Donald Trump isn’t the only presidential candidate with credibility problems.
The State Department’s inspector general delivered his report on Hillary Clinton’s emails last week, and it wasn’t good news for the presumptive Democratic candidate.
In spare bureaucratic language, the inspector general, an Obama appointee, said the former secretary of state clearly violated State Department policies when she insisted on using a personal e-mail server instead of the government’s email system.
On several points, the inspector general’s findings refuted claims Clinton has made about the way she handled the issue. Three examples:
▪ Clinton has long said she used a personal email server solely as a matter of “convenience.” But the result wasn’t very convenient; because of State Department spam filters, Clinton’s emails weren’t getting through to her own department. According to the report, when an aide proposed giving her a government email address, Clinton agreed, but added: “I don’t want any risk of the personal being accessible.”
▪ Clinton has emphasized that the law did not prohibit her from using personal email for official business – and that’s true. But the inspector general notes that State Department rules required her to get permission to use a personal server, and she never complied.
▪ Clinton has said she turned over all her business-related emails as soon as the State Department asked for them. The inspector general says her submission of documents was “incomplete” and later than the law requires.
The inspector general’s report did not examine whether Clinton’s use of personal email had compromised any highly classified information; that’s the subject of an FBI investigation still underway. But the report did note, rather dryly, that “the use of non-departmental systems creates significant security risks.”
One more thing: Clinton and several of her top aides refused to submit to interviews with the inspector general.
Most of those findings aren’t surprising. It’s been clear for months that Clinton skirted the rules. She has even acknowledged, once or twice, that using a private server wasn’t a good idea.
And that’s why the official response to the report from the Clinton campaign was so surprising – and disappointing.
An official statement from campaign spokesman Brian Fallon stopped just short of claiming that the inspector general’s report was actually a vindication.
“While political opponents of Hillary Clinton are sure to misrepresent this report for their own partisan purposes, in reality, the inspector general documents just how consistent her email practices were with those of other secretaries and senior officials at the State Department who also used personal email,” the statement said.
(Actually, the report said there were “significant differences” in those other cases.)
The statement included no direct response to the inspector general’s main findings, and certainly no acknowledgment of error.
Instead, the campaign’s message boiled down to: Everybody did it, and most of the criticism is just politics.
It read like spin. And for a candidate with a credibility problem, it probably didn’t help.
Doyle McManus is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.