Is any remotely viable Democrat prepared to step up and challenge Hillary Clinton in 2016? Because she deserves to be scrutinized by a competitive opponent - more so than ever, now that she’s been busted anew for engaging in classic Clintonian secrecy.
Turns out that Hillary, in all her official communications as Secretary of State, used a personal email account - defying the Federal Records Act, which requires that all top feds use government email accounts, thus ensuring that their e-correspondence is publicly archived for the future benefit of congressional committees, historians, and journalists.
Instead of complying with federal law, Hillary - through her advisers - has cherry-picked only the emails that she has deemed worthy of release. Those have been turned over to the State Department. But nobody - aside from Hillary and her advisers - knows what’s in the emails that were not released. Nobody knows who received the emails that were not released. Foreign leaders, perhaps? And yet, a Hillary spokesman somehow insists that Hillary has complied with the “letter and spirit of the rules.”
The flak’s Orwellian claim doesn’t fly with the nonpartisan watchdogs at the Sunlight Foundation: “(T)here is shock at what Secretary Clinton did because the most likely explanation of her intent seems clear - she created a system designed to avoid accountability, potentially in violation of the law.”
The moral of the story: It would be a mistake for Democrats to treat 2016 as a Hillary coronation. She needs to be checked and balanced and held accountable like any other candidate - as demonstrated by this business with the emails. Fact is, she and Bill have long had a problem with transparency, and voters who abhor secrecy deserve to have it debated.
Lest we forget Clintonian secrecy was vigorously debated during the 2008 primaries. As I wrote back then, Hillary “refused to shed any light on why the Clintons are safeguarding the identities of the global heavy hitters who are bankrolling the Clinton Library.” She was asked, during a debate, whether she and Bill would identify the foreign donors, in order for Americans to judge whether the Clintons owed future favors. She replied that Bill would “be happy to consider that.” Turns out, he wasn’t.
Also in 2008, Hillary dragged her feet on releasing her tax returns, doing so only after weeks of relentless pressure. Also in 2008, Bill looked bad in this USA Today story: “Federal archivists at the Clinton Presidential Library are blocking the release of hundreds of pages of White House papers on pardons that the former president approved, including clemency for fugitive commodities trader Marc Rich. The archivists’ decision, based on guidance provided by Bill Clinton that restricts the disclosure of advice he received from aides, prevents public scrutiny of documents that would shed light on how he decided which pardons to approve from among hundreds of requests.”
Heck, we could trace the secrecy theme back to the early days of Bill’s presidential tenure, when Hillary was tasked with the worthy goal of crafting health care reform - an unprecedented First Lady responsibility - but did so in secret. A coalition of medical and ethics organizations demanded that Hillary release her team’s records. She refused. The groups sued. The courts ruled that Hillary had been wrong to work in secret, and wrong to shield the identities of her task force teammates - many of whom were private medical industry people with potential conflicts of interest.
In fact, during the 2008 primaries, Obama campaign maestro David Plouffe assailed Hillary as “one of the most secretive politicians in America today,” and questioned “whether she’ll be open and honest with the American people as president.” He said aloud what many Democrats have long privately muttered.
Granted, Plouffe dissed her in the heat of battle, and he’s quiet about her today (and reportedly advising her on the sly). But this new email story should serve as a Democratic wakeup call. Even if she gets the party nod in 2016, at minimum she needs to be questioned about whether, or to what extent, she might be tempted to govern under the radar.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org