The frenzy and furor over Hillary Clinton’s email habits while at the State Department, now into their 16th month and still going strong, have predictably and effectively chipped away at her reputation, so a sizable majority of Americans (67 percent in a poll last month) find her “untrustworthy.”
That’s what a year of FBI investigation—leading to no recommended charges—a budding congressional investigation and a relentless right-wing watchdog’s lawsuit buy you in American politics.
But take a moment away from pawing through the tens of thousands of her personal and professional emails now on public view and consider the long list of elected and appointed Republicans who have done exactly the same thing as Clinton—and worse.
Between 2003 and 2005, the George W. Bush White House “lost” around 5 million emails, including messages related to the firing of federal prosecutors who didn't adhere to Bush’s conservative agenda. A federal judge ruled that the White House didn’t have to look for them.
Those emails were among some 22 million messages that the Bush administration “lost” during its time in power, most from right around the period that it was crafting a scaffolding of lies to sell what turned out to be the greatest American foreign policy debacle in a generation: the Iraq War. The emails were eventually found in 2009, when Bush and Dick Cheney were safely back at their ranches, but long after thousands of young Americans were dead and maimed and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were dead, and as Islamists were mustering to eventually capture swathes of lawless, war-ravaged turf for their hideous “caliphate.”
Colin Powell—Bush’s secretary of state and the team player dispatched to the floor of the U.N. to deliver some of the lies about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction—also used a personal email account while at the State Department. He didn’t even bother to set up his own home server but chose the eminently hackable public email giant AOL. And he was hacked, by an Eastern European criminal who used the nom de plume Guccifer.
Years later, at a 2009 dinner party in Washington, he recommended to Clinton that she use a private email account. In his upcoming book, Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton, Joe Conason describes the conversation, which took place at a dinner for Hillary Clinton soon after she was appointed secretary of state: “Toward the end of the evening, over dessert, [former Secretary of State Madeleine] Albright asked all of the former secretaries to offer one salient bit of counsel [to Clinton].... Powell suggested that she use her own email, as he had done, except for classified communications, which he had sent and received via a State Department computer on his desk. Saying that his use of personal email had been transformative for the department, Powell thus confirmed a decision she had made months earlier.”
Powell’s office confirmed that incident to Conason as recently as two months ago. But last week, when called for comment by The New York Times, which had an advance copy of the book, Powell brazenly backtracked, saying he “has no recollection” of that conversation and then, to the New York Post, accusing Clinton of trying “to pin” her private server decision on him.
So much for Saint Colin.
Donald Trump apparently just destroys sensitive emails. According to USA Today, in 2006, when a judge ordered Trump's casino operation to hand over several years' worth of emails, his lawyers said the Trump Organization routinely erased emails and had no records from 1996 to 2001. The litigants in that case called Trump’s moves destruction of evidence, but Trump was never forced to find them, although the judge said he had a “concern about their credibility.”
“He has a house up in Palm Beach County listed for $125 million, but he doesn’t keep emails. That’s a tough one,” Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld said, according to transcripts obtained by USA Today.
Trump’s casual attitude about transparency and keeping digital records hardly makes him unusual among the Republican field. Jeb Bush used a private server as governor of Florida and then scrubbed it before releasing his correspondence. Scott Walker, when he was Milwaukee County chief executive, used a private email system, on which he discussed official business and fundraising and politics. According to The Christian Science Monitor, two of his aides were convicted for campaigning on government time, and that investigation revealed the emails from Walker’s “secret system.”
The list of public officials who use private email is encyclopedic: Sarah Palin, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal and Martin O’Malley are among them.
Many have made a practice of obstructing transparency about those systems.
The last Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, deleted his entire email correspondence during his four years as governor of Massachusetts, so no records exist from 2002 to 2006. His team was so afraid of transparency that besides wiping the hard drives, his staff actually replaced all the computers in the governor’s office before they left. The fact is that Republicans, from George W. Bush to Trump to Jindal, like their private servers and could not care less about preserving emails, and in fact have actively worked to evade transparency over and over again.
But, today, it is only Clinton’s private server system that has sparked federal and congressional investigations, and whose core trustworthiness is now casually and hourly questioned from coast to coast—by some of the very men whose email hygiene habits are no better and who, furthermore, have demonstrated time and again that they believe rules about transparency were invented to be broken.