Saturday, January 30, 2016

From Whitewater to Benghazi: A Clinton-Scandal Primer

There are at least 22 top-secret emails on Hillary Clinton’s private server. The question is how they got there and when they became top secret.
That fact comes from the State Department on Friday—the Obama administration’s first public confirmation of classified material on the server. However, “these documents were not marked classified at the time they were sent,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said.
The mailer demon continues to haunt Hillary Clinton’s campaign, even as the Iowa caucuses approach. The first indications of the 22 top-secret emails came in recent reports from Fox News, NBC News, and Politico. Charles McCullough, inspector general of the Intelligence Community, wrote in a letter that the private email server Clinton used to conduct business while secretary of state contained information about “special access programs.” That label applies to a subcategory of sensitive messages more restricted even than top secret. Kirby said the 22 emails include data about the special access programs.

The State Department and the Intelligence Community have previously tangled over a different pair of emails. The IC argued that the emails were top secret both at the time they were sent and in the present, while the State Department demurred. The dispute led to an FBI investigation. The emails in question in this case are newly unearthed messages, not ones that were previously under discussion.
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In addition, some of Clinton’s emails—which the State Department is currently releasing in batches, per a judge’s orders—have been found to include information that is now marked top secret, but which depending on who you believe was not or possibly was top secret at the time it was sent. Clinton and her aides have consistently maintained that she did not send or receive classified information on the account while secretary. (She says she used a separate system for viewing classified material.) And so far, despite various reports and salvos from the various parties involved, there hasn’t been any clear evidence to contradict that. Yet there are many emails left, and there continue to be reports that suggest there may be more damaging information yet to come—a sword of Damocles hanging over the Clinton campaign, even as the candidate seeks to beat back a strong challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic nomination.
In an additional twist of irony, the “special access programs” involved appear to be drone strikes, which the U.S. government officially maintains are secret, even though the press reports on them frequently, and White House officials have spoken about them on the record and privately to reporters.
Are you confused yet?
The emails have become a classic Clinton scandal. Her use of a private email account became known during the course of the Benghazi investigation. Thus far, the investigations have found no wrongdoing on her part with respect to the 2012 attacks themselves, but Clinton’s private-email use and concerns about whether she sent classified information have become huge stories unto themselves. This is a pattern with the Clinton family, which has been in the public spotlight since Bill Clinton’s first run for office, in 1974: Something that appears potentially scandalous on its face turns out to be innocuous, but an investigation into it reveals different questionable behavior. The canonical case is Whitewater, a failed real-estate investment Bill and Hillary Clinton made in 1978. While no inquiry ever produced evidence of wrongdoing, investigations ultimately led to President Clinton’s impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice.
With Hillary Clinton leading the field for the Democratic nomination for president, every Clinton scandal—from Whitewater to the State Department emails—will be under the microscope. (No other American politicians—even ones as corrupt as Richard Nixon, or as hated by partisans as George W. Bush—have fostered the creation of a permanent multimillion-dollar cottage industry devoted to attacking them.) Keeping track of each controversy, where it came from, and how serious it is, is no small task, so here’s a primer. We’ll update it as new information emerges.

What? Setting aside the question of the Clintons’ private email server, what’s actually in the emails that Clinton did turn over to State? While some of the emails related to Benghazi have been released, there are plenty of others covered by public-records laws that haven’t.
When? 2009-2013
How serious is it? Serious. Initially, it seemed that the interest in the emails would stem from damaging things that Clinton or other aides had said: cover-ups, misrepresentations, who knows? But so far, other than some cringeworthy moments of sucking up and some eye-rolly emails from contacts like Sidney Blumenthal, the emails have been remarkably boring. The main focus now is on classification. We know that some of the material in the emails is now classified. The question is whether any of it, and how much of it, was classified at the time it was sent. Clinton has said she didn’t knowingly send or receive classified material on the account. The State Department and Intelligence Community have disagreed about that. In addition, the Intelligence Community’s inspector general wrote in a January letter that Clinton’s server contained information marked “special access program,” higher even than top secret. Some emails that Clinton didn’t turn over have also since surfaced.

What? On September 11, 2012, attackers overran a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Since then, Republicans have charged that Hillary Clinton failed to adequately protect U.S. installations or that she attempted to spin the attacks as spontaneous when she knew they were planned terrorist operations. She testifies for the first time on October 22.
When? September 11, 2012-present
How serious is it? Benghazi has gradually turned into a classic “it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup” scenario. Only the fringes argue, at this point, that Clinton deliberately withheld aid. A House committee continues to investigate the killings and aftermath, but Clinton’s marathon appearance before the committee in October was widely considered a win for her. However, it was through the Benghazi investigations that Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server became public—a controversy that remains potent.

Conflicts of Interest in Foggy Bottom
What? Before becoming Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills worked for Clinton on an unpaid basis for four month while also working for New York University, in which capacity she negotiated on the school’s behalf with the government of Abu Dhabi, where it was building a campus. In June 2012, Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin’s status at State changed to “special government employee,” allowing her to also work for Teneo, a consulting firm run by Bill Clinton’s former right-hand man. She also earned money from the Clinton Foundation and was paid directly by Hillary Clinton.
Who? Both Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin are among Clinton’s longest-serving and closest aides. Abedin remains involved in her campaign (and she’s also married to Anthony Weiner).
When? January 2009-February 2013
How serious is it? This is arcane stuff, to be sure. There are questions about conflict of interest—such as whether Teneo clients might have benefited from special treatment by the State Department while Abedin worked for both. To a great extent, this is just an extension of the tangle of conflicts presented by the Clinton Foundation and the many overlapping roles of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The Clintons’ Private Email Server
What? During the course of the Benghazi investigation, New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt learned Clinton had used a personal email account while secretary of state. It turned out she had also been using a private server, located at a house in New York. The result was that Clinton and her staff decided which emails to turn over to the State Department as public records and which to withhold; they say they then destroyed the ones they had designated as personal.
When? 2009-2013, during Clinton’s term as secretary.
Who? Hillary Clinton; Bill Clinton; top aides including Huma Abedin
How serious is it? It looks more serious all the time. The rules governing use of personal emails are murky, and Clinton aides insist she followed the rules. There’s no dispositive evidence otherwise so far. The greater political problem for Clinton is it raises questions about how she selected the emails she turned over and what was in the ones she deleted. The FBI has reportedly managed to recover some of the deleted correspondence. Could the server have been hacked? Some of the emails she received on her personal account are marked sensitive. Plus there’s a entirely different set of questions about Clinton’s State Department emails. The FBI is investigating the security of the server as well as the safety of a thumb drive belonging to her lawyer that contains copies of her emails. And the AP reports that the setup may have made the server vulnerable to hacking. Given the shabby state of State Department cybersecurity, she might not have been any better off using the official system.

Sidney Blumenthal
What? A former journalist, Blumenthal was a top aide in the second term of the Bill Clinton administration and helped on messaging during the bad old days. He served as an adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, and when she took over the State Department, she sought to hire Blumenthal. Obama aides, apparently still smarting over his role in attacks on candidate Obama, refused the request, so Clinton just sought out his counsel informally. At the same time, Blumenthal was drawing a check from the Clinton Foundation.
When? 2009-2013
How serious is it? Some of the damage is already done. Blumenthal was apparently the source of the idea that the Benghazi attacks were spontaneous, a notion that proved incorrect and provided a political bludgeon against Clinton and Obama. He also advised the secretary on a wide range of other issues, from Northern Ireland to China, and passed along analysis from his son Max, a staunch critic of the Israeli government (and conservative bête noire). But emails released so far show even Clinton’s top foreign-policy guru, Jake Sullivan, rejecting Blumenthal’s analysis, raising questions about her judgment in trusting him.

The Speeches
What? Since Bill Clinton left the White House in 2001, both Clintons have made millions of dollars for giving speeches.
When? 2001-present
Who? Hillary Clinton; Bill Clinton; Chelsea Clinton
How serious is it? At one time, this seemed like the most dangerous of the bunch, but it has since gone dormant—which isn’t to say that it’s dead. For the couple, who left the White House up to their ears in legal debt, lucrative speeches—mostly by the former president—proved to be an effective way of rebuilding wealth. They have also been an effective magnet for prying questions. Where did Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton speak? How did they decide how much to charge? What did they say? How did they decide which speeches would be given on behalf of the Clinton Foundation, with fees going to the charity, and

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