Let’s put the Hillary email story in perspective, if only for a moment.
The fact that she used a private server during her Secretary of State stint will not deter most Democrats; in a new national poll, 86 percent view her favorably, and 61 percent want her to be the nominee. And general-election swing voters won’t even remember this flap 20 months from now. And there’s way more weighty stuff going on right now – like the Senate Republicans’ treacherous bid to sabotage America’s nuclear talks with Iran, and the systemic white racism uncovered in Ferguson.
But still. Hillary’s peekaboo with the media has only served to inflate this entire episode:
1. After The New York Times broke the story last Wednesday, Team Hillary immediately went to the bunker. Some teammates attacked the Times story and demanded a retraction. Others tried the Yeah-But Defense (“yeah but other secretaries have done the same thing”). And when journalists called with questions – legit questions, like “Did she know about the ’05 State Department regulation warning employees not to use private email?” and “In ’13, when her aides chose which emails would go to the archives, what criteria did they use?” – they got no answers. Because for an entire week, the press was stonewalled. You cannot do that in a 24/7 digital information world.
2. Early yesterday, when it was clear that stonewalling wouldn’t make the story go away (as if), Hillary scheduled a press conference on very short notice, at the United Nations. That was designed to minimize the number of questioners, because (a) lots of journalists couldn’t get to the U.N. on very short notice, and (b) the extra-rigorous security screening at the U.N. would likely prevent some journalists from getting to the room on time.
(By the way, as we head into the ’16 cycle, conservatives will robotically chant that the so-called “liberal” media is in the tank for Hillary. Reality check: Hillary is hostile to the media, and the media isn’t wild about her, either. This email episode is Exhibit A.)
3. Hillary surfaced for a grand total of 21 minutes. The questioners were pre-picked by Hillary’s staff. The first was from Turkish television: “If you were a man today, would all this fuss being made be made?” Bingo – the gender card, intimating that Hillary is being victimized because she’s a woman. The idea was to get that message out there, coupled with a staged Hillary demurral: “I will leave that to others to answer.”
4. She was later asked: “Can you explain how you decided which of the personal e-mails to get rid of, how you got rid of them and when? And how you’ll respond to questions about you being the arbiter of what you release?” She stonewalled on both. And she never addressed the core issue – the federal rules which require that official emails must be stored on government servers.
5. This was the closest she came to admitting error: “Looking back, it would have been probably, you know, smarter to have two devices (an official email account for government business, and a separate private account for personal business)….It might have been smarter to have those two devices from the very beginning.” But instead, she did everything on a private server “for convenience.”
So while everyone else was complying with federal rules, Hillary did her own thing “for convenience.” And, for convenience, she had her staffers pick and choose which of those private server emails should go to the archives. She said, “I have absolute confidence that everything that could be in any way connected to work is now in the possession of the State Department.”
But there’s no way to independently verify that, becase she won’t turn over her private server. We’re simply supposed to trust her “absolute confidence” in herself. And ultimately, long after this flap fades, the big question is whether the voters will share that trust.