Clinton Email “Scandal” a Nothing-Burger?

Since I’ve made a few ominous noises about the possible fallout from Hillary Clinton’s email practices at the State Department, I should note two very persuasive arguments available today suggesting the real scandal could be sloppy or incomplete reporting by the New York Times, which broke the story on Monday.

Mike Tomasky asked the right question late yesterday:

The article says that there were “new” regulations that Clinton was supposed to abide by. It notes that one past secretary of state, Colin Powell, who served from 2001 to 2005, sometimes used his personal email account “before the new regulations went into effect.”

So, a key question would seem to be this: When did the new regulations go into effect? If 2007 or 2008, then Clinton would appear to be in direct violation of them, depending on what precisely they said. If later, it gets a little murkier.

Oddly, the Times article doesn’t say. It doesn’t pin the new regs down to a specific date or even year….

The new regs apparently weren’t fully implemented by State until a year and half after Clinton left State. Here’s the timeline: Clinton left the State Department on February 1, 2013. Back in 2011, President Obama had signed a memorandum directing the update of federal records management. But the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) didn’t issue the relevant guidance, declaring that email records of senior government officials are permanent federal records, until August 2013. Then, in September 2013, NARA issued guidance on personal email use.

A senior State Department official emailed me to say that “in October 2014, a Department-wide notice was sent out which explained each employee’s responsibilities for records management. Consistent with 2013 NARA guidance, it included instructions that generally employees should not use personal email for the transaction of government business, but that in the very limited circumstances when it is necessary, all records must be forwarded to a government account or otherwise preserved in the Department’s electronic records systems.”

A separate analysis by Bob Cesca at The Daily Banter goes into the various laws and regs in more detail, and argues the only reg (no law) Clinton might have violated was one involving the archiving of her private email–which she later complied with. He’s as unimpressed as Tomasky at both the relatively unremarkable nature of her “crime” and the quality of reporting by the Times.

Now none of this is to say the content of her emails might theoretically contain some dynamite, as congressional Republican “investigating” Benghazi! clearly hope. But that’s true of anyone in public office. So unless more develops, it’s probably time to call off the hunt for alternative Democratic presidential candidates.

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.