It's always fun to watch politicians and their flunkies try to spin a bad situation, and those tactics were clearly on display during Hillary Clinton's e-mail scandal. Before receiving that "Stay Out of Jail" card from the FBI and Obama's Justice Department, Mrs. Clinton and her minions tried various arguments to excuse her illegal behavior, without too much success. From the "grooveyard of forgotten favorites," as El Rushbo might say:
"Other secretaries of state did it (used private e-mail accounts for government business)." There's a kernal of truth to that, with some important qualifiers: first, none ever utilized a private account on the industrial scale pioneered by Mrs. Clinton. Additionally, her predecessors never sent the nation's most closely-guarded secrets on a personal system that lacked even basic security features, and none ever plotted to evade public disclosure and archiving laws by creating their own domain and server network.
"I never sent or received classified information." This is another howler, since the defense is largely based on claims that information in the e-mails lacked classification markings. Never mind that the lack of classification headers and paragraph markings is not an excuse for mishandling classified data or transmitting it improperly--or that Mrs. Clinton (in one message) directed aides to remove classification markings so sensitive material could be sent over an unclassified fax machine. Hillary and her senior aides clearly chose to ignore (read: violate) security requirements, and the hits just keep on coming. Friday, Vice News disclosed that Mrs. Clinton sent at least 22 Top Secret e-mails to senior aides in 2011 and 2012. The messages are among those withheld from public release by the State Department, since they contain information that would cause "exceptionally grave damage to national security."
But not to worry, we were told. There was no firm evidence that enemy hackers accessed her server system, and might have collected all the information stored there--including "missing" e-mails that were deleted by Clinton's aides and members of her legal team. That claim has been refuted by a number of IT and counter-intelligence professionals, who note that foreign intel services are quite capable of accessing a system, collecting whatever they want and exiting--all without leaving a trace.
After down-playing the "foreign hacker" threat for months, the Democrats are now doing a 180, after Wikileaks began publishing thousands of e-mails pilfered from the DNC archives. The first dump came on the eve of this week's Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and it revealed a number of interesting nuggets, including unassailable proof that party leaders worked actively to deny Bernie Sanders their presidential nomination. That revelation forced party chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz to resign in disgrace, as e-mails detailed suggestions by Democrat officials to use anti-Semitic tactics against the Vermont Senator.
There were also messages that revealed collusion between the DNC and the mainstream media. One e-mail described a private meeting with a senior executive at NBC News and in another message, Ms. Wasserman Schultz told network anchor Chuck Todd that a critical line of coverage "had to stop." Wikileaks also published an e-mail from a CNN producer who vowed to keep the focus on the Democrats and another from a Politico reporter, who sent his story to the DNC for review before submitting it to his editor.
To deflect attention away from the messages--and their damning content--the Democrats are playing the victim card (as only they can) and focusing on the hack. Almost immediately, party officials blamed the Russians and there may be some evidence to support that accusation. While Wikileaks denies any connection with Putin's intelligence services, many current and former western intel officials have long believed that the organization and its founder, Julian Assange, are little more than Russian cut-outs. As John Schindler recently noted in the New York Observer, it's rather curious that Mr. Assange, currently holded up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London (to avoid rape charges in Sweden) has requested protection from the Russian FSB. Assange also counseled American turncoat Edward Snowden to flee to Moscow after he released thousands of classified NSA documents. Snowden remains in Russia to this day, with round-the-clock security from an FSB protective detail.
At this point, the Democrats' collective pucker factor must be at an all-time high. If hackers tied to Russian intelligence made off with all of the DNC's secrets, it's a fair bet they have all of Hillary's e-mails as well. Holding all the high cards, Mr. Putin has the luxury of choosing his options. He can sanction the continued release of Democratic party e-mails and start adding missing messages from HRC's server as well, inflicting an ultimately fatal blow to her campaign. Or, the Russian leader can offer to turn off the tap, in exchange for whatever he wants on the world stage. Given Mrs. Clinton's past pliability in dealing with Moscow, it's easy to see her caving to any blackmail demands from the Kremlin. Our allies in places like the Ukraine, Poland, the Baltics and elsewhere should be very, very nervous.
The notion of Mr. Putin using spycraft to influence our presidential election should be disquieting to all Americans, regardless of their political affiliation. And, it's absolutely mind-boggling that GOP nominee Donald Trump is calling on the Russians to "locate" Hillary's missing e-mails and publish those as well. While Mr. Trump has chummy relations with the Russian leader, he might also be concerned about what the GRU's 6th Directorate has retrieved from his computer networks. Putin can easily use the same tactics against Trump, if the situation dictates.
It's also important to view the current hubbub through the lens of politics. Fact is, the Democrats weren't overly concerned when Wikileaks was publishing secrets that made George W. Bush look bad, and they down-played serious security breaches at OMB (and other federal agencies) during Obama's time in office. But now that their party--and presidential nominee--have been targeted, the Democrats are demanding an all-hands-on-deck effort to pinpoint the source of the hack and punish the offenders. Good luck with that; the odds of us actually getting our hands on the hackers is pretty much non-existent. I'm sure Putin and his cronies are getting a good laugh out of spoiling Mrs. Clinton's coronation in Philadelphia, with the promise of more "fun" in the weeks ahead.
And one final thought, before giving too much sympathy to Hillary or the Democrats. Lest we forget, the party's cyber woes began with HRC's attempts to circumvent the law (and potential scrutiny) with her infamous home-brew server network and e-mail domain. It's quite possible the alleged Russian foray began penetration of her servers and led them on to the DNC. Apparently, Ms. Wasserman-Schultz was presiding over a network that was only marginally more secure than Mrs. Clinton's. Yet, she allowed staffers to conspire against Sanders in terms that are vile at best, racist at worst. Of course, she never believed any of those e-mails would enter the public domain--just as Hillary thought she could get away with her on-line crimes.
Both were woefully mistaken. And the worst is yet to come.