After noting untrue statements that Hillary Clinton made about her use of a private email server and the presence of classified material on that server, Peter Suderman concludes that when the presidential hopeful is called to account for actions undertaken as a public official, “she responds with misleading statements, distortions, convenient excuses, and a general sense of irritation and entitlement—anything, in other words, but the clear and unambiguous truth.” He goes on to charge that she engaged in “risky, unauthorized, and decidedly non-transparent behavior.”
That’s mostly fair. Her State Department had an atrocious record of transparency that made a mockery of freedom of information laws, and she certainly wasn’t authorized to maintain a server in her home that contained classified information.
But was doing so risky?
Perhaps it will turn out that documents on her server compromised national security or otherwise did harm to U.S. interests. But I am not convinced.
Let’s consider another possibility.
Think of it as a defense of “Servergate” that the candidate herself wouldn’t dare make, even if she believed parts of it were true. (Clinton’s campaign said Wednesday that emails on the server contained material that had been retroactively classified.)
It’s fun to imagine her saying it anyway:
“America, let me come clean: Yes, there were classified documents on my email server. Yes, this was virtually inevitable when I decided to use it for official business and to set up an account for one of my top aides. But let’s not be naive about this. In Washington, the fact that something is classified doesn’t mean anything.
“We classify everything!”
“It’s a way of covering our assess, leveraging control of information to make ourselves more powerful, and feeling special. Sure, there are some secrets that really need to be kept. And we’re careful with that stuff. But when it comes to classified material, following the letter of the law would be a huge pain in the ass. And it would make government even less efficient than it is. Don’t get me wrong, the laws have their uses. They allow us to punish uppity people who try to tell the citizenry the elite’s secrets. We put Chelsea Manning in a place where she gets reamed for having expired toothpaste!
“But they’re not meant for people like me—powerful people who’ve paid their dues to rise in the ruling class. Like everyone else in that cohort, I’ve earned the right to leak when I deem it prudent; to use my discretion to take whatever work I want home with me; to keep classified documents in my personal files; I mean, hell, my Teflon husband had a former crony who smuggled classified papers from a secure room.
“And what harm ever comes of it?
“Hell, I can’t prove that Wikileaks or the Snowden leaks did America more harm than good. What were the concrete harms anyway? And, to the people who say I should’ve done all my emailing through the State Department system, what a joke! As if that’s secure. LOL. We’re better off assuming that the Chinese and the Russians can see most everything we do, save the most closely guarded secrets, and even they aren’t completely safe. Anything else is just a false sense of security.
“If there’s something that we can’t afford to have leak we shouldn’t be classifying it, we should be destroying it. Our IT isn’t good enough to protect most stuff anyway.
“So get off my back about these classified documents that were on my server. If you start enforcing these laws strictly, even when powerful people are involved, you’ll wind up with a Constitutional crisis, because virtually everyone violates them and is vulnerable. It’ll be like some Third World country where political opponents maneuver one another into jail on trumped up charges so that they can grab or retain power. That should be reserved for the Snowdens of the world, not the Clintons.”
There you have it: the ultra-cynical take on classification laws as they function in the U.S. system. By design, I cannot prove that critique is accurate. I can’t disprove it either––and that’s enough to make me wonder if the laws are more trouble than they’re worth.