Hillary Clinton is another Colin Powell victim
Jennifer Rubin is a conservative columnist for the Washington Post, and I have frequently disagreed with her columns. However, unlike Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Marco Rubio, and others, she is not a hack who will support Trump regardless of what he says and what positions he takes, and in this column she shows that facts matter.
Suspicion falls on a high-level administration official. Colin Powell, who cultivates a saintlike image as a man above politics, knows that the accused is blameless. He nevertheless remains silent so as not to besmirch his own image. The accused twists in the wind and suffers personal and professional calamities, which largely could have been avoided had Powell spoken up earlier. The tale of Hillary Clinton’s emails? Actually, that was the Scooter Libby episode.
Libby, chief of staff to then-Vice President Dick Cheney, was falsely accused of leaking the name of CIA employee Valerie Plame. The real culprit was Richard Armitage, as his boss, Colin Powell, knew all too well. Powell and Armitage remained silent, but prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (who also knew Armitage was the culprit) investigated Libby, whose poor memory led to a prosecution, conviction and later a partial pardon. Powell apparently felt no guilt in countenancing investigation of an innocent man. He learned no lesson, it seems.
Along comes Hillary Clinton, no computer whiz. New to the job, she asks Colin Powell about how he dealt with emails. In this case, it was a good thing she was using email. We now have that email exchange in which Powell tells her: “I didn’t have a BlackBerry. What I did do was have a personal computer that was hooked up to a private phone line (sounds ancient.) So I could communicate with a wide range of friends directly without it going through the State Department servers.” That sounds not so different at all, especially to a non-techie, from having her own server at home, doesn’t it? Powell confided, “I even used it to do business with some foreign leaders and some of the senior folks in the Department on their personal email accounts. I did the same thing on the road in hotels.” He acknowledged warnings from intelligence services, but he “went about our business and stopped asking.” He also advised that BlackBerry records could become public. He counsels, “I got around it all by not saying much and not using systems that captured the data.”
You now understand how Clinton could have understood that, generally speaking, Powell did what she did. “Not using systems that captured the data” could very well have sounded to a layperson like “not using a server that captured the data on the State Department’s system.” She, like Powell, used insecure systems in hotels. Nevertheless, Clinton was painted as a liar, and Powell even indignantly claimed at one point that the Clinton team was always trying to “pin” the email problem on him.
It was Powell who was playing it too cute by half. He knew the advice he had given Clinton. He knew his own workarounds. Why didn’t he speak up, even if it meant casting himself in a poor light? Libby probably has wondered the same thing. Now Powell defensively writes in a prepared statement something about not being aware “at the time of any requirement for private, unclassified exchanges to be treated as official records.” He adds, “I stand by my decisions and I am fully accountable.” How about offering an apology for rotten advice to Clinton and for remaining mum, which made him look good and her much worse?
And James Comey, frankly, is partially to blame for making Clinton seem like an abject liar. He surely knew about the Powell-Clinton exchange, which is much more favorable to her than his sterile account and conclusion that Powell did not, in fact, do what she did. (He had no homeserver.) You also get a much better idea why she was not prosecuted; it was pretty darn close to what Powell did and, in any case, she relied in good faith on his advice.
Now, Clinton had an independent duty to comply with updated security protocols. She should not initially have said no classified emails were sent or received. She, like Powell, clearly was doing this to avoid allowing some material to be captured (not for “convenience”). But the entire scandal has a much less ominous feel when you have the details of the Powell-Clinton exchange. . .