Will Republicans Be Estopped From Going Nuts About HRC’s Emails?

As you’ve probably heard by now, it seems Hillary Clinton never set up a government email account at the State Department, and instead used a personal account for official business. Depending on some timing issues, this could have been illegal, though hardly a felony, and was definitely unwise unless she took extraordinary steps to secure her personal account.

But as Melissa McEwan points out at Shakesville, evading scrutiny by doing official business on personal emails was SOP during the Bush administration:

In 2007, Joseph Hughes and I collaborated on a piece detailing a similar violation of the Federal Records Act by multiple members of the Bush administration. At the time, not only did very few people care about this violation, and precious few reporters covered it at all, but I found myself having to explain over and over why this was a violation that mattered; why we need to care that public officials use private email for official communications.

So it will certainly be interesting to watch how this story unfolds, in terms of the amount of coverage it gets and the level of criticism Clinton receives as a result, compared to the administration-wide practice by the Bush administration.

To be abundantly clear: I’m not arguing that Clinton should not face scrutiny as a result of this disclosure. To the contrary, I believe the Bush administration should have received a great deal more scrutiny than it did.

And because I so keenly remember the yawning indifference, of the media and of average USians, to the Bush administration email scandal, I will note that, if this turns into a massive story for Clinton, a potentially presidential-derailing story, it is not because people give a shit about compliance with the Federal Records Act, unless people have suddenly developed an inexplicable fondness for it in the intervening eight years.

As Brother Benen notes, Republican malfeasance towards and indifference about official email requirements didn’t stop with the Bush administration, either:

Three years ago we learned that Mitt Romney oversaw the purchase of 17 state-issued hard drives, and wiped clean computers and servers that contained electronic copies of emails from his gubernatorial office. Romney later admitted the move was intended to hide official correspondence from the public and keep potentially-embarrassing information under wraps in advance of his presidential campaign. During the 2012 race, Republicans said this didn’t matter, either.

So to use a legal term in a less technical way, Republicans are to some extent “estopped” (i.e., limited by their own previous behavior) from making too big a deal about Clinton’s behavior unless there’s more to it than currently appears. Perhaps we can actually get some bipartisan agreement now to prevent officials in either party from circumventing open records requirements.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.