Clin­ton must learn from her mis­takes

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Eu­gene Robin­son

— Much of the crit­i­cism of Hil­lary Clin­ton over her emails and her fam­ily’s foun­da­tion is un­fairly harsh. But the Clin­tons them­selves in­vite such scru­tiny and sus­pi­cion.

First, the emails. Months of in­ves­ti­ga­tion turned up es­sen­tially noth­ing wor­thy of be­ing called a scan­dal. Un­less you doubt the in­tegrity of FBI di­rec­tor James Comey — and I don’t — any mis­han­dling of clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion was so min­i­mal that “no rea­son­able pros­e­cu­tor” would seek to pur­sue a case. And the FBI found no ev­i­dence, Comey said, that for­eign ad­ver­saries or any­one else ever hacked their way into Clin­ton’s emails.

That’s the bot­tom line, no mat­ter what crit­ics might claim. Or­di­nar­ily, such find­ings would put the whole mat­ter to rest. But they didn’t, largely be­cause of Clin­ton’s own ac­tions and words.

As she has ac­knowl­edged, she never should have de­cided to re­ject an of­fi­cial State Depart­ment email ac­count and in­stead use a per­sonal ac­count on her fam­ily’s pri­vate server. Clin­ton’s ex­pla­na­tion that she took this highly un­ortho­dox step for “con­ve­nience” is as hol­low as they come.

As I have writ­ten, it seems ob­vi­ous that she wanted to­tal con­trol of her elec­tronic cor­re­spon­dence — prob­a­bly to make sure that no per­sonal emails would ever be­come part of the pub­lic record. Did this re­flect an ob­ses­sion with se­crecy? Did she have some­thing to hide?

Be­fore draw­ing con­clu­sions, re­mem­ber this: It’s not para­noia if en­e­mies re­ally are out to get you. The Clin­tons have been doggedly pur­sued by their foes for decades. It’s un­der­stand­able that they would try to avoid giving any am­mu­ni­tion to their ad­ver­saries.

But rather than come out and say that, Clin­ton has sought to con­vince us she did noth­ing dif­fer­ent from what pre­vi­ous sec­re­taries of state had done. This came as a sur­prise to pre­vi­ous sec­re­taries of state, not one of whom used a per­sonal email server. Why does Clin­ton keep com­ing back to this empty ra­tio­nal­iza­tion? I have no idea.

Given the po­lit­i­cal trou­ble the emails have given her, I be­lieve Clin­ton when she says that if she had it to do over again, she would just use a State Depart­ment ac­count and for­get the pri­vate server. But there is still a de­fen­sive­ness in her ex­pla­na­tions that makes me won­der if her con­tri­tion is more sit­u­a­tional than gen­uine. I’m sorry this caused me such grief isn’t the same as I’m sorry I did it.

WASH­ING­TON

The other faux scan­dal for which Clin­ton is be­ing pil­lo­ried — in­volv­ing the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion and her State Depart­ment ap­point­ment cal­en­dar — has even less sub- stance.

Step back for a mo­ment. Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton es­tab­lished a char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion that even crit­ics say has done much good work. One sig­na­ture ac­com­plish­ment is mak­ing it pos­si­ble for mil­lions of peo­ple in poor coun­tries to have ac­cess to low-cost, life­sav­ing anti-HIV drugs. The Clin­tons have do­nated mil­lions of dol­lars from their own pock­ets to the foun­da­tion over the years.

In a sane world, this would be con­sid­ered laud­able. In fact, Don­ald Trump — who now paints the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion as some kind of crim­i­nal con­spir­acy — made a do­na­tion of $100,000 to the Clin­tons’ char­ity through his own foun­da­tion. Clearly he thought highly of the Clin­tons’ work at the time.

But now Trump and oth­ers al­lege a “pay to play” scheme in which big donors to the foun­da­tion got ac­cess to Clin­ton while she was sec­re­tary of state. To my eye, how­ever, this charge is lu­di­crous be­cause so many of the donors in ques­tion would surely have ob­tained an au­di­ence with the sec­re­tary of state any­way.

One for­eign lu­mi­nary of­ten cited as hav­ing paid to play is Crown Prince Sal­man bin Ha­mad al-Khal­ifa of Bahrain, whose na­tion had do­nated to the foun­da­tion. The prince was hav­ing trou­ble get­ting an ap­point­ment with Clin­ton through nor­mal chan­nels, but ob­tained the meet­ing af­ter some­one from the foun­da­tion alerted a top Clin­ton aide.

What that sum­mary omits is that Bahrain is host to a U.S. naval base that pro­vides our ma­jor mil­i­tary pres­ence in the Per­sian Gulf. Hav­ing de­cided to stick with the Bahraini roy­als de­spite pop­u­lar protests against their rule, there was no way the sec­re­tary of state would ul­ti­mately leave the crown prince cool­ing his heels.

Of course, Clin­ton could have avoided such ques­tions by build­ing an im­per­me­able wall be­tween the foun­da­tion and the State Depart­ment. But no, the Clin­tons do not be­lieve in im­per­me­able walls. I wish they would get re­li­gion.

Hil­lary Clin­ton is run­ning against a man who is wholly un­qual­i­fied to be pres­i­dent. So she must win. But she also must learn.

Eu­gene Robin­son is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at eu­gen­er­obin­son@wash­post.com.

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