Media’s Epic Email Fail

The media continues to output articles with fantastic titles such as “Hillary Clinton’s private server doesn’t look like honest mistake”, “The Origin of Key Clinton Emails From the Inspector General Report Is a Mystery”, and my personal favorite, “Hillary Clinton Wasn’t Adept at Using Desktop for Emails, Inquiry is Told”.

(Perhaps in the next debate, we can ask our candidates to demonstrate their ability to send an email via a laptop to determine whether they’re qualified to be President. Well, except if the debate is between Trump and Sanders. They don’t have to prove their ability. After all, everyone knows men are born knowing how to use computers.)

Since we’re now looking at weekly releases of deposition transcripts related to the emails, courtesy of Judge Emmet Sullivan (about which I’ll have more in a follow-up post), it’s important that people have a solid understanding of what the OIG Evaluation Report on State’s email retention and security really means. This means cutting through the many misunderstandings: both inside the report, and among the media’s interpretations of the report results.

First, it’s essential that people realize the OIG report is an evaluation, not a formal OIG investigation. This means that the OIG was looking for general patterns of failure related to the focus of the evaluation, rather than looking for specific instances of deliberate wrong doing. As such, the OIG effort wasn’t exhaustive.

Specifically, the OIG report notes that their fact-finding was limited because of faulty memory, or lack of responses from those people who have already left the department, and didn’t return any of the questionnaires:

In addition, OIG was unable to reconstruct many events because of staff turnover and current employees’ limited recollections of past events. These problems were compounded by the fact that multiple former Department employees and other individuals declined OIG requests for interviews, and OIG lacks the authority to compel anyone who is not a current Department employee to submit to interviews or to answer questions.

Clinton and many of her previous staff have been condemned for not “cooperating” with the OIG evaluation. However, an FBI investigation takes precedence over any other investigation—especially a non-time critical effort such as an OIG evaluation of State’s email retention and email cybersecurity procedures. As noted in a Wall Street Journal article:

Within the federal government, criminal investigations commonly take precedence over noncriminal probes. The State Department will assess how to proceed after the FBI has concluded its investigation, Ms. Trudeau said. A separate probe by the State Department’s independent Office of Inspector General is ongoing, said Doug Welty, a spokesman for that office.

Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign, said the State Department took “a prudent step.”

“The State Department’s Inspector General should follow suit,” he said.

The Clinton folks are correct: the OIG should have paused its efforts until the FBI investigation is complete, especially since they must have been aware that the key people they needed to interview were not going to participate until after the FBI finished.

While the FBI is investigating, you limit what you say. That’s “No Brainer” 101. Only the naive believe that “if you’re innocent, what’s the harm?” Even the most innocuous utterance could be enough to trigger another five months of FBI investigation, especially when you have an FBI Director who is as obsessive-compulsive as Comey.

(I shouldn’t have to remind anyone about the FBI’s attempt to force Apple into creating backdoor software, making every iPhone vulnerable, just so they could crack the work cellphone for one of the San Bernadino terrorists.)

Why didn’t the OIG wait on the FBI investigation? Most likely pressure from Congress. The same Congress that has permanently enshrined Benghazi into the Congressional infrastructure. And, from the OIG’s perspective, it was able to obtain enough information to note general problems in the State Department and issue relevant recommendations. Ultimately, that was supposed to be the evaluation’s primary purpose.

Incomplete reports mean incomplete conclusions

But the very incompleteness of the OIG’s fact finding mission undermines many of the statements made in the report. For instance, the OIG report mentions that it could not find evidence that Clinton’s personal system had been reviewed:

According to the staff member, the Director stated that the Secretary’s personal system had been reviewed and approved by Department legal staff and that the matter was not to be discussed any further. As previously noted, OIG found no evidence that staff in the Office of the Legal Adviser reviewed or approved Secretary Clinton’s personal system.

However, if key people who were employed by State at that time were not interviewed, we can’t know for sure that no review was done. In addition, the OIG also admits to lack of success discovering records…hence the OIG evaluation.

Then there’s the seeming conflicting information in the report, again related to the vetting of Clinton’s system. For instance, the following paragraph implies that Clinton or her people never asked for a solution from IRM (Bureau of Information Resource Management) regarding her email server:

During Secretary Clinton’s tenure, the FAM also instructed employees that they were expected to use approved, secure methods to transmit SBU information and that, if they needed to transmit SBU information outside the Department’s OpenNet network on a regular basis to non-Departmental addresses, they should request a solution from IRM. However, OIG found no evidence that Secretary Clinton ever contacted IRM to request such a solution, despite the fact that emails exchanged on her personal account regularly contained information marked as SBU.

Yet the same report contains the following footnote, related to Brian Pagliano (Senior Advisor), who maintained Clinton’s server:

At that time, S/ES IRM staff met with the Senior Advisor, who accessed the Secretary’s email system and looked at its logs. The issue was ultimately resolved and, on December 21, 2010, S/ES-IRM staff sent senior S/ES staffers an email describing the issue and summarizing the activities undertaken to resolve it. On another occasion, the Senior Advisor met with staff within CTAD and received a briefing on cyber security risks facing the Department. A third interaction took place on October 30, 2012, during the period when Hurricane Sandy disrupted power in the New York City area. An email exchange between Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and another member of the Secretary’s staff revealed that the server located in Secretary Clinton’s New York residence was down. Thereafter, the Senior Advisor met with S/ES-IRM staff to ascertain whether the Department could provide support for the server. S/ES-IRM staff reported to OIG that they told the Senior Advisor they could not provide support because it was a private server.

Even in the convoluted parlance of government-speak, how can you reconcile “never contacted IRM and asked for help” with “contacted IRM and asked for help”?

Despite these obvious contradictions and important provisos, the media has been slamming Clinton nonstop since the report released. And some of the outrage is just plain silly.

Media-manufactured outrage? Yes.

The Chicago Tribune writes, “Origin of key Clinton emails from report are a mystery”. What emails? The ones from her IT person to her staff expressing concerns that the server might be under attack and he was taking measures to prevent it, and the one related to whether Clinton should get a State email account or not, because her emails weren’t being answered.

Of course, the “attack” emails weren’t to Clinton, or from Clinton, but by golly, they should have been in the emails Clinton turned over! As for the email related to the State email account, if this was one of the emails from Clinton’s first few months transitioning into her position as Secretary (and by its nature, I’m assuming it is), she’s already stated she doesn’t have these emails. I think since Secretary Powell didn’t turn over any of his emails during his entire tenure, or Secretary Rice’s staff didn’t turn in all of theirs, we can cut Clinton some slack for not turning over about two months of emails, during a time when she was trying to figure out how everything worked. Can’t we?

Speaking of these particular emails, the Chicago Tribune writes, “Hillary Clinton’s private server doesn’t look like an honest mistake.” No, she deliberately hid her server because she wanted it to bite her in the butt when she ran for President.

One of the Tribune’s concerns seems to be the email describing how the server may have been under attack, but they didn’t report the attack. But again, how do we know it wasn’t reported? Several of the relevant people are no longer in State, and declined to be interviewed. And how do we know that Clinton or her staff even knew that this was the procedure to follow? After all, the whole point of the OIG report was discovering problems within the State’s handling of emails, including cybersecurity. There is an assumption that all of these people knew all of the arcane rules and regulations associated with systems in the State department, when there’s no clear indication that this was so.

You can check out just some of the procedures and regulations, yourself. Now ask yourself: how long would it take to become proficient enough with these types of rules, so that you could remember them enough to deduce the procedure to follow implicit in the rules?

Some media stated that Clinton should have used the State Department’s SMART system to back up her email. What the same media doesn’t know is that the SMART system wasn’t meant for State Department executives, such as Clinton. The SMART system was for rank-and-file State employees. The only preservation system Secretary Clinton had at the time was to print out each email, and then file it.

Even if Clinton tried to use the SMART system, she most likely would have failed. The OIG did a evaluation of the SMART system last year, and found that, for the most part, those who were supposed to use the system were not using it. Why? They didn’t have the proper training, and the system was too hard to use.

I can relate to that.

Clinton was Secretary of State, not a State secretary

There’s one more article from the media I want to address, and that’s the Washington Post’s editorial titled “Clinton’s inexcusable, willful disregard for the rules.” They wrote:

The department’s email technology was archaic. Other staffers also used personal email, as did Secretary Colin Powell (2001-2005), without preserving the records. But there is no excuse for the way Ms. Clinton breezed through all the warnings and notifications. While not illegal behavior, it was disturbingly unmindful of the rules. In the middle of the presidential campaign, we urge the FBI to finish its own investigation soon, so all information about this troubling episode will be before the voters.

All I have to say to the Washington Post Editorial board is: how dare you?

How dare you undermine Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State? How dare you imply that all she had to do during her tenure as Secretary was discover the rules and regulations related to her email server and ensure her staff followed them. That she had nothing else of importance to do.

In her first year in this position, Secretary Clinton made 52 official State Department trips. She attended UN sessions, sessions with NATO, met with world leaders, and attended ceremonies as official United States representative. Whether you agree with her actions during the events or not, that same year she helped re-establish more cordial relations with Russia (the Russian Reset) and established first overtures to Iran that eventually led to the Iran nuclear deal implemented this year. The Honduran crises also happened in 2009, becoming a major focus of State Department effort that year..

And you’re fussing about Clinton not taking the time to discover the email system rules she should be following?

The Washington Post editorial board has one woman in the nine-member board, Jo-Ann Armao. Perhaps she can help her fellow board members understand the difference between being an office secretary, and being Secretary of State.

This isn’t an episode of Mad Men, and Hillary Clinton isn’t Joan Harris. She wasn’t a secretary in the secretary pool, she was Secretary of State of the United States of America…one of the most powerful and important positions in the world. And the OIG report, and the media stories like the Washington Post editorial, are faulting her for not taking the time to discover the minutia of intra-agency policy regarding her email system.


A Broken System

That Clinton did not throw her staff under the bus, and accepted responsibility for the email server is commendable. I don’t know of many other candidates for President who would be this fair. And I want to be clear: her direct staff wasn’t at fault. It was up to career State employees to ensure all the proper steps were taken regarding Clinton’s email and email server. I am astonished, and frankly, more than a little disgusted, how few media professionals have realized this.

That procedures at State regarding email were not clear, or well known, just drives out the necessity of the OIG report. Though it isn’t as comprehensive, or as balanced, as one would hope, the report did cover what State needs to do to ensure the events related to Clinton’s emails don’t happen again.

Then, in the future, we won’t be subjected to what we’re being subjected to now: story after story after story about Clinton’s emails—the majority of which are either deliberately incendiary or confused. Instead, we could be focused on more important facts. Facts, like how on earth could someone like Trump become an actual Presidential nominee.

Originally published at Crooks & Liars.


Inspector General’s Report On Clinton’s Email Greatly Exaggerated By Media Outlets

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) released its anticipated report on the State Department’s handling of email and cybersecurity. The report covers Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, but also includes an examination of other State employees use of email, including Colin Powell’s use of a private email service.

Almost immediately, the media was full of headlines such as “State Department report slams Clinton email use” from CNN, “State Dept. inspector general report sharply criticizes Clinton’s email practices” from the Washington Post, and “IG: Clinton didn’t want emails ‘accessible'”, from The Hill.

Lost in the hyperbole is the fact that the OIG report was meticulous and thorough, but also dispassionate, just like any other OIG report I’ve read. There was no direct criticism of Clinton, sharp or otherwise. The OIG was examining the State Department’s practices, not specifically investigating Clinton’s actions.

Reading the various media stories on the report, I found other misrepresentations. For instance, The Hill claims that Clinton didn’t want her email to be “accessible”. In actuality, what the report stated was that Clinton didn’t want her personal emails being accessible:

In November 2010, Secretary Clinton and her Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations discussed the fact that Secretary Clinton’s emails to Department employees were not being received. The Deputy Chief of Staff emailed the Secretary that “we should talk about putting you on state email or releasing your email address to the department so you are not going to spam.” In response, the Secretary wrote, “Let’s get separate address or device but I don’t want any risk of the personal being accessible.”

The Washington Post article stated:

The inspector general, in a long awaited review obtained Wednesday by The Washington Post in advance of its publication, found that Clinton’s use of private email for public business was “not an appropriate method” of preserving documents and that her practices failed to comply with department policies meant to ensure that federal record laws are followed.

First of all, a lot of people and organizations got a copy of the report, WaPo. You’re not special.

Secondly, Clinton did take action to preserve her emails, as the report notes. On Page 66 of the report, Janice Jacobs, the State Departments Transparency Coordinator, specifically addressed Clinton’s handling of the emails:

In addition the Department had already received Secretary Clinton’s emails and undertook to release 30,000 of them to the public. The National Archives and Records Administration concluded that our efforts with respect to Secretary Clinton and her senior staff mitigated past problems, as has a federal district court in a suit brought under the Federal Records Act. As you note in your report, you concur with this conclusion. (emph. added)

The State Department, the OIG, and NARA all concurred that Clinton’s actions in turning over the emails she had, in addition to others the State Department was able to discover, did mitigate not following proper procedures (i.e. printing out each email and filing it). It’s true that in the beginning of Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, during the first two months transition period, some emails were lost. However, there was no indication that an attempt was made to deliberately hide these emails from a salivating public: it’s technology; stuff happens.

Lastly, I can almost hear the calls of “criminal Hillary” from a certain party who shall go nameless. Note, though, as the report mentions, there were no administrative penalties in place—either about the use of a private email server, or not following the established procedures for preserving emails—at the time Clinton served as Secretary of State. Moreover, there is no indication that she was even aware of the requirements.

Although the Department is aware of the failure to print and file, the FAM contains no explicit penalties for lack of compliance, and the Department has never proposed discipline against an employee for failure to comply. OIG identified one email exchange occurring shortly before Secretary Clinton joined the Department that demonstrated a reluctance to communicate the requirement to incoming staff. In the exchange, records officials within the Bureau of Administration wondered whether there was an electronic method that could be used to capture the Secretary’s emails because they were “not comfortable” advising the new administration to print and file email records.

State Department personnel were discouraged from using their private email, but not explicitly forbidden from doing so. As quoted in the CNN story—the one where Clinton was purportedly “slammed’ by the OIG—the State Department spokesman concurred:

State Department spokesman Mark Toner briefed reporters Wednesday: “While not necessarily encouraged, there was no prohibition on using personal email. The only requirement is that — and the regulations do state this, that these records need to be preserved.”

To repeat what I wrote earlier, the OIG report was focused on the State Department’s procedures in place for emails; it’s not specifically focused on Clinton. It may be more titillating to say that the OIG is “slamming” Clinton, or that the OIG report was “sharply critical of Clinton”…but it’s also inaccurate, and misleading.


2016 Election: Why I’m Supporting Clinton

When I voted in the Missouri Presidential Primary, my choice was Hillary Clinton.

I have watched this woman fight the good fight for decades. When Bill Clinton was elected President and appointed her the chair of the task force to create a plan for reforming health care, I was delighted. Not only did we hope to finally bring about health care reform, but we saw a First Lady given a position commensurate with her capabilities. No more flowers and china…real work.

She served as chair on the committee that devised the plan. She testified for days in Congress in support of the plan. She traveled around the country talking about healthcare reform. She worked tirelessly on a plan that would have, among other things, instituted a mandate that employers provide healthcare insurance for their employees, that no one could be denied coverage, and lower-income people would not have to pay a dime.

I also watched as Republican vilified the plan, with a little help from the insurance companies. But what was harder to watch was the Democrats, with their incessant demands to have their own plans considered instead. President Clinton’s Democratic support fragmented to the point that we lost our first, best effort at healthcare reform. Democratic Senator Patrick Monyihan went so far as to declare there was no health care crises, as he pushed his own agenda.  Representative McDermott and Senator Wellstone pushed a single-payer plan that hadn’t a chance in hell of succeeding, with only 4 additional Senators and 90 House Members in support—including an independent by the name of Bernie Sanders.

Thank goodness President Obama didn’t have as many difficulties with the Democratic Congress as Clinton had, or we’d still be debating that we don’t have a health care crises, we have a health insurance crises.

I have health insurance for the first time in years because of the Affordable Care Act. It may not be perfect, it may not be the ideal, but when you’ve sweated over the fact of being financially ruined because you get sick, well, perfection is in the eye of the beholder.

Hillary Clinton has promised to continue support for the Affordable Care Act, and improve on it, as she can, and as Congress allows. It’s a realistic promise that builds on what we have. It takes into consideration the very real makeup of Congress that will exist in 2017: a House still controlled by  a rabid bunch of extremist Republicans, and possibly, only possibly, a Democratic controlled Senate.

More importantly, she sees the ACA as a stake in the ground in which to tie new reform to, rather than just dig everything up, and start over.

What Clinton promised on healthcare is what she can, as President, accomplish. There’s no fireworks, no talk of revolution—none of the sexy populism and grandiose schemes that seem to be the byword of this election. It would be so easy to promise the moon, along with everyone else, and then backtrack later by claiming Congress is too difficult and the Republicans have too much control. No, she’s quietly confirmed what she knows she can deliver: no more, no less.

In none of the issues listed at the Clinton web site, do we see promises that can’t be met. She doesn’t talk about “working towards” goals, she talks about actual, real-world efforts that we can see, and judge, ahead of time, and also hold her accountable for. That’s not glamorous, but it is gutsy.

She isn’t promising to free half the prison population, because she knows most prisons are state prisons and a President has no control over them. But Clinton can work to reduce the reliance on  mandatory minimum sentences. She can also work with the Justice Department to ensure equal protection for all under our country’s judicial systems—just like Obama is doing now in places like Ferguson, MO.

Clinton isn’t promising to eliminate all student debt; doing so would take an act of Congress. Instead, she wants to work towards refinancing existing loans so former students have more favorable terms; and that no one ever pays more than 10 percent of their income. She’s not promising free college for all, but easier access to tuition assistance by expanding on the existing Pell Grant system. Free college tuition for all, even if it were a good idea, would not only take an act of Congress, but would also require support from the leadership in all of the states.

Considering that Republican governors have been cutting state funds to colleges in almost all states they control, I doubt that we’ll see them gladly accept the fact that they have to provide even more funds.

Clinton supports the President’s DREAM Act, and she’ll work towards immigration reform. She promises to help families as much as a President can. No magic wand approach, here. No mention of walls, either.

No President has the capability of breaking up the banks, but Clinton has promised to strictly enforce rules against them. And work to strengthen the existing rules, and close loopholes—all actions an Executive can take if Congress resists any other effort.

Clinton won’t ban all fracking, because no President can ban all fracking.  Only an act of Congress can enforce a fracking ban.

But Clinton has promised to phase out fracking on public land, as well as more strictly enforce safety and environmental regulations. The important thing to remember, though, is we can’t  phase out fracking by dumping us back into a dependency on coal and coal mining. We don’t have an infrastructure in place where we can immediately replace non-renewable energy sources with renewable ones. It’s a complex problem with a lot of dependencies, none of which easily fits into a sound bite. But then, I’m not sure that voting for someone because of their sound bites is representative of good governance.

I have no doubts, though, that Clinton will honor the Paris Agreement, work to have Congress ratify it, and even expand on it, if possible. And that she’ll be a fervent proponent for both solar and wind energy.

Hillary Clinton is also capable of holding her own under pressure and attack. We’ve seen the Republicans mount a campaign to tear Clinton down that exceeds any other in modern history. The only person they’ve gone after more virulently is Obama. He’s only been the target for eight years—she’s been a target for decades.

Case in point is the infamous emails. Clinton establishes her own professionally maintained email server rather than use a popular email service like AOL (Colin Powell’s favorite), and next thing we know, according to our Republican friends, the fate of the country is undermined.

Partisan hyperbole aside, Clinton scrupulously maintained a set of her emails from when she was Secretary of State, turning them over when requested, and asking for all of the emails to be published so that people could see she had nothing to hide. No other person in the White House Administration has had every email they’ve ever received or sent be scrutinized with the level that Clinton’s emails have been scrutinized. They have passed through the Intelligence Community filter, and when consider the agencies involved, it’s almost unbelievable that any of them managed to survive relatively intact. Since the last of the emails have been delivered, we now know, for a fact, that none were classified at the time they were sent or received. We also know that emails Powell received in his private email have also suffered the same retro-classification, symptomatic more of inter-agency squabbling than a real threat to national security.

Yet here is the Republican National Committee, now suing the State Department for even more, trying to get emails from people connected to Hillary Clinton, many in private organizations; all in a desperate attempt to keep the manufactured scandal alive. It would be funny if it didn’t cost tax payers millions of dollars.

Thankfully, most of us see this for the desperate and despicable act it is. Clinton will survive it, as she’s survived so many of these contrived controversies. She survived the emails, she survived the Benghazi never-ending committees, which Republicans foolishly admitted were created to undermine her Presidential candidacy.

There are even those who would hold Clinton accountable for the actions of her husband when he was President, as if she’s nothing more than a faint echo of him. You’d think we’d be beyond considering women to be nothing more than appendages of their mates, but evidently not when it suits certain agendas.

Bluntly, in my opinion, Hillary Clinton will be a better President than Bill. She’s more experienced now than he was when he got the job. She’s also more open to hearing new ideas, more aware of all the factors in play that can cause havoc. As practical as she is, she’s also more idealistic—a little more empathetic to what’s happening to the average person.

I’ve also seen Clinton exercise her considerable intellect, her shrewdness, and her team-building skills in support of the United States and our current, much loved President, Barrack Obama. Team building doesn’t factor into our discussions about being a good President, but it’s an essential element. FDR managed to pull positive results out of disaster because he was able to swear in the majority of his cabinet the very day he was inaugurated. He had the complete backing, not only of Congress, but also most state governments. To hit the ground running, he knew he had to have a good team in place.

Over the years, Clinton has helped raise funds for Democratic candidates in Congress and down ballot races. She knows, as President, she can’t hope to bring about change all on her own. She needs a solid team behind her.

(We all need more Democrats in Congress if we hope to save this country—something we seem to forget every odd year election. We even need some independents. Among those who have received campaign funds directly from Clinton’s PAC is none other than Bernie Sanders, in his Senatorial race.)

The most recent attack against Clinton is that she’s not publishing transcripts for all her speeches given when she was a private citizen—something that’s never been asked of any Presidential candidate. Why do people want the transcripts? So they can cherry pick through the text, taking bits and pieces out of context in order to misrepresent who she is and what she believes. They did the same thing with her emails.

This isn’t transparency…this is fresh fodder for the  anti-Clinton machine, necessary because no matter how much she’s been bashed, she’s survived. The only difference now is that she’s being bashed from the left—an act that has caused deep fissures among those who have long fought in solidarity.

I don’t fault those on the left who don’t support Clinton because they believe Bernie Sanders has a better plan for the country. We each have our own interests and beliefs. I do, however, fault those on the left who repeat the GOP talking points, because they’re so obsessed over Sanders winning that they’ll burn anything in his path—and that includes the future of the country, because they’ll toss this next election to the GOP rather than work with the rest of us to keep what would be a complete disaster from happening.

Bernie or Bust is a shout from the privileged class, because they’re not a minority, or gay, or poor, or a woman who demands the freedom of choice, or Muslim, or an immigrant. They can call for a revolution, safe in the knowledge that they have nothing to lose.

The rest of us live in the real world. We know what’s at stake. I don’t believe Bernie Sanders has a chance for the nomination, but if he were to get it, I would support him.

I feel confident, though, that the Democratic nominee will be Hillary Clinton. She’s our best choice, as President, and our best chance at winning the election. She’ll be a good leader, building on what Obama started, but also adding her own personal touch, and achievements.

We’ll progress under a President Hillary Clinton presidency, and isn’t that what being a progressive is all about?

Ms. Squirrel is hiding in tree, until this is all over.