Just like in 2016, President Trump appears ready to make Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails an election issue in 2020.
“Just compare how they came after us for three years, with everything they have, versus the free pass they gave to Hillary and her aides after they set up an illegal server, destroyed evidence, deleted and acid-washed 33,000 emails, exposed classified information,” Trump told a raucous crowd in Orlando on Tuesday night. “Thirty-three thousand emails! But let’s see what happens.”
Even if the media and Democrats are poised to dismiss the missing cache as old news, Trump sure isn’t. Perhaps his renewed attention to the scandal will jigger long-dormant curiosity for why Clinton continues to escape any responsibility for erasing thousands of emails that the public, federal officials, and investigators have never seen.
The Media’s Dumb Play
One of the weirdest attacks against President Trump, going back to 2016, asserts that he asked the Russians to help find the thousands of emails Hillary Clinton deleted from her personal server the month before she announced her candidacy for president.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said during an event in July 2016. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Most rational people interpreted Trump’s gibe as a backhanded swipe at his presidential opponent’s misdeeds, but others—to this day—insist his comment represented a public plea for Russia to interfere in the election. Among the few people paying close attention—particularly former intelligence officials—there was a genuine concern that a foreign power (maybe Russia, maybe China, maybe North Korea, or maybe just about anyone employing halfway decent computer hackers) could have compromised Clinton’s private email server, which we know contained classified information.
But the press played the story differently.
“Trump’s call was another bizarre moment in the mystery of whether Vladimir V. Putin’s government has been seeking to influence the United States’ presidential race,” the New York Times warned on July 28, 2016.
But the accusation, not Trump’s comment, is what’s bizarre.
The accusation suggests that if Clinton’s contraband communications—emails she claimed were non-work related—had been unearthed before the election, the trove could have influenced the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. But how could that be if Clinton was telling the truth? This should have raised suspicions that Clinton’s deleted emails involved questions that risked implicating her in deeper scandals just months before Election Day. (Talk about interference!)
Instead, the media immediately criminalized any attempt to locate the emails that Clinton’s aides erased from her server—that is correspondence she sent and received during her tenure as secretary of state. Never mind that the files were material to pending lawsuits and an ongoing congressional investigation.
Former FBI Director James Comey claims his agency went so far as to open up a counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign in July 2016 after an aide allegedly told an Australian diplomat that Russia had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of her deleted documents. (That ruse is now under scrutiny as a potential set-up.)
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report even outlined attempts by the Trump campaign to find the files that Clinton deleted from her personal server, as if the pursuit represented some nefarious plot to collude with the Kremlin.
The subject again was raised during last week’s interview between the president and ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos. “She deleted 33,000 emails from—sent by the United States Congress,” Trump reminded the former Clinton confidante in the Oval Office. “They gave a subpoena to Hillary Clinton for 33,000 emails. After the subpoena was gotten, she deleted them. That’s called obstruction.” Stephanopoulos attempted to brush off the accusations against the wife of his one-time boss by insisting the matter already had “been investigated.”
Trump, however, is correct; Clinton’s missing emails were evidence at the time in both a congressional investigation into the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack and several Freedom of Information Act lawsuits. Her family’s nonprofit, the Clinton Foundation, was under increasing scrutiny from both the FBI and Judicial Watch, a government watchdog group. The State Department’s inspector general in 2014 asked four previous secretaries of state—including Clinton—for any emails sent from a private account during their tenure in order to comply with the Federal Records Act.
But Clinton, claiming the emails were of a personal nature, including dish about yoga classes and her daughter’s wedding, authorized the permanent removal of tens of thousands of pages of potential evidence and federal records. To make sure that “even God can’t read them,” as former Representative Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) mocked in August 2016, Clinton’s aides installed a special software program that blocked the retrieval of the documents. FBI investigators failed to locate Clinton’s 13 mobile devices and two iPads that might have contained the missing correspondence; her aides admitted to “breaking [her old BlackBerries] in half or hitting them with a hammer.”
Which raises two questions: Why wasn’t everyone, including the FBI, looking for her missing emails? And why did it become a crime to attempt to recover evidence that had been destroyed by the subject of ongoing investigations?
Everyone Should Have Been Looking
While her mishandling of classified information remains the biggest injustice of the Clinton email scandal, the willful destruction of more than half of the 60,000 emails archived on her private, illicit server also remains an overlooked crime for which no one has been held accountable.
Anyone who “knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation,” is guilty of obstruction of justice, an offense punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
According to the final report on the FBI’s Clinton email investigation, a few weeks after the House Select Committee on Benghazi subpoenaed Clinton’s emails in March 2015, Clinton’s email archive was permanently deleted from her server. A private contractor then installed BleachBit, the program that would prevent the recovery of any deleted records. (In a March 10, 2015 press conference, Clinton erroneously claimed the emails had been deleted before receiving the subpoena.)
The following month, Clinton announced her candidacy for president. In July 2015, Comey’s FBI opened an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server; the media lost interest—until Comey announced the conclusion of the so-called Mid-Year Exam one year later. The FBI apparently had little interest in determining whether Clinton destroyed evidence, since the investigation primarily addressed her handling of classified documents. Comey did mention the missing emails in his public statement, however.
“It is also likely that there are other work-related emails that they did not produce to State and that we did not find elsewhere, and that are now gone because they deleted all emails they did not return to State, and the lawyers cleaned their devices in such a way as to preclude complete forensic recovery,” Comey admitted on July 5, 2016.
Hey, no big deal. Why bother tracking down evidence or holding accountable those who intentionally destroyed evidence when you’re trying to get a FISA warrant on Carter Page, right?
To date, according to Judicial Watch—the only entity still interested in pursuing the deleted files—the FBI only has recovered about 5,000 of the 33,000 emails that Team Clinton obliterated from cyberspace.
And although Judicial Watch is scoring wins in court to slowly expose the corruption and, yes, obstruction of justice related to Clinton’s email server, news organizations continue to ignore the subject for the same reasons the media continue to ignore or, worse, justify FISA-gate: Both scandals ultimately lead to Barack Obama.
“The Obama FBI had to go to President Obama’s White House office to find emails that Hillary Clinton tried to destroy or hide from the American people,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in April after recent testimony by a former top FBI official confirmed the findings. “No wonder Hillary Clinton has thus far skated—Barack Obama is implicated in her email scheme.”
While Democrats and their accomplices in the media daily shriek that Trump is upending democratic norms and the rule of law, each day offers a new reminder of how the previous administration trashed every legal, political and administrative boundary that once guided fair play. Trump should keep raising this galling contradiction—and force his eventual Democratic presidential opponent to answer for it.
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