Supporter's Manual: The Facts About Hillary Clinton's Emails

By Peter Daou

UPDATE: The New York Times directly contradicts critics who claim misconduct on Hillary's part:

Law enforcement officials have said that Mrs. Clinton, who is seeking the 2016 Democratic nomination for president, is not a target of the investigation, and she has said there is no evidence that her account was hacked.

There has also been no evidence that she broke the law, and many specialists believe the occasional appearance of classified information in her account was probably of marginal consequence. (Emphasis added)

Full disclosure: I was one of many individuals who exchanged emails with Hillary Clinton using her private account while she was Secretary of State. It was strictly personal and thus no one else’s business. But Hillary’s detractors have decided that every email she sent, personal and professional, is their business. And they’ve decided that facts don’t matter, but innuendo and insinuation does.

So let’s clear things up.

First, the motivation behind this faux-controversy is ridiculously obvious: the decades-old Stop Hillary movement sees it as a last chance to stop her from reaching the apex of political power. She is on track to demolish the final gender barrier in U.S. politics and her opponents are getting desperate. Remember, many of her critics in the media and political sphere have been trying to take her down for years. Imagine their frustration when she keeps coming back stronger than ever. That explains the virulence of the attacks this cycle.

Now to the substance of those attacks and their political ramifications. Hillary herself has acknowledged that in hindsight it would have been better to separate her personal and work emails. Sincere criticism of her decisions as a public official is fair. That doesn’t mean she did anything illegal or unethical. Nor does it excuse the raw partisanship driving this story and the efforts to obfuscate the facts and falsely imply misconduct.

Just as the attacks on the Clinton Foundation laid the groundwork to swiftboat Hillary in a general election, the email story is a set up for 2016. Republican strategists play the long game better than Democrats: they know it takes months for an attack line to mature, for the public to absorb the overarching message, for the frame to set.

The email story is an attack on Hillary’s character, designed to portray her as secretive, untrustworthy and dishonest. I’ve written extensively about the sophisticated tactics used by the likes of Karl Rove and conservative research groups to tarnish Hillary’s public image. They focus group and test narratives and phrases that resonate with the public then use the media to disseminate them. Are they drawing blood? To an extent, yes. That’s part of the rough and tumble of a campaign. As I’ve said repeatedly, there is no cakewalk to the White House, certainly not for a woman.

Hillary will take hard hits and she’ll punch back. It will only get uglier in the months to come. Still, few people in politics have the resilience of Hillary Clinton and she can withstand much more than her opponents are dishing out now.

In that context, and amid the dust storm of disinformation that Hillary's detractors are kicking up, following are extended excerpts from several well-researched and well-written pieces that provide much-needed facts about her State Department emails.

Daily Banter:

One talking point, a particular favorite of Donald Trump’s, is that what Hillary Clinton did is as bad as, or worse than, the misconduct that put Gen. David Petraeus (Ret.) on criminal probation. That talking point was trotted out Wednesday morning by Nicolle Wallace. The answer came from an unlikely source, and in improbably devastating fashion:

Nicolle Wallace: I think the discovery of two now-classified emails will raise questions among the public. How is this different from what General David Petraeus was found to have done with his classified material?

Mark Halperin: His was marked classified. Hers was not.

Nicolle Wallace: A secretary of state should know the difference. Again, I think that this cumulative sort of string of dishonesty and of changing their answers and of depending on what meaning of is is and depending on what meaning of classified is, mine wasn’t stamped, his was stamped, I think they are down a rabbit hole of squandering whatever is left of the general public’s trust.

Mark Halperin: People bring up the Petraeus comparison. He took stuff clearly marked classified and gave it to someone who wasn’t authorized to have it.

National Memo:

Amid the ongoing hysterics over Hillary Clinton’s email server – now turned over to the FBI, along with a “thumb drive” maintained by her attorney David Kendall – it was refreshing that ABC News, at least, appears to understand basic facts about this overblown affair.

In a handy question-and-answer format, the network’s Justin Fishel and Mike Levine explain why the FBI wants to examine the server, namely to ascertain that it contains no classified information, and reiterate what everyone ought to know by now: that despite propagandistic nonsense spread by Republican operatives, the bureau is not undertaking a criminal investigation of Clinton herself.

The State Department asked the four Secretaries of State who preceded John Kerry to turn over work-related electronic mail for archiving. Only Hillary Clinton has provided any materials so far, sending over 30,000 emails from her server. 

(I still wonder why reporters seem so uninterested in the emails sent by Colin Powell on his personal account, particularly concerning Iraq. Powell insists he didn’t keep any of those messages, but nobody seems too eager to test that convenient assertion.)

We can expect some partisan figures – like Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and his fellow Republicans on the House Select Committee on Benghazi – to continue to willfully misrepresent these fundamental facts. Gowdy seems to believe that smearing Clinton, using millions of taxpayer dollars, is his job.

Media Matters:

FACT: None of the emails sent to Clinton were labeled as "Classified" or "Top Secret"

FACT: Emails originated in State Dept. system, and questions about retroactive classification would have occurred regardless of Clinton's server use

FACT: Experts have debunked any comparison between Clinton's email use and David Petraeus' crimes

FACT: IG referral to Justice Department was not criminal, and FBI isn't targeting Clinton herself

Clinton Campaign:

Hillary didn’t send any classified materials over email: Hillary only used her personal account for unclassified email. No information in her emails was marked classified at the time she sent or received them. She viewed classified materials in hard copy in her office or via other secure means while traveling, not on email.

To be clear: There is absolutely no criminal inquiry into Hillary’s email or email server. Any and all reports to that effect have been widely debunked. Hillary directed her team to provide her email server and a thumb drive in order to cooperate with the review process and to ensure these materials were stored in a safe and secure manner.

Talk Left:

In an AP story sourced by Intelligence Community officials, the extreme weakness of the claims against Hillary Clinton are well explained.

Let's review this again - (1) Clinton did not transmit the sensitive information herself and (2) nothing in the emails she received makes clear reference to communications intercepts, confidential intelligence methods or any other form of sensitive sourcing.

Frankly, this puts Clinton completely in the clear. This story SHOULD be over as far as Hillary is concerned. IS that true for other State personnel? I think so. But there can be no doubt as to Clinton.

To conclude, here's a clip of Howard Dean describing the partisan motivations behind this entire episode:


Peter Daou and Tom Watson founded #HillaryMen to provide actionable analysis of the 2016 campaign focusing on the gender barrier in U.S. politics. Peter is a former senior digital adviser to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative. He is a veteran of two presidential campaigns (Kerry '04 and Clinton '08). Tom is an author and Columbia University lecturer who advises companies and non-profits on social activism.