James Comey’s news conference Tuesday, in which the Republican-appointed FBI director announced that his agency would not recommend indictment of Hillary Clinton over using private email servers to discuss State Department business, revealed that the entire email “scandal” was about what most reasonable people expected it would turn out to be: Clinton chose convenience and speed in doing her job as secretary of state over security. Stupid, and as Comey said, careless, but the FBI can’t call it criminal and recommend an indictment over it.
No doubt the Republicans are planning to make a fuss out of this, but without that precious indictment, it will be hard to keep this scandal from joining the lengthy list of Clinton non-scandals, from Benghazi to Whitewater to Monica Lewinsky. The pattern still holds: The right makes a lot of lurid accusations, the mainstream media gets caught up in it, investigations are conducted, and inevitably it turns out the Clintons didn’t do anything illegal and their sins are venial ones committed just as surely by the accusers as the accused.
(How many Republicans pointing a finger at Clinton have blown off security recommendations to update their passwords, because they weren’t willing to put up with inconvenience in the name of security?)
There is a deep irony here, because the last effort at creating a Clinton scandal — Benghazi — swirled around accusations that Clinton wasn’t swift and responsive enough in doing her job. (It was a false accusation, but that was the premise of the accusations.) Now the accusation is that Clinton was too swift and responsive, which made her unwilling to engage with security measures that slow you down. It’s a neat reminder that the two decades-long effort to demonize the Clintons as corrupt has never once, for a single second, been about good faith concerns over corruption, but just about blowing so much smoke that they can convince the gullible among us that there’s fire.
In a normal election cycle, this gambit might just have worked. The mainstream media, which naturally orients towards breathlessness and scandal, is portraying Clinton’s behavior as out of the norm, when in fact it’s sadly all too common for people, whether high-powered executives or average Joes, to get sloppy with security because dealing with all the rigamarole is too much trouble to deal with. Without that context, Comey’s language about Clinton being “extremely careless” could impact voters who don’t quite understand the tech issues at stake here to think that Clinton was motivated by more than impatience with inconvenience.
Sadly for Republicans, however, Clinton’s opponent is Donald Trump, a man who radiates corruption out of every single one of his spray-tanned pores. It’s genuinely difficult to work up a head of steam over Clinton being too lazy to switch to a work email from her regular email to discuss business when she’s running against a guy who literally bilked little old ladies for thousands of dollars in exchange for “get rich quick” classes that did not, unsurprisingly, help anyone get rich at any speed.
While making predictions this election cycle is a somewhat fraught enterprise, on this, it seems that the likeliest outcome will be that this year’s worth of email chatter will not really matter in the end.
People who already hate Clinton will add “emails” to their long list of half-baked conspiracy theories, including accusations that she is secretly a lesbian and a cat murderer.
People who like Clinton will chalk this up to the Clintons’ unfortunate tendency to behave as if they were normal people, instead of accepting that they live in a fishbowl where they are held to much higher standards than everyone else, such as the folks that traded emails with Clinton on similarly unsecured servers.
Everyone else will simply be unconvinced that careless and sloppy email behavior presents nearly the same security risk as letting Trump near the nuclear codes.
And no one will learn anything from this about actually listening to those computer security guys at your job who are always telling you boring stuff like “pick a better password” and “be careful where you send emails from.”
And hopefully, when Clinton gets into the White House, she won’t decline her own security experts when they tell her she has to hand that Blackberry over and they really mean it this time. Yes, even though having to put up with protocol will likely slow her down.