Hillary’s Choice

“What are you hiding? What are you hiding? What are you hiding?” And other questions for her news conference.

Hillary Clinton at PA Election Night on April 22, 2008
National Journal
Ron Fournier
March 10, 2015, 4:05 a.m.

Hil­lary Clin­ton is re­spons­ible for her choices. Bad choices. Dodge fed­er­al trans­par­ency and se­cur­ity rules for email. Take money from for­eign coun­tries that dis­crim­in­ate against wo­men and seek in­flu­ence over U.S. policy. Dis­patch Dav­id Brock, Lanny Dav­is, and oth­er pro­fes­sion­al dis­sem­blers to dis­cred­it crit­ics and fair ques­tions.

Staggered by self-in­flic­ted wounds, the former sec­ret­ary of State re­portedly plans to hold a news con­fer­ence. This presents her with a choice between the right way and wrong way to man­age a pub­lic-re­la­tions crisis in the post-In­ter­net era, when the 1990s tac­tics of de­flec­tion, de­cep­tion, and vic­tim­iz­a­tion are less rel­ev­ant than a phone booth.

Op­tion No. 1: The Right Way

Clin­ton strides con­fid­ently in­to the room trailed by aides car­ry­ing an email serv­er once re­gistered to her home. “Pres­id­ent Obama gave me the hon­or to serve the Amer­ic­an people as sec­ret­ary of State,” she says. “While serving in that of­fice, I wrote and re­ceived thou­sands of emails. These emails be­long to the Amer­ic­an pub­lic, not to me. I am turn­ing them over to the State De­part­ment—all of them.”

(RE­LATED: It’s Not About the Emails: Clin­ton’s Fate Hangs on Big­ger Ques­tions)

Pho­to­graph­ers inch closer to Clin­ton, their cam­er­as whirr­ing and flash­ing. “I re­com­mend that a ruth­lessly in­de­pend­ent en­tity be se­lec­ted to re­view the email to de­term­ine which ones are private, which ones should im­me­di­ately be made pub­lic, and which ones fall un­der pub­lic-archive rules. My ac­tions have dam­aged the pub­lic’s trust in the in­teg­rity of my email cache. I’ll take whatever steps are ne­ces­sary to earn back that trust.”

Re­port­ers gasp. One starts to shout a ques­tion, but Clin­ton po­litely cuts her off. “I have more news,” she smiles.

“The ad­vis­ory board of the Bill, Hil­lary & Chelsea Found­a­tion has de­cided to re­turn every dona­tion re­ceived from for­eign coun­tries with less-than-ideal re­cords re­gard­ing wo­men’s rights and/or ter­ror­ism.”

“What about”¦ ?” a re­port­er shouts. Clin­ton nods and con­tin­ues. “Fur­ther­more, the found­a­tion is con­sid­er­ing wheth­er to re­turn all for­eign dona­tions, in­clud­ing the gra­cious gifts from up­stand­ing al­lies like Canada. We’ll make that de­cision in con­sulta­tion with good-gov­ern­ment groups, and let you know all about it. From this day for­ward, the found­a­tion will ac­cept no more for­eign dona­tions.”

(RE­LATED: Emails May Be a Key to Ad­dress­ing “Pay-to-Play” Whis­pers at Clin­ton Found­a­tion)

Clin­ton takes a sip of wa­ter. “While we ap­pre­ci­ate the al­tru­ism be­hind these dona­tions and are proud of the im­port­ant work done on be­half of mil­lions of people, the Clin­ton Found­a­tion nev­er should have ac­cep­ted for­eign money. That was a mis­take. It was wrong and I am sorry. While the found­a­tion and its donors did noth­ing wrong, even the per­cep­tion of a con­flict of in­terest must be avoided.”

She smiles, nods at the cam­er­as. “I think this is a bit over­blown. But let’s be hon­est: There would be no con­tro­versy had I made a dif­fer­ent set of choices. My polit­ic­al en­emies are at­tack­ing, but I’m the fool who gave them the open­ing,” she chuckles. “The ends do not jus­ti­fy the means. Any ques­tions?”

Re­port­ers ask a few for­get­table ques­tions. Colum­nists praise her de­cision. Ed­it­ors de­clare the con­tro­versy over. Re­pub­lic­ans pout.

Op­tion No. 2: The Wrong Way

Clin­ton strides con­fid­ently in­to the room and stands be­hind a lectern. Read­ing from a tele­prompt­er, the former sec­ret­ary of State de­liv­ers a long and de­tailed de­fense of her email sys­tem. Something about a mis­placed de­sire to pro­tect the sanc­tity of ex­ec­ut­ive com­mu­nic­a­tions. Something else about “ro­bust se­cur­ity,” trans­par­ency, and ac­count­ab­il­ity. Re­port­ers roll their eyes and shift to the edges of their seats. Poised to pounce.

(RE­LATED: Hil­lary Clin­ton Still Doesn’t Get It)

Clin­ton shifts blame to her staff and the White House. She chas­tises the me­dia. She de­nounces her polit­ic­al en­emies. “Any ques­tions?”

Re­port­ers shout. They jump to their feet. They trip over them­selves ask­ing ques­tions. Clin­ton takes them all—every ugly ques­tion:

QUES­TION: “Mrs. Clin­ton, in 2007, you said of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion: ‘Our Con­sti­tu­tion is be­ing shred­ded. We know about the secret wireta­ps, the secret mil­it­ary tribunals, the secret White House email ac­counts.’ You called this ‘a stun­ning re­cord of secrecy and cor­rup­tion, of cronyism run amok.’”

“You were ab­so­lutely right then, Mrs. Clin­ton. So why are you de­fend­ing your secrecy? Why shouldn’t the pub­lic as­sume cor­rup­tion and cronyism has run amok?”

QUES­TION: “You’re right, Mrs. Clin­ton. The is­sue with the email is secrecy. Well, and rule-break­ing. Cronyism and cor­rup­tion are at is­sue with the Clin­ton Found­a­tion. Can you tell us why you guys entered in­to part­ner­ships with at least six banks that were un­der in­vest­ig­a­tion, in­volved in lit­ig­a­tion, or had been fined by gov­ern­ment agen­cies and reg­u­lat­ors? What do you sup­pose those banks ex­pect in re­turn?”

(RE­LATED: Demo­crats Say Clin­ton Needs to Calm Sup­port­ers, Donors)

QUES­TION: “Back to the emails, Mrs. Clin­ton. You claim one of your con­cerns was the se­cur­ity of the State De­part­ment email sys­tem. But se­cur­ity ex­perts say your ac­tions ex­posed your emails to hack­ing, and you’re smart enough to know that. So what’s the real reas­on for a secret, rule-break­ing sys­tem?”

QUES­TION: “You con­sider your­self a cham­pi­on of wo­men’s rights. But you ac­cep­ted mil­lions of dol­lars from coun­tries that treat wo­men like dirt? Is there no line you won’t cross to pad the found­a­tion’s en­dow­ment? If so, what is it?”

QUES­TION: “How many emails did you send? Did you cor­res­pon­ded elec­tron­ic­ally with the pres­id­ent? With for­eign lead­ers? And how many of those emails in­volved clas­si­fied in­form­a­tion? Ex­act num­bers, please.”

QUES­TION: “I’m sorry, Mrs. Clin­ton. You didn’t an­swer that last ques­tion. Did you use this secret, rule-break­ing email ac­count to trans­mit clas­si­fied in­form­a­tion with the pres­id­ent and for­eign lead­ers?”

QUES­TION: “I guess you’re not go­ing to an­swer that ques­tion. Let me try an­oth­er: How of­ten did you use the secret, rule-break­ing email sys­tem to cor­res­pond with Clin­ton Found­a­tion of­fi­cials and donors?”

QUES­TION: “If you al­lowed us to ex­am­ine emails to and from found­a­tion donors on this secret, rule-break­ing email sys­tem, how many con­ver­sa­tions would we find in­volving the dis­cus­sion of fa­vors for donors?”

(RE­LATED: Big, if True: Obama and Hil­lary Clin­ton Emailed Each Oth­er)

QUES­TION: “That last ques­tion angered you, but you didn’t an­swer it. Try these two: Who told you this secret, rule-break­ing email sys­tem was OK? Why do you keep telling us that Re­pub­lic­ans do this, too? Even if you were right about that, don’t you pre­tend to be bet­ter than the GOP?”

QUES­TION: “Still no an­swers, Mrs. Clin­ton. Let me ask you this: Why are mem­bers of your in­ner circle—people who’ve worked dir­ectly for you and/or the found­a­tion, fel­low Demo­crats, people who love and are loy­al to you—telling us to fol­low the money? Why are they warn­ing us about wor­ries over pay-for-play?

QUES­TION: “Why are you do­ing this to your­self, Mrs. Clin­ton? Why shred your cred­ib­il­ity like this? Why not just turn over all the emails and the serv­er?”

QUES­TION: “”¦ and re­turn the for­eign money.” (Crosstalk) (Laughter)

QUES­TION: “People are laugh­ing at you.”

QUES­TION: (Crosstalk) ” …erod­ing trust in gov­ern­ment.”

QUES­TION: “What are you hid­ing?”

QUES­TION: “What are you hid­ing?”

QUES­TION: “What are you hid­ing?”