If you managed to watch the first Democratic presidential debate last Tuesday, during the blitz of midterm exams, you probably witnessed one of the most memorable moments in the 2016 race: when Vermont Sen. Bernard “Bernie” Sanders told former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to roaring applause, “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.” Clinton and Sanders then proceeded to shake hands and promised to address issues that “actually mattered” to the American people.
Now I am admittedly no liberal, and I definitely won’t be voting for either Sanders or Clinton anytime soon, but I find it immensely frustrating that Clinton’s downright negligence is being brushed under the rug. And whenever Clinton is faced with a question about her emails, she gives the same dry, unremorseful response that “she made a mistake” and “she’s happy to still be standing.” She always seems to circumnavigate around this question after only giving half-truths.
So why should you give a damn about Clinton’s emails? Let me explain.
First, it’s important to remember that it’s not the content of the emails that has created most of Clinton’s problems. Jason Leopold of VICE News, who sued the State Department for access to Clinton’s emails earlier this year, has said that some of the content included messages like “I don’t know how to work my fax machine!”
This is not to say that no juicy details regarding Clinton’s political views haven’t been unearthed. In several late 2009 emails, Clinton discusses her opinion on sending troops to Afghanistan and her vision of Pakistan’s role in combating al Qaeda. Emails like these provide insight because they show Hillary with her guard down, and you really get to know a person when they’re not on the defensive. The emails show that Clinton has a lot of pivotal views she hid from the public — on Guantanamo, Afghanistan, the fight against al Qaeda, human rights and environmental issues — that would be crucial to know about when deciding whether to vote for her as a presidential candidate.
But there’s still more to this issue: the hack of Clinton’s email servers.
In 2013, it was reported that Clinton’s personal email address had been hacked, and it wasn’t until hundreds of emails were released that the magnitude of this security breach was revealed. More than 400 emails were obtained from that unsecure server, emails that contained detailed information about both foreign and domestic affairs.
Clinton’s go-to remark on the issue thus far has been that nothing in those emails were classified. But is that any excuse? I say no.
In fact, her possession of this email account without the knowledge of her superior (who’s only the President of the United States), is actually a violation of the federal Espionage Act and warrants at least 10 years of imprisonment. (See Title 18, subsection 793 of the U.S. Code, which is “a consolidation … of the general and permanent laws of the United States,” according to the House of Representatives’ Office of the Law Revision Counsel.)
And there is no way Obama had any knowledge of the situation, at least judging from the interviews he’s given. In fact, in a “60 Minutes” interview earlier this month, Obama indicated he had no inclination that Clinton had a separate email account.
The federal Espionage Act also includes a provision that criminalizes “gross negligence” by officials charged with safeguarding national defense information. The current FBI investigation of Clinton hinges on whether or not she violated the Espionage Act, showing gross negligence in her possession of these emails under an unsecure account.
It’s important to note here that this law encompasses any information, written document, code book, photo or even appliance that relates to national defense, classified or not. An FBI agent of 20 years stated in a Daily Mail interview that the only way the lack of security for Clinton’s email account wouldn’t be seen as “gross negligence” is if it was deliberate — which is arguably a much worse offense. Yet the agent went on to say that with certain statutes of the law, intentions don’t matter, and Clinton’s lack of judgment could be violation enough.
Obama has vehemently stated he doesn’t believe Clinton put national security at risk, but does that even matter at this point? Sending information of the nature that Clinton was privy to on a server that was easily hacked is extremely worrisome, especially for a presidential candidate.
And most important, we still don’t know why she had a private email account to begin with. Clinton has said it was so she could carry one cellphone, but this seems like a shoddy excuse. And it doesn’t answer my bigger question, which has been burning ever since this fiasco emerged in the news: Why isn’t Clinton in jail? The Espionage Act makes the possession of the email account without Obama’s knowledge worthy of some serious jail time. But it seems that, for whatever reason, the law doesn’t apply to Clinton — a fact that a lot of governmental officials have noticed.
In May, CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for giving information about Iran to a New York Times reporter. He was also convicted of obstruction of justice for a single missing message when government officials were investigating his emails. Compared to Clinton’s hundreds of emails, this is a rather shocking double standard.
So that, in a nutshell, is why I care about Clinton’s “damn emails.” But I suppose, according to Bernie Sanders, I’m not caring about the right issues.
Kierstan Thomas is a contributing columnist.