U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, neatly summed up a key problem with former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s use of a private e-mail account for official government business: “It’s not up to Secretary Clinton to decide what’s a public record and what’s not.’’
Gowdy, who commented on Clinton while appearing on “Face the Nation” on Sunday, has an obvious political interest in Clinton’s e-mails. He’s overseeing yet another congressional investigation into the Benghazi tragedy. But all Americans have an interest in government transparency, part of a healthy democracy’s bedrock. And when such a high-ranking official has taken steps that likely served her presidential ambitions — by keeping the e-mails out of her critics’ hands — but thwarted public scrutiny of public records, serious doubts ensue about her judgment.
Did Clinton really think she could keep the e-mails secret? And what’s in those e-mails that was worth running the risk of the coverup scandal that’s now unfolding? We expect better logic from a Democratic presidential contender who has touted her readiness for 3 a.m. crisis phone calls. We also expect a real, not fictional, commitment to open government.
While the U.S. State Department has contended that she broke no rules, Clinton’s actions have complicated access to government information for citizens, journalists and other public officials. Congressional committees such as Gowdy’s and media organizations including the Associated Press have faced delays in requests for Clinton’s e-mails.
That should be deeply troubling to anyone who cares about government accountability. Clinton’s use of a private server also raises questions about how secure her communications were in an age when hackers routinely shred commercial data system safeguards.
On Tuesday, days after both Republicans and Democrats pressed Clinton for an explanation, she held a news conference to offer a weak defense — that she used her personal e-mail because it was more convenient. Clinton said she didn’t want to carry two mobile devices for work and personal e-mail accounts. That she eventually turned over 55,000 pages of e-mails is not reassuring. Clinton said none of the e-mails was classified, but the nation has to take her word for that. Still unknown is how many she deleted and how she and her staff made decisions about which e-mails would be released — decisions that weren’t theirs to make.
Clinton’s supporters contend that voters won’t care about this during next year’s presidential campaign. But this is a serious error — one that should dog Clinton throughout her expected candidacy.