Clinton Email Controversy: Here Comes the Partisan Bickering

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Right now there’s a controversy over emails in the U.S. government. It all started with the news that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used a personal email address to conduct her job in the State Department. However, the controversy has continued with politicians and prominent figures from both sides of the aisle coming out in support or condemnation, and raising what could have been an interesting conversation about the use of email in our government.

In terms of Clinton’s emails, it’s unclear whether or not what she did was technically illegal. However, it’s definitely frowned upon, especially in light of the scrutiny that Clinton herself levied against the private email accounts used in the Bush Administration. That being said, Clinton has now turned over many pages of her correspondence, roughly 55,000 pages worth. Some of the criticism toward Clinton has to do with concerns that the American people still don’t have full information over the terrorist attack against the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya in 2012. However, Representative Aaron Schiff (D-CA) has said that the committee looking into the Benghazi incident got everything they asked for from Clinton, and that there was nothing that they found probative.

Colin Powell, another former Secretary of State, has also come to Clinton’s defense, explaining with regard to his emails:

I don’t have any to turn over, I did not keep a cache of them. I did not print them off. I do not have thousands of pages somewhere in my personal files. And, in fact, a lot of the emails that came out of my personal account went into the State Department system. They were addressed to State Department employees and the domain. But I don’t know if the servers at the State Department captured those or not. They were all unclassified and most of them, I think, are pretty benign. So I’m not terribly concerned even if they were able to recover them.

It’s not just her predecessors who are weighing in on this debate. While some Democrats have shown strong support, others have urged her to give an explanation for why her personal account was used during that period. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), for example, declared that Clinton needs to explain exactly what happened with the email mix up, and emphasized that continued silence would just hurt her moving forward.

On the other hand, some Republicans have taken advantage of the confusion and controversy to slam the likely 2016 presidential candidate. That’s to be expected, of course, but some have also taken the opportunity to prove how different they are than Clinton–and presumably by extension, all Democrats. The most obvious example is Senator Lindsey Graham, who on “Meet the Press” this week told everyone “I don’t email. No, you can have every email I’ve ever sent. I’ve never sent one.”

In some ways I suppose that’s not that surprising. As Philip Bump of the Washington Post pointed out, 15 percent of American adults don’t use the Internet. That being said, Graham is also on the Senate Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, so his admission that he doesn’t use email could definitely be considered troublesome.

Graham wasn’t the only Republican figure who proclaimed that he shies away from e-mail. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) of 2008 election fame explained that he doesn’t use e-mail because:

I’m afraid that if I was emailing, given my solid, always calm temperament that I might email something that I might regret. You could send out an email that you would regret later on and would be maybe taken out of context And frankly, I don’t have any trouble communicating with my constituents without it.

This entire debate truly strikes me as odd, because what could have actually been a productive discussion about the ethics of communicating with private or business email addresses has sparked a lot of other, significantly less productive talking points. Besides feeding into the incredibly inane Benghazi speculation that seems like it will go on forever, our politicians are now bragging about their detachment from technology. Are we suddenly going to have all the potential 2016 candidates proclaiming whether or not they use e-mail? It’s a pretty ubiquitous tool that most of us use in daily life–I don’t think it’s really a political position.

I’ve long thought that the 2016 elections were going to be particularly nasty–even nastier than 2008 and 2012 in many ways. I think we’re starting to see the beginning of what will be a lot of highly publicized debates over, quite frankly, nothing of consequence.

Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at



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