Column: Clinton’s email answers still just don't cut it

Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, looks down during questioning on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thurs., Oct. 22 before the House Select Committee on Benghazi. (AP)

On Monday night, exactly one week before the Iowa caucuses, CNN moderated a town hall in Iowa for the Democratic presidential candidates. As primary season begins and the 2016 contest intensifies, presidential candidates should be fine-tuning their message to the electorate. However, Hillary Clinton again failed to give a satisfactory answer when questioned about the private email server she used while serving as Secretary of State. Clinton’s inability to adequately respond to these questions and quiet concerns about her practices is troubling and will likely create problems for her in the general election.

On her use of a personal email server not subject to State Department oversight for government work, Clinton stated, “You know I had no intention of doing anything other than having a convenient way of communicating, and it turned out not to be so convenient.” This statement appears to make little sense. Clinton took the time to have a separate server set up in her own home and activated it shortly before her confirmation as Secretary of State, rather than use the government account that was automatically created for her. It is unclear why Clinton would have thought setting up a new private server unconnected to the State Department would be more convenient than using the pre-established government account that was provided for her. Clinton may very well have a satisfactory explanation for why she thought setting up a personal server would be more convenient, but she has not yet given it.

Much more alarming is the following statement of Clinton’s: “I’m not willing to say it was an error in judgment because what – nothing that I did was wrong. It was not – it was not in any way prohibited.” In this statement, Clinton claims that because she did not violate any legal prohibitions, she did not make an error in judgment. She thus implicitly assumes that making an error in judgment requires the violation of some prohibition. This assumption is false. There are innumerable opportunities for humans, fallible as we are, to make judgment errors without violating a law. As an example, one might decide to eat three ice cream cones in an effort to lose weight. One is legally free to do so, but it is nonetheless an error of judgment. Clinton’s inability to discern the distinction between illegal acts and those acts which are legal, yet ill advised is troubling. As a presidential candidate, she is held to a standard of sound judgment and decision-making that is much higher than the requirement to obey the law. The latter is a necessary, but not sufficient, attribute of presidential candidates. 

Clinton has thus failed to quiet the concerns over her private server. When asked about the propriety of her actions, she has repeatedly asserted that she has not violated any laws. That is well and good, but this rote response of Clinton’s does not address the question of whether her actions were good decisions or proper practices for a Secretary of State, regardless of legality.

Hillary Clinton has consistently failed to answer questions about the email server. Last year, when asked if the server was wiped, Clinton sarcastically and condescendingly responded, “What? Like, with a cloth or something?” While Clinton may be frustrated that questions about her email keep appearing, her unsatisfactory responses have played a large role in keeping this issue afloat. Her answers have been peevish, defensive and at times, unresponsive. They reveal character traits and a style of handling problems that is troubling. Her inability to successfully craft an answer to questions should worry her supporters as she prepares for the general election. Clinton had best find a better answer than she has been giving. Repeatedly telling Americans she did not break any laws does not quite cut it. She must explain why establishing a private server for her email was more convenient than using the government account and she must explain why this decision was a sound one. Her evasive answers only serve to raise more eyebrows. 


Brian McCarty is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at brian.mccarty@uconn.edu.