The scandal surrounding Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server for work-related correspondences while she served as Secretary of State has turned off some of her supporters in the White House, geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer told Business Insider by email.
“Most of the senior administration officials I know think she’d be an extremely competent president but have a hard time squaring that with her believing she’s above the law,” Bremmer said, referring to the possibility that Clinton broke the law by having classified information on her private server.
“The latest facts around this email scandal hits the bullseye on that issue, and it’s not going to go away.”
On Thursday, a federal judge opened the door for the FBI to try and recover any emails Clinton may have deleted from her private server, expanding the agency’s investigation into whether sensitive information ever passed through her private inbox while she served as secretary of state.
The judge said that Clinton did not comply with government policies surrounding the use of a private email server, which require that “federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency record-keeping system,” The New York Times reported.
Clinton reportedly sent emails to at least four of her aides on their private email accounts, according to The Times, meaning that any correspondence they had was not captured on government servers.
And a bombshell Reuters report on Friday detailed how some of the information Clinton shared with colleagues was inherently classified.
“Clinton and her senior staff routinely sent foreign government information among themselves on unsecured networks several times a month, if the State Department’s markings are correct,” Reuters’ Jonathan Allen reported. “Within the 30 email threads reviewed by Reuters, Clinton herself sent at least 17 emails that contained this sort of information.”
That could lead to trouble for Clinton’s team.
“Anybody who knowingly emailed classified material to Clinton or her top aides when she was secretary of state could face criminal prosecution, according to current and former U.S. national security officials,” Bloomberg reported. “Those who inadvertently send or receive classified data could be prosecuted for gross negligence.”
One administration official speaking to Bremmer recently put it succinctly: “If I did what Hillary did, I think I’d be in jail,” Bremmer said the official told him.
Clinton’s unusual email system was originally set up by a staffer during Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. It replaced another private server used by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
The new server was run by Bryan Pagliano, who had worked as the IT director on Hillary Clinton’s campaign before joining the State Department in May 2009. In 2013 — the same year she left the State Department — Clinton hired a small Denver-based IT firm named Platte River Networks to oversee the system.
Last week, Platte River’s attorney said the server was “blank” when it was transferred to federal agents, according to The Washington Post, but did not clarify how that process took place. In any case, the FBI is reportedly confident it can recover at least some of the deleted files.
Shrugging it off
At a press conference in Nevada on Tuesday, Clinton shrugged off questions about her private server and whether or not she had deliberately wiped it clean.
“What — like with a cloth or something?” Clinton joked, before saying she didn’t “know how it works digitally at all.”
“This is like, everyone’s an expert on inflating footballs, and now everybody’s an expert on wiping servers. Like, I don’t know how that all works,” Palmieri said during an interview on Bloomberg’s “With All Due Respect.”
Palmieri did concede that Clinton “didn’t really think it through” when setting up the server.
Clinton has made an effort to downplay the scandal, shrugging it off as “usual” partisan politics that is being overblown by the media and her political rivals. She has joked twice about the controversy — saying she has “love” for Snapchat because of its disappearing messages last week, then quipping about wiping the server clean “with a cloth.”
But her ostensibly lackadaisical attitude towards the controversy has unnerved some watching from the White House.
“There’s definitely a widely held belief [among administration officials] that different rules apply to the Clintons,” Bremmer said. “This email issue, and the way she’s handled it/shrugged/laughed it off presses everybody’s buttons.”
Republicans have been quick to condemn the new developments. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) chided Clinton’s “jokes” about the controversy.
“She should just provide the information come clean with the American people and deal with it,” Bush said in Nevada on Thursday. “But instead it’s always a joke, or a vast right wing conspiracy, or someone else’s fault.”
Republicans were also quick to condemn Clinton’s press conference, with a spokeswoman from the Republican National Committee openly wondering, “How long until Joe Biden announces?”
Bremmer, too, thinks the scandal has influenced Biden’s outlook on a 2016 presidential run.
“On balance, I now think Biden is going to enter the race,” Bremmer said. “And this is a big piece of the reason why.”
And Democrats have started to openly worry about the political ramifications for the presumed front-runner for their party’s nomination. Sen. Bill Nelson, of the key swing state of Florida, told The Associated Press on Friday that he doesn’t think her campaign has handled the controversy well.
“I think the advice to her of making a joke out of it — I think that was not good advice,” Nelson said.
Meanwhile, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Kentucky) said in an interview with a local TV station that there is a chance that “this could upend her campaign.”
“I just never feel like I have a grasp of what the facts are,” Yarmuth said Wednesday. “Clearly she has handled it poorly from the first day. And there’s the appearance of dishonesty, if it’s not dishonest.”
There have been clear signs that Clinton’s standing is slipping, both with Democrats and the general electorate. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent running for the Democratic nomination, leads her in one poll in the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire.
And a Quinnipiac University poll of three key swing states — Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio — revealed abysmal scores for Clinton on favorability and on whether she is viewed as “honest and trustworthy.” She also polls about even with — or worse than — Biden in theoretical general-election matchups.
In March, Clinton turned over about 55,000 pages of work-related emails for the State Department to make public after facing criticism for exclusively using a private server during her time as secretary of state.
She deleted about 31,000 emails that she says were personal.
So far, investigators say they have found more than 60 emails containing classified information, not including two emails discovered by the intelligence community’s inspector general, Charles McCullough III. Those two emails allegedly contained information classified as Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information, among the government’s highest levels of classification.
Investigators have flagged another 305 emails that may contain sensitive information for intelligence agencies to further review.
Clinton, for her part, insists she never broke the law by knowingly mishandling national-security secrets.
“I had not sent classified material, nor received anything marked classified,” she said at Tuesday’s press conference.
“So I’m very comfortable that this will eventually get resolved, and the American people will have plenty of time to figure it out.”
The Reuters report notes that State Department stamps on some of the emails “indicate that some of Clinton’s emails from her time as the nation’s most senior diplomat are filled with a type of information the US government and the department’s own regulations automatically deems classified from the get-go — regardless of whether it is already marked that way or not.”
In this way, former director of the US Information Security Oversight Office J. William Leonard told Reuters, the information is “born classified.”
“The State Department disputed Reuters’ analysis,” Reuters reported, “but declined requests to explain how it was incorrect.”
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