the Beacon Journal editorial board
Hillary Clinton already has admitted errors in the way she handled email during her time as secretary of state. A report from the State Department inspector general, released on Wednesday, fills in details about the mistakes she made. The criticism is sharp at times, and appropriately so. Clinton had opportunities to do things differently, as today she says she wishes she had, but she let them slide.
That said, this matter deserves some perspective. The inspector general makes plain that the department has been slow to adapt and implement policies in the era of the Internet, revealing “longstanding, systemic weaknesses.”
Clinton has been cudgeled for using a personal mobile device to conduct department business. The report maintains that she did not ask for permission. At the same time, department procedures lacked clarity. A timeline in the report reminds even a 2014 update left room for using personal email.
At one point, a staff member suggests Clinton start using the State email system. She sounds open to the idea in an email exchange, as long as private messages are protected. But things stopped there.
The first problem with the Clinton email, as discussed in the report, is her failure to follow procedures for archiving communications. The process is cumbersome. Officials using their own devices have an obligation to print and file each piece of email. This is crucial in capturing the record of a secretary or department, the equivalent of the letters and documents that historians have mined to retrieve the past. Clinton did not comply until she provided 30,000 email messages to State in 2014.
The report indicates that even then messages still are missing. It isn’t good enough to assume, as Clinton did, that communications with department staff members will result in capturing the email.
The second problem involves the security threat. The inspector general emphasizes how the use of a private server by Clinton amounts to a far lesser degree of protection, He argues that if Clinton had asked to proceed as she did, she would have been denied permission. All of that makes sense, the government with a secure system and employees, from top to bottom, required to use it.
What deserves mention is that the Clinton server was secure in its own way, constructed for a former president and first lady. No evidence has surfaced yet to indicate that it has been hacked, unlike the State Department, which has proved vulnerable.
That isn’t to diminish the mistakes Clinton has admitted. Neither do the inspector general’s findings suggest anything illegal. If the FBI still must issue its report, the released email falls far from the categories of corrupt, scandalous, or David Petraeus turning over classified documents to his biographer and mistress.
Hillary Clinton erred, as the inspector general concludes. She neglected proper procedures. But it is hard see any dark intent in what she did. So far, the email points to a diplomat dealing with global complexities, lesser and greater, along with the mundane making regular appearances.