The Secretary’s emails

2014-06-11t155415z1813105711gm1ea6b1uc101rtrmadp3usa-politics-clintonIn four years as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton never had a government email address. It is not just that she chose to use a private account, she only used her private account. The defense of this practice is offered on several levels: other Secretaries of State have also used private email accounts; she did it in the ‘expectation’ that the State Department would retain copies of emails she sent to officials; she has handed her emails to the State Department to review; she has actively called on State to release them as soon as possible.

We will come to the specific defences, but let us note first that Team Clinton has not offered any reason for her choosing to adopt this practice. She has offered no explanation as to why a private email address was to be preferred.

Previous Secretaries of State have occasionally used private emails for public business. There doesn’t seem to be any precedent for so senior an official to only use private email. She apparently ‘expected’ officials to retain copies of her emails. This should be more than expectation. It was a State Department rule. The Clintonites do not mention this because it highlights the fact that the rule did not apply to or was ignored by the Secretary. But State would not have had copies of emails she exchanged with anyone outside the Department – lobbyists or foreign government officials, for example. Did it occur to no-one that the Secretary of State would have need to correspond with foreign governments?

She has handed her emails to the State Department and called for expedited release. Okay, but her team decided which emails to hand over. State decides which of those to release, but Team Clinton decided which emails State got to see in the first place. 

Your columnist is fairly imaginative and will generally take great pains to find an innocent explanation for pretty much anyone, if only to measure its credibility. But it is difficult to imagine what such an explanation might be. If she feared the State Department’s infrastructure was not secure then it should have been an urgent priority to make it so. 

Disreputable explanations abound. This has enabled the once and future candidate personally to control what gets released and what does not. Maintaining a private email address alongside a government address would have been less secure, not for the US government, but for Hillary Clinton’s personal reputation. The personal address would potentially have been discovered and either hacked or subpoenaed. At that point all the sneaky emails would have come out. But now any sneaky emails included among the 55,000 pages so far released will be hard to find among the worthy and the mundane.

While this story reinforces the negative things that people associate with the Clintons – the rules do not apply to them; they cannot distinguish between public and private interests; they conceal things; they are grossly self-serving – it will not be fatal to her presidential ambitions unless a smoking gun is discovered. It is almost a year until the Iowa caucuses and more than a year and a half before the 2016 election. The mere fact that she has done something slightly sneaky with not so much as an explanation will be forgotten if no specific wrongdoing emerges.

qlQuentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at

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