the FBI found Hillary Clinton and her aides were ‘extremely careless’ in handling classified information.
Director James B. Comey said the FBI found Hillary Clinton and her aides were ‘extremely careless’ in handling classified information. AP

The FBI’s exoneration of Hillary Clinton for criminal wrongdoing in the email controversy clears a big legal hurdle for her presidential campaign, but the former secretary of State does not emerge from this incident smelling like the proverbial rose. The finding that she and her aides were “extremely careless” in handling classified information amounts to a harsh and deserved rebuke of her electronic communication practices as head of the State Department.

An indictment would have suggested intent to send or receive classified information on a non-government server. This outcome was always doubtful. But if her conduct did not meet the criminal standard, it was certainly not acceptable.

The candidate and her campaign have insisted that the email scandal was cooked up by political opponents as a diversion designed to embarrass her and divert the public from more significant issues. A mountain out of a molehill, they said. A witch-hunt driven by hostile media.

The FBI begs to differ. A blistering statement read before TV cameras by FBI Director James B. Comey not only shredded the notion that everything was by-the-book, but also took apart the story that the Clinton camp had carefully crafted to explain their actions.

Mrs. Clinton said she used a personal server for the convenience of having a single computer for all messages. The FBI found, however, that she used multiple email devices during that time. She did send and receive classified messages, and they may have been hacked by hostile outsiders, contrary to the Clinton narrative. Some emails not turned over to investigators on the ground that they were personal contained information linked to her job.

The political fallout will further tarnish the Clinton campaign.

An indictment would have been worse, but this does nothing to erase the doubts surrounding Mrs. Clinton (and former President Bill Clinton) regarding their trustworthiness and the notion that neither one feels bound by the rules. Surely she should have known better, just as the former president should have known better than to corner Attorney Gen. Loretta Lynch for a private meeting on her airplane last week when his wife was under FBI investigation.

The meeting, like the use of a private server by Mrs. Clinton as secretary of State, looks bad, and perception shapes public opinion. This is a pattern with the Clintons. When things are going well, they seem to go out of their way to create a needless controversy.

Their opponents seize on these failures to magnify their importance and hint of dark motives behind whatever the Clintons do, but that’s the nature of politics. If Mr. and Mrs. Clinton give opponents ammunition, their opponents will use it against them.

Their behavior stands in marked contrast to the record of the no-drama-Obama administration. It has been largely devoid of major political scandals a la Monica Lewinsky or false narratives concocted to justify overseas wars. On that score, Mr. Obama’s record is enviable.

If Mrs. Clinton wants to help herself, she can start by accepting that her own myopia when it comes to a perceived indifference to conventional rules contributes to the public’s skepticism over her character. She still hasn’t held a news conference in more than six months, which further adds to doubts about the lack of transparency in a possible Clinton White House.

This week, she won a big legal battle, but she is losing in the court of public opinion.