The Email Election
How Cybersecurity Came to Shape the 2016 Race, and Why It Matters
Thursday, November 3, 2016
Prophetic as usual, Jerry Brown way back last summer explained, with characteristic élan, the political peril that Hillary Clinton’s email predicament posed to her presidential bid.
“The email thing — it has kind of a mystique to it,” California Governor Jerry Brown said on Meet the Press in August 2015. “You know, an email is just an utterance in digital form, but it has some kind of dark energy that gets everybody excited.
“It’s almost like a vampire,” he added. “She’s going to have to find a stake and put it right through the heart of these emails in some way.”
Alas for Clinton and her Democratic supporters, she failed to dispatch the email Dracula that haunted her campaign. Proving Brown’s point about the tantalizing mysteries of email, politicians and the press alike for more than a year panted after Clinton’s digital trove with near lascivious tenacity, spurred by cognizance of the universal emailer practice of putting private thoughts in writing, often in very rash and indiscreet language.
Thus the tangled web of surmise and speculation over “Hillary’s emails” metastasized throughout her race against Donald Trump, who seized on an unprecedented October surprise over the controversy, sprung by the FBI director, for a final thrust against her in the last week of the campaign.
It all underscored the wisdom of California political icon Willie Brown’s rationale for never using email: “‘E’ is for evidence,” he says.
It never ends. By the time you read this, there’s a good chance the winner of the election will be known (fearless forecast: it’s Hillary). Regardless of the result, the email issue will continue to shape Washington political battles for years to come: Trump threatened to imprison Clinton over her emails if he won, while a key House Republican declared them “target rich” for future partisan witch hunts if she captured the White House.
Beyond this, the specter of Vladimir Putin commanding Kremlin hackers to influence the U.S. election — as the keystroke pirates of WikiLeaks pursued the same mission — for the first time highlighted for many the dramatic dangers of cyber espionage and security.
For those reasons, it’s worthwhile dissecting the alleged “scandal” into its distinct components:
• National security. Clinton’s inane decision as Secretary of State to use an insecure, home-based, private server, the hardware that effectively serves as a post office for ingoing and outgoing email, rather than the government system, led to legitimate inquiries into whether classified information was passed to or from her. An FBI probe found only a few such cases — none of them apparently very serious, although the agency did not rule out the possibility her server was hacked by hostile powers without her knowledge.
• Transparency. Clinton’s claim that she chose to use a private server as a “convenience” was belied by her shifting explanations and by recovered emails from staff members suggesting that the true reason for her ill-advised decision was to protect correspondence from Freedom of Information [Act] requests; a prime example of the Clintons’ penchant for secrecy, it was somewhat understandable given the unrelenting efforts of right-wing legal outfits such as Judicial Watch to cripple them politically.
• The Russian connection. U.S. intelligence officials concluded that Russian agents conducted the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, and the WikiLeaks strike on the account of John Podesta, Hillary’s campaign chair, aligned with Putin’s interests. Despite all the media Sturm und Drang over these emails, there never was much there, unless you happen to be surprised that a political campaign involves careful, prefatory, and self-interested calculation.
Political pocket rocket. And then there were the emails referred to by FBI Director James Comey in a cryptic letter released to a Clinton-hunting Republican House committee 10 days before the election. He wrote that these might be “pertinent” to the agency’s previous investigation of the private server, which cleared Hillary of criminal action.
They were found on the laptop of Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of a top Clinton aide, during an investigation of allegations that the repulsive former congressmember sent digital messages to a 15-year-old girl.
At press time, the bombshell revelation presented a new threat to Clinton, because it moved the campaign away from a referendum on Trump’s fitness to be president to one over Clinton’s character.
Capitol Letters at this hour still predicts a solid Electoral College win for Hillary, although it’s fitting that the bizarre 2016 race would come down to voters determining the importance of some creepo’s dick pics.
Don’t forget to vote.