A House Divided – Notes on the Clinton Emails
July 14, 2016 1 Comment
In the last week, I’ve seen three events, all of three of which have disturbed me greatly.
First, FBI Director James Comey gave a speech where he delinated all of the facts they could make public regarding the Hillary email fiasco, after which he concluded that they were not recommending pressing charges.
Second, the House Oversight Committee asked Comey to come testify in an emergency hearing, where they asked lots of questions about how the clinton fiasco was handled.
Third, the House Oversight Committee asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch to a similar hearing a few days later. The conduct was similar.
To preface this: I am not making a “political” statement about the 2016 POTUS election. While I completely hate Hillary, I consider Donald Trump to be satan incarnate, and think that either of them being in an office like POTUS will do grave harm to the US (and the world in general). I do not also advocate any kind of a witch hunt. While I can completely see and understand the view that this is only becoming news because it is Hillary (and there is some truth to this), I consider the problem far deeper.
So a few points.
First, the US government has completely broken down. There is a partison-divided Supreme Court which so far has not fallen prey too badly to petty politics, but it’s being completely fucked by Congress stonewalling Obama’s court nomination. If Garland, Obama’s nomination, is totally unworthy for the Court, then a simple hearing should quickly establish this. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration seems to be returning the favor: Comey’s speech leaves a massive gap between the fact pattern and the conclusion, as if we’re supposed to fill this gap with a “trust us” sign. And both Comey’s and Lynch’s testimony in front of Congress leave quite a lot to be desired. It seems like the only saving virtue here is that the Supreme Court has not directly fucked with either the Executive or the Legislative branches, although by the laws of karma, they certainly have room to do so.
Second, joining forces with the court of public opinion, the government seems to have forgotten how to compartmentalize issues, and insists on comparing them in a way that hurts discussion. In both Comey and Lynch’s testimony, multiple times, someone brought up the mass shootings that have happened recently. For some reason, it seems that it has become a political death-trap to suggest it might be worthwhile to have separate hearings on the two issues (classified data and mass shootings), lest they be used as ammunition against each other. IMHO, to say that one issue is important does not logically conclude the other issue is not important, but it is totally reasonable to say that the issue would be out of scope for the discussion at hand.
Third, the Obama Administration has, IMHO, utterly failed in its promise to be the “most transparent administration ever.” I acknowledge two things here: first, they have had to tackle very complex and diverse issues, many of them results of decisions made by former Administratoins. Second, there may be facts that shed light on their refusal to be more transparent about things, and to a degree I am willing to accept this as valid. However, this acceptance depends on a social trust, and the longer the general public goes without seeing key details, the thinner and more frail that trust becomes. Further, the complete silence over the facts revealed by Wikileaks and Snowden (which I will get to in a moment) work to sever that trust, and instead of speaking with resolute authority and presenting a reasonable answer, we have gotten stonewalling and aggression.
Fourth, I am extremely unhappy with how the topic of classified information has been handled, basically since 9/11. Starting with the provision in the PATRIOT Act to expand the number of FISA judges from 7 to 11, we had some pretty strong indications that there would be an expansion of activity in the classified world. The economic boom in the Beltway during and after Afghanistan and Iraq support this conclusion. In fact, one could argue that one of the reasons Manning and Snowden leaked their documents is because of a system which existed due to the massive increase in what is considered classified (and therefore hidden from the public eye).
The more classified information you have, the larger the chance there is of both mishandling of it, and of a data breach. We can quickly see two examples of each: Manning and Snowden engaging in the data breaches, and Hillary Clinton and Gen. Petraeus completely mishandling such data. I would argue a fifth example which encompasses both mishandling and data breach is the OPM hack, which IMHO is the worst classified data breach in history, worse than all previous leakers, including the Rosenbergs, combined.
It goes without saying that accountability for these issues has not been uniform. There are reasons for this: Manning was tried under a military system, not a civilian system. Snowden was acting as a contractor, not as a government employee. Petraeus admitted to obstruction of justice. And, to be fair to Hillary, it seems that multiple past Secretaries of State, including Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell, also maintained private email servers for their dealing with the State Department. A few more points here: first, it seems reasonable to ask how often Rice and Powell actually *used* their email systems, let alone sent classified data over them. Email wasn’t used that heavily until partway through the Bush administration. Second, I think it is well worth asking Congress why it was so urgent to bring these hearings so urgently against Hillary, when I am unware of similar hearings with Rice and Powell. There are clear party politics going on there.
Politics aside, Congress is asking the Obama administration some questions I would *really* like answers to. However, I think Obama is justified in asking why all this attention to private email servers has come up now given that it was done in the past as well. He might also remind them to schedule a hearing for Merrick Garland.
To conclude, the US government, as far as I can see, is completely broken, and clearly not going to get better any time soon. Will this change after the election? I have no idea. Perhaps the fact that the executive and legislative branches need to seek re-election, while the judicial is a lifelong appointment, has helped lead to this mess while insulating the judges? Or maybe it’s due to the fact that politics now seems to be about theatrical optics that get headlines, rather than any sort of reasonable discussion. All I know is that right now, I’m glad I live in Germany.