by Stephen F. Hayes • Weekly Standard
One of the most memorable moments from the first Democratic presidential debate was an unexpected one. Bernie Sanders, the Democratic-socialist senator from Vermont who is leading the polls in New Hampshire, took a question about the email scandal that has badly complicated Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Rather than use it as a truncheon to hurt his primary opponent, Sanders took the occasion to defend her.
“Let me say something that may not be great politics. But I think the secretary is right,” Sanders bellowed, turning to address Clinton. “And that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!”
It was a good debate moment. Clinton was overjoyed at Sanders’s magnanimity. Sanders was pleased with himself. The crowd of Democrats in the hall erupted in wild applause. So did some journalists gathered to cover the debate.
“Audible clapping and laughter in the press filing room after Bernie Sanders’ ‘enough of the emails moment,’ ” reported Hunter Walker, national correspondent for Yahoo News, a fact corroborated by others in the room.
But the celebration that night was premature. The cheering and backslapping was more a reflection of the partisan wishes of a partisan crowd (and a largely partisan media) than an indication Clinton has put the email scandal behind her.
She has not.
Clinton and her defenders have worked hard to portray the entire controversy as a contrivance and the Select Committee on Benghazi as a partisan witchhunt designed to reach a predetermined conclusion. For months, this was a difficult case to make. But in recent weeks, Republicans have clumsily bolstered Clinton’s claims. First, Kevin McCarthy, presumptive House speaker after John Boehner’s resignation, pointed awkwardly to the House Benghazi committee as evidence that conservatives have damaged Clinton’s White House aspirations. (McCarthy had shown little interest in the findings of the investigation, committee Republicans say, but his words would do tremendous damage to their effort.) Days later, a former staffer fired from the committee publicly accused Republicans on the panel of targeting Clinton inappropriately. (His story was filled with holes and often self-contradicting. The committee says the staffer was fired in part because he undertook unauthorized side projects targeting Hillary Clinton that were not part of the original investigative plan. And it’s notable that he somehow failed to mention his concerns about politicization during the formal mediation proceedings after his dismissal, saving his complaints for a media campaign after McCarthy’s comments.) Then Rep. Richard Hanna, a Republican lawmaker from New York, told a local radio station that he felt the committee’s work had been political. (Hanna is not involved in the committee’s work in any way, but his speculation fit the emerging media narrative, and his comments were widely covered.)
This new narrative is wrong. In our regular reporting on the committee’s activities since it was established, its members and staffers have consistently exhibited the professionalism and seriousness of purpose demanded by Trey Gowdy, the committee’s chairman. But in the perception-is-reality world of political Washington, their work has been tainted by the reckless and injudicious comments of their own colleagues.
This is unfortunate. But it doesn’t erase months of mendacity from Clinton and her supporters. A CBS poll out last week found that 71 percent of registered voters think it was inappropriate for Clinton to use a private email server as secretary of state. Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed are not satisfied with Clinton’s explanation of the controversy. A Fox News poll from last week, taken after McCarthy’s comments and the public claims from the former Benghazi staffer, found that voters by a 2-to-1 margin believe Clinton has been dishonest about the emails, and nearly half of those surveyed believe the congressional investigation should continue. It will. And though Clinton has attacked the committee as an arm of the Republican National Committee, she says she will appear before the panel, under oath, on October 22.
Clinton’s problems don’t end with the committee. Her main challenges now come from two sources that she cannot credibly dismiss as partisan: the FBI and the contents of her own emails.
– The FBI is expanding its investigation into the security of her server and the possible mishandling of classified materials.
– Last month, the FBI seized four servers from the State Department as part of its probe.
– A second tech company involved in providing security for Clinton’s emails, Datto, Inc., previously unknown to the public, agreed to cooperate with the FBI probe and will turn over its files to the bureau to assist with the investigation.
– Newly released internal emails from the first data company, Platte River, indicate that employees there believed there had been a “directive to cut the backup” of Clinton emails—that is, an order to reduce the amount of time the company would keep the Clinton data.
– An employee at Platte River also suggested a cover-up of some kind, writing to a colleague: “Starting to think this whole thing really is covering up some shaddy [sic] shit.”
Add to this the explosive information disclosed last week in a letter from Gowdy previewing the release of a new batch of Clinton emails. These are “new” emails only because the State Department initially refused to turn them over to the committee, saying they were beyond the jurisdiction of the Benghazi investigation.
In a relevant footnote: Kate Duval, the State Department official responsible for much of the administration’s slow-rolling of Benghazi document production, worked at the IRS during the agency’s stonewalling of congressional investigators looking into the targeting of conservative groups. Duval recently left the State Department, and State’s cooperation with the committee immediately improved. The committee doesn’t have anywhere near the complete set of emails and documents it requested, but in recent weeks it finally obtained documents crucial to conducting its investigation, including emails from the late ambassador Christopher Stevens. Previous investigations of the Benghazi attacks somehow managed to reach their conclusions without emails from either the top official at State (Clinton) or the top U.S. official in Libya (Stevens).
The new emails show repeated efforts by top Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal (the Obama administration had forbidden her from hiring Blumenthal at the State Department) to use his personal connections with the secretary of state to further his business interests in post-Qaddafi Libya. They also show Clinton’s approval—tacit, at least, and by some appearances active—of his schemes. In one email to Clinton, Blumenthal worries that French companies will get preference in post-Qaddafi security contracts. In another, he argues for escalating U.S. military intervention in Libya to boost Barack Obama’s approval ratings. And in yet another, Blumenthal describes a U.S. company, Osprey Global Solutions, and its unique qualifications for security work in Libya. Blumenthal tells Clinton that he and two partners are responsible for brokering an agreement between Osprey and the Libyan opposition, presumed members of the government-in-waiting. Clinton, who is preparing to meet with opposition leaders, responds to Blumenthal and asks: “Anything else to convey?” Blumenthal was at the time being paid $10,000 per month by the Clinton Foundation. He has also served as a paid consultant to American Bridge and Media Matters, pro-Clinton political operations that laid the groundwork for her presidential bid.
Many questions remain. And—despite the wishes of Clinton world and Bernie Sanders and Democratic partisans and many in the news media—answers are coming.