Like a salmon returning to its home stream, the Hillary Clinton email controversy, in which the former secretary of state exclusively used a private email address to conduct government business throughout her stint at Foggy Bottom, traced its way back to a private server that Clinton was running out of her Chappaqua home.
"The highly unusual practice of a Cabinet-level official physically running her own email would have given Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, impressive control over limiting access to her message archives," the AP reported on Wednesday.
Adding a new conspiratorial flourish was the revelation that the service was registered to someone named Eric Hoteham, a name, which the AP noted, "does not appear in public-records databases, campaign-contribution records or Internet background searches." This curious detail was quickly pounced upon by conservative commentators on social media.
Like the private email address itself, the routing of correspondence through what is being characterized as a "homebrew server" appears more bizarre and surreal than definitively illegal. Clinton has not directly addressed the issue, but her team dismissed the controversy: "Like Secretaries of State before her, she used her own email account when engaging with any Department officials," said a Clinton spokesperson. "For government business, she emailed them on their Department accounts, with every expectation they would be retained." (Historians and archivists begged to differ.)
"The mechanics matter a lot," John Wonderlich of the Sunlight Foundation said about Clinton's homebrew server on Wednesday. "The difference is that she created her own infrastructure that she privatized entirely and put under her own personal control."
In some ways, having her own server could ensure that the information is more secure since, as the AP report noted, "an email server there would have been well protected from theft or a physical hacking," as the Secret Service guarded Clinton's home. But the isolation could also shield Clinton's correspondence from Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests, inhibiting transparency and limiting the ability of others to pursue legal cases.
"For me, a huge question is if FOIA officers could do their job?" Wonderlick asked. "Would those FOIA requests be sent to a Clinton staffer?"
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