The [Emails Sent to] Clinton Story May End Up Being about Loyalty

I was surprised that this story voicing concerns that Clinton backers fear “old weaknesses stalk” her campaign (stalk!) didn’t mention one of the weaknesses from 2008 that bothered me the most: loyalty.

Don’t get me wrong. Loyalty is a good thing.

Except when loyalty to long-term friends drives your hiring decisions.

To me, Hillary’s failure in 2008 is best exemplified by her refusal to fire Mark Penn, even though he divided the campaign staff and made a lot of the decisions that let Obama beat her.

More recently, Hillary retained Sidney Blumenthal as an advisor even after the White House nixed him having an official role at State — a decision that lies behind some of the more controversial emails revealed as part of the email scandal.

Yet the WaPo article on potential Hillary stumbles doesn’t mention loyalty, not even in its discussion of the email scandal.

The e-mail issue has dampened Clinton’s support in New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s first primary, on Feb. 9. Sanders rose to a statistical tie there in the latest statewide poll, to the shock of some longtime Clinton backers. She is on safer ground in Iowa, which will hold the nation’s first presidential selection vote in the Feb. 1 caucuses.

Democrats in Washington fret that the e-mail liability is something Clinton brought on herself and has managed from a defensive crouch. The decision to operate a separate e-mail system parallel to the regular State Department system has resulted in an investigation that is now out of the control of Clinton and her campaign advisers.

Political strategists who have been through past such episodes note that an investigation like this can go in unexpected and damaging directions.

“I don’t think there’s a big smoking gun,” one Democrat said. “But it’s hard to explain why you had a private server, why you just now turned it over. . . .Shouldn’t you have had better judgment?”

As I have noted, everything we know about the email scandal confirms that any legal problems stem not from Hillary sitting down and transcribing the contents of a satellite-derived intelligence report into an unencrypted email, but from a staffer taking material he or she knew to be classified and including it in an email to Hillary. It’s not even clear that happened — the CIA has a nasty habit of claiming widely known facts are Top Secret, but that is the legal issue we’re discussing (go here to review my critique of Hillary’s over actions).

Both because they hate her, because she worked under a special status at State, and because there seems to be real reason to think she had a role in emails of question, the focus has now turned to Huma Abedin, currently Vice Chairwoman for Hillary’s campaign. This report on Abedin’s possible involvement emphasizes how closer Hillary and Abedin are.

Abedin, who’s been with Clinton for about two decades, started working for Clinton as a 19-year-old intern in the former first lady’s office.

At State and during the 2008 campaign she was considered Clinton’s “body woman,” never far from Clinton’s side and often seen watching her boss intently, ready to scramble to her aid at any minute. Top politicians, and even Bill Clinton, would phone her to reach Hillary, and emails released in recent months showed she enjoyed access to Clinton at her private home, too, dropping items off on her counter and instructing her how to dress and keeping her schedule.

In 2013, news broke that Abedin had been given a special government employee status, allowing her to be simultaneously on the payroll for the philanthropic Clinton Foundation and Teneo, a consulting firm founded by former Clinton White House adviser Doug Band. She previously had not disclosed the dual employment.

Abedin has said she stepped back from government work and became a contractor so she could be with her family and her newborn son. But since then, critics have questioned her about whether she had a conflict of interest while working at State and alongside close friends of the Clinton family.

There are a few other staffers whose names have been floated as potentially sending the emails with information deemed classified.

But if Abedin is among them, it poses the quintessential problem for Hillary: the possibility that dealing with this email problem would at the same time require distancing herself from a cherished associate. If someone like Abedin were involved in sending classified information, would Hillary do what she refused to do in 2008?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

16 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    of course, clinton could start raising hell about what a witchhunt this email crap is, who initiated it and why, the purpose republicans have in keeping this pseudo-scandal going, and about the fact that a total of tens of thousands of PAGES (55,000) of emails were searched to find a few which are even questionable. she vould even start attacking bush on iraq and walker on failed state economy and slavery to kochsuckers.

    but then clinton is a democrat, and democrats are scared to defeat of conflict.

    • Carl Weetabix says:

      I’m sorry – this isn’t a witch hunt. First as someone who spends a good portion of his time on information security – even using unsanctioned email for non-governmental jobs that are far less sensitive, is a huge no-no. It would get quickly flagged and cut off at the knees in the organizations I’m involved with. That is even true for someone in a very basic administrative position, much less “Secretary of State”. At best, this was monumental stupidity.

      Second, it seems obvious that this usage was intentionally designed to hide information or at least provide Clinton with additional control, as we see now. As people who read a blog like Empty Wheel, the intentional blocking of public information should be seen in a very bad light, even if we might want someone elected.

      Finally, even if every shred of information was non-classified, it doesn’t take much thought to see how another nation state with access to Clinton’s email (which she could have no expectation of proper preservation of privacy) could at a minimum put lives at risk. If nothing else her own life given that it might have details about travel, but also other public figures that are mentioned. Even possibly the president. Still, anyone who is smart can glean a lot from non-classified information, particularly if you’re a nation state. Again, massive stupidity.

      I don’t care Clinton’s rationale or that I’d rather have her 10x more than Bush version III (and I would) – it’s not kosher and it gives yet more reason that Clinton will be more of the same crap we’re all hoping to move away from.

      • orionATL says:

        “… this isn’t a witch hunt. First as someone who spends a good portion of his time on information security – even using unsanctioned email for non-governmental jobs that are far less sensitive, is a huge no-no… ”

        it is indeed a witchhunt. it is trey gowdy and republican advisers hunting for a way to undermine the standing clinton’s tenure as secretary of state gives her candidacy. if you really don’t understand that, and you might not, you have no business commenting on the attack on clinton.
        .

        as for your setting yourself up as a self-declared expert – “someone who spends a good portion of his time in information security”, in order to argue from authority, i have only your word for that authority and i don’t accept it.

        exactly what kind of security by the way? and what kind of organizations? and what kind of info – bank info, your desktop computer info, local fantady baseball info, los compadres de drugga info – do you spend “a good portion of your time on” ?

        you’re clearly just another college sophmore some political organization is paying to troll this issue?

        how can i be sure?

        because of this bit of clumsy propaganda, dope:
        .
        ” the intentional blocking of public information should be seen in a very bad light,…”
        .
        and then:
        .
        “… finally, [blah, blah, blah, sophomoric blah, blah] . again massive stupidity…”.
        .
        you see, dope, your argument gives you away; in your badly disguised partisan zeal you make certain to convict clinton no matter what she did.

        and then there’s this little white lie for the good old gop or bernie:
        .
        “… that I’d rather have her 10x more than Bush version III (and I would) …”.

        of course you would, dope, that why you penned this blantant piece of propaganda and rushed it off to the emptywheel site.
        .
        would you tell your republican (or whomever) paymasters they really ought to quit sending such dopes over here. it should be embarrassing to the party.

        • Carl Weetabix says:

          Jesus, excuse me for my lack of ideological purity orionATL. Despite your numerous ad-hominem attacks, I am not a paid shill, just someone who wants his side to live up to the same standards I bitch about the other side standing up to.

          I am an *IT* security expert, who works IT security day in and day out. For the sake of keeping my work life separate from my blogging life I’ll leave it there.

          Hillary blew it in my opinion. That’s not to say she doesn’t have other benefits (in fact I voted for her in the 2008 primary). Her health plan was a lot better than Obama’s and on balance their positions aren’t all that different otherwise (for better or for worse).

          Still, I’m not happy that she played these games with her emails and it’s hard not to see it as calculated on her part. If nothing else, and I stand by this, it was stupid because it set her up for exactly the attacks you are decrying. As she appears to the likely front runner, that in turn hurts all of us who want the more populist side to win.

          Regardless, it’s bad enough to have to fight with the other side over issues, without getting lambasted with frankly worse vigor by your own side. I don’t have a problem that you disagree, fair enough, but you don’t have to be a dick about it. I may be by you calculation dead wrong about the topic at hand, but I am not the enemy. Even if I was, which I’m not as can easily found with Google, you would hardly win me over to your side with your tack.

          • orionATL says:

            it’s clear you don’t know shit about logic, about what ad hominem really involves. that you make an ad hominem claim adds to your sophomoric reputation with me.

            in my comment #6 above, i said i thought your comment reeked of that of a political operative at work. and so it does.
            .

            “hillary blew it.” is an extremely inarticulate comment from a self-described security “expert”. do you happen to know the security constraints she faced if she had used the known-to-be-insecure state dept “secure” email system?
            .
            .
            “…Jesus, excuse me for my lack of ideological purity orionATL…”
            .
            it’s not ideological purity you lack, dope; it’s judgement – judgement about political behavior. and, likely, good intent to boot.
            .
            the attack on clinton is a political attack by her republican opponents cloaked in crocadile tears of concern about national security lapses. it is NOT about the public’s right to access official communications. if there is anything republican political operatives like trey gowdy (and generally insiders of both political parties) do not want it is unfettered public access to official communications.

            let me put it another way, the witchhunt against clinton is being conducted by means of legalistic and bureaucratic laws and rules regarding what exactly is classified information and what is not. it is not being conducted about foi act laws, rules, or access.
            .
            .
            “…I am an *IT* security expert, who works IT security day in and day out. For the sake of keeping my work life separate from my blogging life I’ll leave it there…”

            oh, really. then i guess we will never know whether you are a poseur or not, will we ?

            and thus we won’t be able to determine the quality of your argument to authority (logic term alert). alas, alak.

            • Carl Weetabix says:

              I would happily argue with you on the basis of logic, but you are clearly so set in putting me in a box there is zero point trying.

              It’s too bad really – reflects negatively on what is otherwise an excellent blog which discusses actual issues rather than focusing on personal attacks. Too bad you can’t do the same.

              So in closing, I will stoop you your level and say, you may not know if I am a poseur (which I am not) but I do know you are an unmitigated jerk. Maybe someday when you’ve grown up we can actually talk about issues at hand. In the meantime, piss off.

              • orionATL says:

                your #14 is a classic rightwing troll’s whine and run – “so in closing ….”.

                let me translate that from rightwing trollspeak – “i’ve just had my sophistical argument ripped to shreds. none of my usual hocus pocusc, e.g., a reference to ad hominem and one to the sacredness of classification has worked here. i got to get out of here before i lose more of my ass, er, more face. so i’ll toss out an ad hominem grenade and skedaddle.”

                bye, bye, dope.

                here for posterity is my favorite quote from your hypocritical posings :

                “…Finally, even if every shred of information was non-classified, it doesn’t take much thought to see how another nation state with access to Clinton’s email (which she could have no expectation of proper preservation of privacy) could at a minimum put lives at risk…”

                “put lives at risk…”

                do you know who uses that argument day in and day out, dope?

                national security bureaucrats and their political allies hell bent on using classification to keep their incompetence, dishonesty, and illegality from the public, that’s who.

                how is it you got caught using this, the ultimate justification for hiding info from the public ?

      • orionATL says:

        oh, and one more criticism of your comment at #5:

        “..Finally, even if every shred of information was non-classified, it doesn’t take much thought to see how another nation state with access to Clinton’s email (which she could have no expectation of proper preservation of privacy) could at a minimum put lives at risk…”

        “… if every shred of information was non-classified, … put lives at risk…”

        oh,my. the old “put lives at risk” argument. i’m trying to remember, who is it loves to use that argument?

    • orionATL says:

      i understand your point, but in american politics now if you aren’t willing to, and don’t, attack and keep attacking without regard to the commentary of the chattering class your swiftboat is dead in the water and sinking fast.

      for some reason aggressiveness works, in fact is essential, in american politics despite the supposed civility bias of our bourgeoisie (and our echo-dependent chattering class).

      • orionATL says:

        the reference to jeb bush refers to his decision to rewrite american history re: the invasion of iraq. just because clinton voted to go to war along with a huge majority of other senators doesn’t mean she dare not attack the war decision. clinton only needs to break thru the initial psuedo-logic of “well, you voted for it too” in order discover she can talk about a lot of very bad (to say the least) g. bush decision making re invading and occupying iraq.

        attack walker on the wisconsin economy because he is the perfect foil for clinton’s lower and middle class economic plan, and because he is the koch’s and alec’s and devos’ stooge.

  2. Lefty665 says:

    Jeez Orion, take it easy, get back on your meds.
    .
    This may have started as a right wing witch hunt, but like Watergate, it’s moved beyond a 3rd rate burglary. It’s moved because of Hillary’s own actions. There is nothing legitimate about a public official running a private e-mail server, and it becomes criminal when it contains classified information. TS/SCI data ain’t your grandmother’s cookie recipes.
    .
    Hillary’s getting ready to throw her aides, probably including Abedin, to the dogs (FBI/DOJ). That is not going to solve her problem, the TS/SCI data was on Hillary’s own server that she set up in her own house. That’s fact, not Repub jive,
    .
    We can be as mad as we like at the Repubs, but just like Bill, Hillary has committed the offenses that give them leverage. I was ripped that Bill couldn’t keep his pants zipped, but Hillary is equally stupid.
    .
    No legacies, it’s time for real change.

    • orionATL says:

      hi lefty,

      good to hear from you again.

      i knew if anything could lure you back here the word “clinton” would :)

  3. fritter says:

    If it was wrong when the neocons did it, it was wrong when Hillary did it. I’m not sure what to make of people who think that because other figures do unethical things, that makes it automatically ok for my guy to do it. Cheney doesn’t have to worry about keeping track of his emails and contacts precisely because Hillary doesn’t need to. When partisanship is an excuse to break the rules we end up with no rules for the well connected whatsoever.
    The content of the emails is immaterial. The fact that they can be hidden like so many things in our society, pretty much guarantees abuse.
    If Hillary’s supporters will stand for such behavior, so will Trump’s and all the rest.

    • orionATL says:

      “…. I’m not sure what to make of people who think that because other figures do unethical things, that makes it automatically ok for my guy to do it…”

      and what do you make of people who can’t distinguish between the important details of one case and those of another, say, between the opposition to the existing legitimate government in the u.s. in 1785 and the opposition to the legitimate existing u.s. government in 1860.

      just in case you missed the opening of the show, the charges against clinton that are being pressed by her republican opposition have to do with a very specific matter – her “mishandling” of classified information.

      for some strange reason, the issue you raise and criticize (as does just about everyone else considering these matters) – the use of a private email system – is not the focus of criticism from clinton’s republican and media opponents. why might that be?

  4. lefty665 says:

    Meds, Orion, meds. Your out of control hysteria doesn’t do anyone, including yourself, any good.
    .
    Elsewhere, someone recently observed that nobody’s ever been elected president with the FBI as a running mate. Also note that a federal judge (a Clinton appointee) recently remarked that “We wouldn’t be here today if this employee had followed government policy” while ordering State to contact the FBI about what they might recover from the server that would be response to FOIA requests. We’re long past the point where this can be attributed to Repubs.
    .
    But wait, there’s more. We haven’t even begun to hear much about corrupt practices involving official acts of the Sec. State, speaking fees, and Foundation contributions. Look up UBS, Hillary and Bill for an example (Hint: Hillary intervened to limit UBS disclosures of illegal US citizen accounts. UBS subsequently paid Bill $2 million in speaking fees and contributed $30 million to a Foundation mortgage program).
    .
    Opinions may differ, but hysterical abuse of other posters is destructive. Please take your meds, get a grip, and move towards rational discussion.

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