Today, we're recommending a new article on the Clinton email scandal. And given that that's our subject for the day, I almost feel compelled to begin this post with an apology. I know this issue has been in the news for what seems like forever. And, just as important, all the wrong people are talking about it. If Fox News and Congressional Republicans are both trying to make a big deal out of something, how important could it really be?* Is this just Benghazi 2.0?
I understand that sentiment entirely. But this is one of those rare cases where political opportunism happens to align with reality. The Clinton email scandal actually does matter. But it's not because it might tell us how she failed to micromanage security in Benghazi or whether it might reveal a previously undisclosed sense of humor. It matters because we now know, from the State Department itself, that she broke the law.
Near the end of January, the State Department requested an extension to delay releasing the final emails on account of snow storms on the East Coast. The goal was to delay the release to the end of February, coincidentally after many states in the Democratic Primary had already voted. Since this move was so obviously political, it seemed like kind of an odd move--an act of desperation.
Thankfully, the extension request was denied, and we learned that the State Department had saved the best for last. The State Department declared that it had to withhold some of these emails because they actually did contain confidential or top-secret information.
This is important because the US has zealously prosecuted cases involving the mishandling of classified materials. This was true in whistle-blowing cases like those of Private Manning (who got 35 years) or the lesser known Thomas Drake (who had his career ruined). But it's also been true of people who just downloaded files on to personal devices, for convenience, with no intent to distribute them. There was also the case of the Navy sailor who took pictures of classified areas on his submarine with a cell phone camera and now faces up to 10 years in prison.
Now the point here is not to defend the often harsh treatment meted out to the others. I don't think justice was served by sentencing Manning to 35 years, and I don't think it would be served if Hillary Clinton was assigned to the cell next door. But it now seems pretty explicit that she broke the law. And if the laws are going to be applied to ordinary people, they need to be applied to powerful people as well.
That's the reason the Clinton email server really matters. It's another test of whether America has the rule of law when it comes to the politically connected. And after the failure to prosecute anyone powerful for the torture program and the spate of police brutality cases that have gone unprosecuted, the rule of law could really use a win.
For more on the ins and outs of this story, check out the following write-ups from Judge Andrew Napolitano at Reason.com. He's more optimistic than I am about the prospect of an actual prosecution, but he does an excellent job laying out the relevant legal considerations.
*To be fair, I would also apply this general rule to the other side of the aisle as well. That is, if MSNBC and President Obama are both deeply focused on a cause, chances are it's not very worthwhile.