Bush Vs. Clinton: Transparency Wars

Jeb Bush

Image courtesy of Right to Rise PAC

Bush Vs. Clinton: Transparency Wars
| published March 19, 2015 |

By R. Alan Clanton
Thursday Review editor

The odds of a dynastic rematch in 2016 just got a lot stronger, and Americans may indeed face the prospect—for better or worse—of another presidential election between a Bush and a Clinton. Jeb Bush is raising money faster than any candidate of any party—in history. If his current fundraising pace continues through summer, the smart math analysts say, he will topple even the dizzying numbers hit by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012. If he can sustain the money pace going into Iowa, he will have raised more money than the combined fundraising in 2012 of Romney and Obama.

Questions about whether Bush is a serious candidate no longer need to be asked. While the money flows, he is running.

And in the so-called transparency wars—those early skirmishes designed to diffuse unignited stink bombs and get out in front of media scrutiny and negative spin—Bush is beating Hillary Clinton hands-down. Back in January and February Bush released hundreds of thousands of emails, disclosed thousands of documents related to all of his business interests and commercial ventures, and basically made available every piece of paper he has come in contact with in more than two decades of work and public activity. One friend likened it to building a Presidential Library before you become President.

Back in 1999, early in his tenure as Governor of the Sunshine State, Bush—policy wonk and stickler for detail—wrote to a supporter and included the semi-rhetorical question “I wonder if this email is a matter of public record?” He included more than a dozen questions marks after the brief daydream. More than 15 years have passed, and Bush appears eerily prescient on the question of emails and full disclosure.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton struggles still with Servergate, and now faces the possibility of a House investigation—spurred by Speaker John Boehner and supported by Rep. Jason Chafetz—into Clinton’s failure to use a government email account.

The timing has been good news for Bush—a happy accident for the son of George H.W. Bush and the brother of George W. Bush, and the man who is now the de facto front-runner among a crowded field numbering some dozen potential candidates. When it was revealed that while serving as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton not only used a privately-crafted email account to conduct government business (State Department emails, we were told, were intermingled with personal communications), but also used what’s known in computer geek circles as a “homebrew” server, the spaghetti hit the fan.

After days of stony silence, Clinton finally acknowledged grudgingly that though she thought the “convenience” of using her personal email account would save time and trouble, it clearly had not. She said she opted for keeping correspondence limited to the private email in order to avoid carrying around two handheld devices. Clinton also told us what we already darkly suspected: that she had personally deleted more than 30,000 emails. Even those reporters with a predisposition for tilting left at their keyboards looked askance.

It gets worse. The server used as a platform for all that State Department correspondence was set up in an office inside the Clinton’s private home, an arrangement she claimed was safe because somewhere outside at all hours of night and day walked vigilant members of the United States Secret Service. The internet account was established under an apparently fictitious name using an address which happened to be identical to the address used by the Clinton Foundation.

And it gets worse still. The Clinton Foundation often solicited and accepted donations from both agencies of foreign governments (especially those eager to curry favor with major U.S. businesses and political figures) and from major U.S. businesses (eager to curry favor with major overseas players and foreign governments), and those transactions, we now understand, took place to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars at the same time that Hillary Clinton was acting as the United States’ top diplomat. The fact that the Clinton Foundation did good work—and still does—was irrelevant: when money flowed from places like Algeria and Saudi Arabia into the accounts of the Foundation, Hillary Clinton broke specific laws and violated specific guidelines established to prevent foreign governments and international businesses from attempting to sway U.S. foreign policy with cash.

Some of the correspondence used to lubricate and expedite these financial machinations took place using those personal email accounts, and were sent, received and stored on that server housed in the Clinton home in New York.

Republicans say that Clinton may have violated the law, though even with all the media and journalistic scrutiny of the last weeks, those laws have elicited oddly elastic interpretations. Clinton surely violated the code of ethics mandated by the Obama White House, an administration which prided itself early on for its commitment to transparency, openness, and full accountability. Clinton was also in violation of the State Department’s own rules governing official correspondence, and she was demonstrably at odds with both the letter and the spirit of the Federal Records Act, which establishes guidelines for the security and management of government correspondence. The Act was first crafted in 1955, but has been updated and retrofitted over the decades to accommodate technological changes, including email.

Clinton, in the traditional fashion of the Clinton Franchise, has sought to downplay the email imbroglio as insignificant to her progressive causes and to her soon-to-be-announced candidacy, while also attempting to redirect blame for the fracas back toward the GOP, which has pounced on the email issue as yet another sign that the Clinton’s disdain the same rules which apply to others.

For Jeb Bush, this has been a gift from the political gods. Bush has released so much of his own digital paper trail—from his time as Florida Governor, from his business and political transactions since—that his people managed to accidentally release even spreadsheets and files attached (or deeply embedded) in emails. A few of those spreadsheets and documents contained Social Security numbers of a thousand of Florida residents. And among that mountain of digital material can be found some of Bush’s personal correspondence. Back on New Year’s Eve, Bush officially severed most of his connections to several non-profit groups, and divested himself of most of his business activities and investments; lots of paperwork followed, along with digital records.

The contrast between what Bush has revealed about himself—including warts, blemishes, scars—and what Hillary Clinton has already said we will not see makes for comical comparisons. It may also spell trouble for Democratic strategists and the think tank at Clinton Central, for Republicans are frothing at the mouth to make the direct comparisons of their candidates’ relative openness and accountability and that of Clinton, most especially her stewardship over the Department of State. Clinton has told reporters she wants State to make all of her emails available, but the folks at Foggy Bottom say it could be many weeks or months before they can complete the process of sorting and culling.

In the meantime, there are plenty of journalists who want to know about those 30,000 deleted emails, and Republican members of Congress are asking the Justice Department to confiscate that server and any related equipment—routers, modems, hard drives—to see just how deeply the breach of security went. More importantly, according to some in the GOP, did Clinton deliberately destroy evidence relating to the attacks in Benghazi, Libya—emails sent before, during, or after the attack that might show Clinton’s culpability in the violent, deadly confrontation.

According to the State Department, while serving as the top diplomat and top negotiator for the U.S., she sent or received approximately 62,320 emails. Despite initial claims by Clinton’s staff that 55,000 emails had been turned over to the State Department for review, the actual number now appears to be 30,490. The rest, according to Clinton’s staff, were either withheld or deleted because those items contained personal or private correspondence. But reporters say that these numbers don’t square with the initial estimate that Clinton sent or received nearly 200,000 emails during that period.

Further confusing the math, some emails were in response to correspondence sent before she became Secretary of State—back to when she was a candidate for President in 2007 and 2008—emails which reflect a thread of response/counter-response typical when users hit the “reply” button, or when someone prepares to send an email by typing the recipient’s name in the “to” field and chooses to allow the email software to auto-populate the information. Still other emails were a part of later threads of conversation, after she had left the State Department.

Accountability experts and government reform advocates say that this confusing mishmash of subjective recordkeeping and purging is precisely why government employees and public officials should use only government-supplied email addresses and government-maintained servers. Clinton has offered what she feels is a justifiable mea culpa: other government employees have mixed business with personal when it comes to emails, and some have even used privately crafted or managed accounts. But hundreds of reporters, including those with the esteemed Associated Press, have challenged not only the morality of this tack, but also the veracity; there is no evidence that other cabinet level public officials have ever used a personal email account to conduct official business.

The problem politically for Hillary Clinton—regardless of the legal possibilities—is that her homebrew server was at direct odds with the Obama administration’s top-tier goal of restoring and maintaining accountability and transparency at the White House. GOP lawmakers and Republican strategists will surely link this cavalier, even dismissive attitude by Clinton to their ongoing war dance regarding Benghazi.

Bush may have his own challenge explaining why, as it has been reported in the New York Times, it took him seven years to make available thousands of emails as required by Florida’s rules and guidelines governing correspondence. He only reached 100% total compliance earlier this year, when a final batch of about 25,000 emails was turned over. And clearly in those earliest days in the late 90s, Bush struggled at times to understand the full import of what and how he was corresponding by using emails, one of which was the email jeb@jeb.org, an address he had made public so that any Floridian could write to him directly. Still, analysts say, Bush now seems like a political genius for having disclosed so much correspondence, so soon.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Hillary’s Email Explanations; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; March 11, 2015.

Bush Emails Accidentally Disclose Personal Data; Thursday Review; February 14, 2015.