Let’s talk about Hillary Clinton for the Historical Record

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Nomi Prins is a Senior Distinguished Fellow at the non-partisan public policy institute, Demos. She is the author of many books, including her most recent All the Presidents' Bankers, which will be out in paperback, March 25th. She is a former Wall Street insider.


On March 10th, after eight days of anticipation, media and political uproar, the world was privy to Hillary Clinton “breaking her silence” (aside from the stray tweet beforehand) regarding her decision to conduct government business from her personal clintonmail.com email address while Secretary of State -- for ‘convenience’ purposes.

There are basically two opinion camps that have formed around email-gate. They break down, as these things do, across partisan lines. The GOP camp professes, absent any self-reflection on say, the 22 million or more relevant emails deleted from a non-government domain during the George W. Bush administration, that this is another example of the Clintonian belief that laws and words are mere obstacles subject to manipulation.

The second, largely progressive Democrat camp believes that once again, Hillary Clinton is being harpooned unfairly over this oh-so-minor issue. Hey, what is ‘is’ anyway? And what’s wrong with convenience – after all, two phones are so heavy and cumbersome?

But the historical record has an opinion, too. To account for its cracks and crevices, its direct and clandestine reflections of the past, history requires the preservation of information. Regarding American Presidential records, sometimes that information will remain ‘classified for national security” or other reasons, or only be released after decades of dormancy once said threat is deemed gone.

Other times, it will be made available to the public once it has been duly processed by archivists, neatly divided into folders and boxes and marked under official categories, and either accessed quickly (as the Oprah interview was at the William J. Clinton library) or await years to be requested by some wayward historian. (This was the case for many of the items I was fortunate to unearth through my own recent presidential records analysis.)

When I was probing presidential archives throughout the country for All the Presidents' Bankers, classified, and then unclassified, information included items like the melding of private banking and state department activities by Chase head David Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger, which led to the Iran Hostage Crisis during the Carter administration. Still classified information included pages of redactions in the George H. W. Bush archives regarding his son, Neil Bush, who played a controversial role in the late 1980s Silverado S&L scandal. 

But even though I focused my research on the relationships and related policy decisions of presidents with key bankers and banker families, history pushed to the surface nearly every Secretary of State associated with the 19 presidents I investigated. History has a voice raised through evidence. It is, for instance, present in the 70 pages of footnotes I have in my book. If all the Secretaries of State, or Treasury Secretaries had decided to take it upon themselves to divvy up and classify their correspondence trails, the truth behind their actions, associations, and motivations would have been similarly diffused.

For the most part, before the advent of emails, presidential documents resided in the form of typed letters, handwritten notes, telegrams, and taped recordings (until after Nixon’s presidency). From Teddy Roosevelt through Ronald Reagan, the documents I examined were pre-email technology, as were most of the George H.W. Bush documents. As I reached the William J. Clinton library in Little Rock, Arkansas, on a blustery mid-January day in 2013, fewer documents of any kind were available for my requested inspection compared to the prior presidential archives I had visited. First and foremost, they had not been processed yet. Fewer staffers work at these libraries (the money is made in the museums, which are visited by busloads of tourists, not from those of us digging through the archives). Second, with the advent of email, as the Clinton archivists informed me, more procedures and protocol are required to determine whether they can be released to the public. Library officials have to determine if these so-called Automated Records Management System (ARMS) emails must remain hidden under the cloak of “national security.”

The FOIA requests I submitted to the Reagan library for as yet uncategorized but not classified information on bankers were processed in a few months. I have yet to hear back from the FOIA’s I submitted to the Clinton library in January 2013, from an administration that ended a decade and a half ago.

By using external email addresses and servers, Hillary Clinton didn’t just sabotage the records process, she hindered our ability to understand what happened during her years in office and how policy was made.

Aside from that, there is the law. Presidential records do cover the Executive Office. The Secretary of State is a member of the Executive Office. That’s why I found records on domestic and foreign activity between the state department and private bankers when I perused presidential archives. No, I didn’t come across yoga or wedding plans, as Hillary Clinton said her personal emails included, but that’s not the point.

The point is that Hillary Clinton exhibited disrespect for her public position, for history, and for the future by choosing to self-segregate her correspondence. That President Obama didn’t see fit to question the disposition of her emails (classified or unclassified) is a mark of an elitist outlook.

Hillary Clinton asserted she was not violating any rules or seeking to hide her communications. Yet, rules were violated whether she sought to hide anything or not.

Before reporters at the UN, Clinton admitted that, "Looking back, it would've been better if I had simply used a second email account and carried a second phone but at the time this didn't seem like an issue… The vast majority [emphasis added] of my work emails went to government employees at their government addresses which meant they were captured and preserved immediately on the system at the State Department."

She added, "I took an unprecedented step of making all work-related emails public." White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest confirmed President Obama had corresponded with Clinton on her private account, stating, “the president was aware of her email address. He traded emails with her. …. But the president was not aware of the fact that this was a personal email server and that this was the email address that she was using exclusively for all her business."

This is another point of head scratching. It’s hard to imagine President Obama wasn’t aware that clintonmail.com didn’t look like state.gov. If he had not been too busy to notice such minor discrepancies, he might have wondered whether or not she was using this email address for all her business, government or otherwise. And somewhere during her years working for him, he might have asked her to come on over to the state.gov side.

According to Hillary Clinton, all government business related emails have reverted to the State Department. Whether that is true or not is something that at this point she has robbed history of the ability to ever really confirm. In other words, Hillary Clinton didn't just exercise shady judgment, she disrespected American history and the few rules the government has put in place to preserve it. 



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