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The Trump Effect

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A March 4th Wall Street Journal editorial sketched out the real risks to Hillary Clinton in her unfolding email-gate investigation: “. . . even the friendly State Department review has been damaging” the journal editorial staff wrote. “Of 30,000 emails Mrs. Clinton turned over to State, we now know that 2,093 were classified as ‘confidential’ or ‘secret.’ Another 22 were classified ‘top secret’—and State withheld their contents from public release. Mrs. Clinton keeps claiming these were ‘retroactively’ classified, but that’s been vigorously disputed by intelligence community members, who note that at least some of the top-secret emails refer to intelligence projects classified from the beginning.”

There’s evidence, as well, that “Mrs. Clinton knew her server held national secrets” as the Journal puts it, something she adamantly denied when her use of a private, home-based server (on which her personal email account was maintained) first came to light. And the presiding judge in the Freedom of Information Act case, Emmet Sullivan, seemed genuinely incredulous at the way in which the State Department itself operated in this matter:

“Here you have Mrs. Clinton and Abedin,” he said, referring to Huma Abedin, a senior Clinton staffer, “and their private counsel deciding, after neither Mrs. Clinton nor Ms. Abedin were government employees, what emails are federal records, and what emails are not. It just boggles the mind that the State Department allowed this circumstance to arise in the first place.”

By using a her own private email account for government business, and housing it on a privately owned and controlled server, Mrs. Clinton was able to exercise unprecedented control over the information it contained, information she generated (either as initiator or recipient) during her time at State. If nothing else, such control enabled her to circumvent federal laws concerning her responsibility as a public official to maintain and preserve information relating to her tenure at State. And, as Judge Sullivan notes, her former friends and colleagues at the State Department apparently abetted this effort by allowing it to go on during her tenure and perhaps by drawing out the ultimate release of the emails in question. This is still to say nothing of the nature and relevance of the emails Mrs. Clinton and her staff claim to have discarded as irrelevant to her time at State, of course. How can anyone know the truth about what was discarded appropriately and what was not, since she alone exercised control over that process? But the question at this point is will any of it matter if the GOP goes ahead and eventually nominates its current front runner, Donald Trump?

The argument is often made that Mr. Trump does poorly against Hillary Clinton in recent head to head polls. But would that remain the case in the general when he begins to pull from more than the agitated Republican base? The Clinton camp is worried enough to have commenced serious opposition research on Mr. Trump should he get the nomination. Much of the media, too, historically more in sync with Democratic policies and philosophy than with conservative views, has been downplaying the unfolding email scandal surrounding the former Secretary of State. Will they have any more reason, going forward, to pay attention to the implications of Mrs. Clinton’s email shenanigans with a Trump candidacy on the horizon?

If the alternative to Mrs. Clinton in the race for the White House is a congenitally crude, shoot-from-the-hip bully who trash talks his way through the primaries while boasting of his wealth and endless successes, and, of course, his always “great” poll numbers, then even career lawyers in the FBI and Justice might think twice about the implications of a Clinton indictment in the run-up to the presidential election in November. Even professionals staffers at these two agencies, who may believe they have no fish to fry in the electoral process when the rule of law is the issue, could find themselves worrying about the prospect of upending the Democratic side of this year’s presidential sweepstakes if that helps put a man like Mr. Trump in the White House — a man who recently said on national television that he would have no qualms about ordering the American military to take actions that violate American and international law.

It’s true he backtracked on those words the next day, when their implications apparently hit home with him, but backtracking is easy for a man whose words come so fast and with so little thought as his do. Mr. Trump has made his reputation in this campaign thus far by his willingness to say whatever pops into his head and clean it up afterwards — if he thinks he needs to. He’s shown himself undeterred by the prospect of self-contradiction while boasting of his use of American laws to prosper in business, even at the expense of his investors and lenders. He’s also the guy who recently floated the idea of curbing freedom of the press, revealing what seemed remarkable unfamiliarity with the Constitution’s First Amendment.

Making it easier for a man who thinks like this to reach the White House could well become a factor in the calculations of those whose task it is to follow the facts on Hillary Clinton’s email escapades. In the best of all possible worlds someone who breaks laws, lies about it and consistently acts as if she is entitled to make up her own rules would seem to have little hope of winning the American presidency. But these are not normal times, not when the alternative is a blustering political novice with a penchant for self-promotion and glitzy disregard of the facts. Even professionals who are dedicated to the primacy of the law might well feel a need to balance that against the prospect of a man like Donald Trump in the Oval Office, his gold bedecked fingers on the nation’s nuclear trigger and visions of trade wars dancing in his head.

About Stuart W. Mirsky

Stuart W. Mirsky, a former New York City official who last served as Assistant Commissioner for Operations in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene before retiring in 2002, wrote a column, "The Rockaway Irregular," for The Wave, a south Queens based weekly, for more than a decade (until Hurricane Sandy changed the equation). He is an original founder of the Rockaway Republicans, one of the most active Republican groups in southern Queens, and author of a number of books, including The King of Vinland's Saga, an historical novel of the Norse in 11th century North America, A Raft on the River, a memoir of Holocaust survival, and Choice and Action, a work of contemporary philosophy addressing the implications of relativism and nihilism for our moral beliefs.

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