This is the last thing Hillary Clinton needed. Two weeks before the final contests of the 2016 Democratic primary, and just 78 delegates shy of wrapping up the nomination, she wakes up to find herself once again bogged down by the email scandal that just won't go away.
But this time it's not Donald Trump piling on; it's the State Department's own inspector general, who issued a highly critical report of Clinton's by now well-known exclusive use of a private server for her emails while secretary of state. In so doing, concludes the report, contradicting what Clinton has asserted many times, she did, indeed, violate long-standing State Department rules. Not only that, she never sought permission to use her own private server, and would not have received permission if she had. And, in another violation of department rules, she failed to turn over copies of her emails upon leaving office. The report also chides her for refusing to meet with State Department lawyers conducting the internal investigation.
Suddenly, the issue that seemed to fade for a while is back with a vengeance. And this is still not the last shoe to drop. An ongoing FBI investigation into whether or not Secretary Clinton committed a federal crime by bypassing the official State Department computer system is still underway. Several Clinton staffers have already been interviewed, and Clinton herself may be summoned to testify. Meanwhile, a judge has ordered former top aides Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin to testify in a civil case brought against Clinton's email practices by the right-wing legal group Judicial Watch and says he may call on Secretary Clinton as well.
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No doubt, for Clinton, resurgence of the email controversy is a serious problem. It dominates the news. It buries her message. It forces her to play defense. It raises the issue of trust. It casts a shadow of "scandal" over the entire campaign that will dog her through Nov. 8. And, even with zero evidence of wrongdoing, it plays right into the hands of Donald Trump's characterization of "Crooked Hillary."
The tragedy is that none of this had to happen. As Clinton herself acknowledges, she made a big mistake in setting up a private server in the first place. What was she thinking? Once discovered, she made the further mistake of insisting she did it only to avoid the inconvenience of carrying around two cellphones (which almost every Washington big shot does anyway). And then she compounded her problems by dripping out her emails a few thousand at a time, instead of just dumping the whole 50,000 pages in reporters' laps and making them sort through them.
Trump and his fellow Clinton haters immediately pounced on the IG report, claiming it disqualifies her from running for president. But not so fast. A more careful reading shows just the opposite. In several respects, the State Department report actually absolves Clinton, rather than condemn her.
The inspector general finds: She was not the first secretary of state to use a private server. So did Colin Powell. Nor did she create the problem. She was just the latest to deal with the State Department's "longstanding, systemic weaknesses" with records that "go well beyond the tenure of any one secretary of state." And, most significantly, the report concludes that, while Clinton did break existing department rules, she did nothing illegal – which will come as a huge disappointment to all those who were banking on Secretary Clinton's indictment as their sole hope for winning the White House. It's not going to happen.
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In other words, while Hillary's setting up her own personal email server was dumb, it was not illegal. She broke the rules, but she did not break the law. She has already released 30,000 emails, and not one bombshell was found in any one of them. Plus, this so-called scandal has now dragged on for almost a year with no smoking gun. It turns out Bernie Sanders was right, last October, when he said: "The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damned emails" – which is why he hasn't talked about them since.
Bottom line: It sounds a lot worse than it is. Gertrude Stein was talking about Oakland, California, when she famously observed: "There's no there, there." She could have been talking about the Hillary email scandal.