Clinton’s Email Problems Trigger Legal Actions

Hillary Clinton

Photo courtesy of U.N. Security Council/Seth Wenig

Clinton’s Email Problems Trigger Legal Actions
| published March 28, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff

The increasingly nasty fight over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account and the server which was housed in the Clinton’s private home just got nastier, and more complicated.

On Friday, U.S. Representative Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina) said that after her tenure as Secretary of State, she and her staff wiped the so-called homebrew server clean, effectively destroying more than 31,000 emails sent and received between 2009 and 2013. Gowdy went further, declaring that Clinton is, in effect, operating in non-cooperation mode by refusing to produce any new documents or emails, and by refusing to relinquish the server for purposes of an independent inspection.

Gowdy and his committee have been investigating the 2012 militant attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Gowdy and his staff believe that Clinton may have deliberately deleted thousands of emails related to State Department business, and presumably some of those emails would have concerned the situation in Libya in the weeks before and after the deadly attacks.

But Hillary Clinton’s attorneys, led by David Kendall, have said that Clinton has nothing to hide. That server which so worries Republicans, Kendall says, doesn’t contain any of the emails in question. Besides, Kendall says, Clinton has already turned over all relevant correspondence to the State Department. Then only emails deleted from the personal account, according to Kendall, were the purely personal ones.

Gowdy says that stakes will only go higher for Clinton if the email fiasco continues. Under the conditions of a subpoena hand-delivered earlier in March, Clinton had a deadline of Friday, March 27 to turn over all emails and correspondence sent or received using the homebrew server and the modem used on the email account. Clinton, Gowdy and his legal team say, did not turn over that information as requested.

The House Committee has issued a new deadline of April 3—not for the emails, correspondence and related attachments—but for the actual server, the modem, and any related computer equipment associated with the private account. House Speaker John Boehner says he is considering a vote in the full House to mandate that Clinton relinquish the server in the event that she does not make it available by the April deadline.

Kendall says that the server in question is irrelevant, and contains nothing useful to investigators. It is not clear that Kendall intends to let Clinton hand the server over to the committee, or to any independent group for review.

The email scandal, sometimes referred to by reporters as Servergate, is hitting Clinton at a critical time in her yet-to-be-announced candidacy for President in 2016. Though she faces few opponents among other Democrats, the email fiasco may prove to be damaging as Republican candidates seek to position themselves as more open and accountable than Clinton. Transparency and openness has become a key issue for presumptive GOP front-runner Jeb Bush, who has already released tens of thousands of emails from his time as Florida governor, and made available thousands of documents related to his business interests and his various public service work in the years that followed.

Earlier in the week, the political watchdog group Freedom Watch filed a lawsuit in Federal court, charging Clinton and her staff with racketeering and corruption for the use of her private email system during her tenure as Secretary of State. Freedom Watch, which used the Freedom of Information Act as its legal leverage, says that the Clinton’s engaged in corruption when they sought and received—using the cover of the Clinton Foundation and its charitable activities—hefty speaking fees and large donations from international corporations and foreign governments. Freedom Watch alleges that the donations were in exchange for implicit favors and friendly policy-making by the U.S. Department of State.

Freedom Watch also charges the Clintons with attempting to cover up their activity by maintaining a private, non-government email account—one platformed on a server which would be inaccessible to government oversight or law enforcement.

Freedom Watch is a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying organization and think tank originally formed during the George W. Bush years. Much of its early emphasis was in support of more aggressive measures in the war on terror, and at that time it generally supported the Bush administration’s foreign policy template—including the war in Afghanistan, and military operations in Iraq. Much of the group’s original funding was provided by casino magnate and billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Clinton supporters say that the Freedom Watch lawsuit, therefore, is groundless and little more than a political stunt.

But Freedom Watch is not the only group demanding that Hillary Clinton be held accountable for her choice to sidestep government rules and Federal law by crafting a private email system outside of public scrutiny. The Associated Press has also requested that Clinton make available those thousands of emails sent and received during her time as the nation’s top diplomat.

In mid-March, the Associated Press filed a lawsuit against the State Department, requesting that it no longer delay its release of Clinton’s 30,000-plus emails and charging the State Department—and the Clintons—with deliberately violating the spirit, and the letter, or laws regarding open-records and freedom of information. The AP says it has filed five separate Freedom of Information requests in a period of about five years; according to legal counsel for the AP, none of those requests have been honored. The AP’s lawsuit came just days after Clinton told reporters that she personally deleted emails which she regarded as containing only personal conversation. The number of deleted emails thought to number 31,830.

The AP is also charging the State Department with stalling and delaying the release of the 31,000 Clinton emails in its possession (those NOT deleted by Clinton).

Computer experts are in disagreement over whether or not any record of the emails can be found on a server which has been wiped clean. A networking and internet supervisor we spoke to in Denver, Colorado (he asked that he not be quoted by name since he works for a large internet and data provider) said that the process of wiping a server or computer clean is neither 100% reliable nor consistent from one type of computer to another.

“Of course a lot would depend on someone’s skill with computers, with their knowledge of the internet protocol of the provider, and with servers,” this person told Thursday Review, “but if they were determined and had the know-how, they could delete most everything. But the good news/bad news with email is that every time you send an email there is, in theory, a recipient, sometimes several people. And those several people may have forwarded or copies to still more people. That’s why I tell people there no such thing as a permanent delete. It’s all out there somewhere.”

The State Department has said it will be happy to release Clinton’s remaining emails, but the agency has made no promises as to how long the process will take. Political and media pressure has built rapidly over the last weeks, and legal action may force the issue to a head sooner than Clinton would prefer, but the State Department says it is not staffed for the task of vetting the 55,000 pages of emails provided.

The legal problems for Clinton may prove to be trivial, but some political analysts worry that Clinton has inadvertently given Republicans a blunt weapon to use against her in the coming months as her Presidential campaign kicks off. If the deleted emails cannot be extracted or regenerated, GOP candidates and a Republican-controlled Congress can be expected to use the email fiasco as their chief evidence that Clinton is unfit and untrustworthy for the job of President.

On Friday, CBS News reported results of recent polling which showed that the email and server imbroglio has damaged Clinton’s once-reliable poll numbers. Clinton is generally viewed with unfavorable results by 37% of respondents; her favorable numbers came in at 26%, her lowest in three years. Among Democrats, Clinton lost ground as well, dropping from 63% favorable two years ago to about 55% now. And among independents, Clinton’s favorable numbers have been cut in half, her largest net loss in many years. Notably, among independent voters, only 34% view Clinton as honest, transparent and trustworthy.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Jeb Bush’s Alternate Email; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; March 25, 2015.

Bush Vs. Clinton: Transparency Wars; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; March 19, 2015.