Maybe Hillary Clinton Should Retire Her White House Dreams

Maybe she doesn’t want to run in 2016, top Democrats wonder. Maybe she shouldn’t.

Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton joins Melinda Gates in a discussion at New York University and moderated by Chelsea Clinton concerning the use of data to advance the global progress for women and girls on February 13, 2014 in New York City.
National Journal
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Ron Fournier
March 3, 2015, 5:31 a.m.

Per­haps Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton shouldn’t run for pres­id­ent.

Maybe she should stay at the Bill, Hil­lary & Chelsea Clin­ton Found­a­tion, where the former sec­ret­ary of State could con­tin­ue her life’s work of build­ing stronger eco­nom­ies, health care sys­tems, and fam­il­ies. Give paid speeches. Write best-selling books. Spend time with Char­lotte, her be­loved grand­daugh­ter.

(RE­LATED: Clin­ton’s 2016 Gender Play)

Be­cause she doesn’t seem ready for 2016. Like a blast of wintry air in Ju­ly, the worst of 1990s-style polit­ics is in­trud­ing on what needs to be a new mil­len­ni­um cam­paign: Trans­par­ent, in­spir­a­tion­al, in­nov­at­ive, and bey­ond eth­ic­al re­proach.

Two weeks ago, we learned that the Clin­ton Found­a­tion ac­cep­ted con­tri­bu­tions from for­eign coun­tries. As­sur­ances from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and Clin­ton aides that no dona­tions were made dur­ing her ten­ure as sec­ret­ary of State were proven false.

I called the ac­tions sleazy and stu­pid. Sleazy be­cause any fair-minded per­son would sus­pect the for­eign coun­tries of try­ing to buy Clin­ton’s in­flu­ence. Stu­pid be­cause the af­fair plays in­to a dec­ades-old knock on the Clin­tons: They’ll cut any corner for cam­paign cash. In the 1990s, Bill Clin­ton and his top aides used the White House as a tool to court and re­ward big donors.

Now The New York Times is re­port­ing that Clin­ton used a per­son­al email ac­count to con­duct gov­ern­ment busi­ness as sec­ret­ary of State, an ap­par­ent vi­ol­a­tion of fed­er­al re­quire­ments that her re­cords be re­tained.

Ex­posed by a House com­mit­tee in­vest­ig­at­ing the Benghazi Con­su­late at­tack, Clin­ton brazenly dug in her heels. Ad­visers re­viewed tens of thou­sands of pages of her per­son­al email and de­cided which ones to re­lease: Just 55,000 emails were giv­en to the State De­part­ment.

Those are our emails, not hers. What is she hid­ing?

(RE­LATED: Why Won’t Clin­ton Talk About Key­stone?)

Trans­par­ency isn’t the only is­sue. Clin­ton ex­posed con­fid­en­tial and po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous in­form­a­tion to a non­se­cure, com­mer­cial email sys­tem. She gave Chinese spies a bet­ter shot at read­ing her emails than U.S. tax­pay­ers.

The Times quoted a former dir­ect­or of lit­ig­a­tion at the Na­tion­al Archives and Re­cords Ad­min­is­tra­tion who said there is only one scen­ario un­der which it’s prop­er for Cab­in­et-level of­fi­cials to use private rather than gov­ern­ment email: “nuc­le­ar winter.”

The rest of us are re­quired to play by the rules. Why does Clin­ton think she’s above them?

Clin­ton aides quickly funneled through friendly me­dia chan­nels ex­amples of Re­pub­lic­ans who used private emails, such as former Sec­ret­ary of State Colin Pow­ell and former Flor­ida Gov. Jeb Bush. Pow­ell op­er­ated un­der a dif­fer­ent set of fed­er­al rules than Clin­ton. Bush was not a fed­er­al em­ploy­ee (yes, he should re­lease all of his Flor­ida emails, and not just self-se­lec­ted doc­u­ments).

This is an­oth­er Clin­ton trope: De­flect at­ten­tion from their wrong­do­ing by point­ing fin­gers at oth­ers — as if two wrongs make a right and they had nev­er prom­ised to set a high­er stand­ard.

Clin­ton spokes­man Nick Mer­rill told The Times that she has been com­ply­ing with the “let­ter and spir­it of the rules.” No, she hasn’t. But here again is a re­mind­er of the 1990s: When cornered, the Clin­tons denied facts and de­mon­ized de­tract­ors.

The most ob­vi­ous ex­ample is Bill Clin­ton’s ly­ing about his af­fair with a White House in­tern. “It de­pends on what the mean­ing of the word ‘is’ is,” he said. Less re­membered is an in­de­pend­ent coun­sel’s find­ing of “sub­stan­tial evid­ence” that then-first lady Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton lied un­der oath about her role in the 1993 White House travel of­fice fir­ings.

(RE­LATED: When a Clin­ton “Ally” Isn’t an “Ally” At All)

Many seni­or Demo­crats are angry, though not yet mad enough to pub­licly con­front the Clin­tons. “This story has legs as long as the elec­tion,” said a Demo­crat who has worked on Cap­it­ol Hill and as a pres­id­en­tial cam­paign man­ager. “She will be trip­ping over this crap un­til the cows come home.”

An­oth­er pres­id­en­tial cam­paign vet­er­an who held a Cab­in­et-level post in Bill Clin­ton’s White House fret­ted out loud about the fact that the former first lady is breez­ing to­ward the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­a­tion.

“We can’t have a coron­a­tion when she’s hand­ing Re­pub­lic­ans an in­quis­i­tion,” the Demo­crat said.

Put me in the same cat­egory. Like these two Demo­crats, I’ve known both Clin­tons for years. I ad­mire their in­tel­li­gence and pas­sion and em­pathy. They’ve been good to my fam­ily. I’ve ac­tu­ally long thought that she has the po­ten­tial to be a bet­ter pres­id­ent than he was.

But now I won­der wheth­er there is a part of her that doesn’t want to be pres­id­ent. She seems to be pla­cing obstacles in her lane be­fore the race be­gins. Is this sab­ot­age or something else?

We’ve had sleazy and stu­pid — and, now, with these emails, sus­pi­cious. If she runs, are we go­ing to have a full Sev­en Dwarfs?

Seedy.

Sanc­ti­mo­ni­ous.

Self-im­port­ant.

Slick.

My con­cern is that Clin­ton does not see this con­tro­versy as a per­son­al fail­ing. Rather, she sees it as a polit­ic­al prob­lem that can be fixed with more polls, more money, and more at­tacks. In a Politico story about the push to as­semble a pres­id­en­tial cam­paign staff, a former seni­or Clin­ton aide said, “We have had our head up our ass. This stuff isn’t go­ing to kill us, but it puts us be­hind the eight ball.”

Due re­spect, Clin­ton’s prob­lem isn’t a lack of staff. It’s a lack of shame about money, per­son­al ac­count­ab­il­ity, and trans­par­ency.

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