If Books Could Kill

The Clinton E-Mail Scandal [TEASER]

September 14, 2023
If Books Could Kill
The Clinton E-Mail Scandal [TEASER]
Show Notes Transcript

But her e-mails! Michael explains the non-scandal that captivated the mainstream media in 2016 while Peter attempts to sow the podcast with anti-Hillary sentiment.

To hear the rest of the show, support us on Patreon:

Peter: Oh, shit. Fuck it. I forgot I needed a zinger. 

Michael: Do something problematic. Let's start off on a good foot.

Peter: Okay.

Michael: More like Shillary Clinton. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: Am I right? 

Peter: I can't tell if I want to do a pure joke or something that touches on actual commentary to make it clear that I hate Hillary Clinton. 


Michael: We are off to a good start, Peter. Holy shit. 

Peter: [laughs] I've been a little bit worried about this when I got-- [crosstalk] [laughs] 

Michael: Same, same. We may not get to the email scandal. We may just talk about Hillary Clinton the entire time as like a social construction. 

Peter: Maybe the zinger is just me being like, "Mike, this is the episode where I get canceled." [laughs] 

Michael: Oh, okay. Do you want to do that, emails? 

Peter: All right, let's do it. 

Michael: Okay. All right. Peter?

Peter: Michael.

Michael: What do you know about the Hillary Clinton email scandal of 2016? 

Peter: Yeah, this isn't like when she suggested that we rig Palestinian elections, Michael. This is serious. 

[If Books Could Killed theme]

Michael: So, the genesis of this episode is that when we were recording the Liberal Fascism episode, we had that chapter about how Hillary Clinton is fascist. And then we ended up talking for 45 minutes about the social construction of Hillary Clinton and [Peter laughs] doing a bunch of other side topics. And then we eventually decided that we need to either talk about Hillary Clinton for two seconds or two hours. And so, this is the two hours. We're doing it. 

Peter: Yeah. And we discussed this episode a little bit in advance and you said that you don't want to spend the entire episode relitigating the 2016 election. And I said, I made it quite clear, I think.

Michael: And you said, no. [laughs] 

Peter: That I do want to spend the entire episode relitigating the 2016 election. 

Michael: Fuck. Fuck. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: I was going to do a bunch of scoping of like, "I'm going to keep Peter on topic. How do I trick Peter into staying on the emails?" But this might not work. [laughs] 

Peter: This will be a polarizing episode for both us as individuals and our listeners, because Michael, moderate centrist king, has a rich appreciation for Hillary Clinton. 

Michael: [laughs] Centrist swine Michael Hobbes. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: I get this all the time. Yes.

Peter: Yeah, I've heard the term, reactionary centrist floated. 

Michael: We finally have a person to apply it to, Michael Hobbes. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: So, okay, I did carve out some space at the beginning to talk about Hillary Clinton in general simply, because whenever she comes up in any context with other people, I'm like clenched. 

Peter: Yeah.

Michael: I'm like, "Are they a reasonable person who dislikes Hillary Clinton for justifiable reasons," or "Are they someone who dislikes her for the crazy reasons?" And so, I have a feeling that many of our listeners are probably feeling some similar declenchement. I have many notes, I've spent weeks reading about her, I have bullet points under the non-disingenuous case against Hillary Clinton and the disingenuous case against Hillary Clinton.

Peter: Yeah. I feel that tug of war in my soul, where part of me really does hate Hillary Clinton, and part of me is defensive of her because so many of her critics are absolutely ludicrous people.

Michael: Deranged. And also, one of the-- I mean, there are many grand tragedies of the 2016 election, but one of the tragedies, especially of this email scandal and this bullshit like the Clinton Foundation stuff and all this fake criticism is it totally overshadowed any legitimate criticism.

Peter: Right. Like, the Clinton kill list. 


Peter: Here we go. Here we go. 

Michael: Clench over, Peter. Now I know what category- [crosstalk] 

Peter: My own prep is-- 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: Well, also, it took me weeks, and I will now be walking person by person through the Clinton kill list. 

Michael: [laughs] I did actually want to start with the non-disingenuous case against Hillary Clinton. I think that maybe this is a spicy take. Ultimately, she's like a fairly standard center left politician with all of the good and all of the bad that comes along with that. 

Peter: I agree with that, except I would say center right. 

Michael: Okay. Well,-

Peter: But I hear you.

Michael: -by American standards. By American standards here.

Peter: Sure. Maybe, not conceding. 

Michael: So, in the 1990s, she supports the crime bill, she voted for the Patriot Act, she supported the war in Iraq. She votes for no child left behind, she opposed gay marriage for much of her career in public life, she does a bunch of violence in video games shit after columbine, she supported NAFTA, she continues to support charter schools and the death penalty. Even now, it appears, she doesn't favor legalizing weed. She wants to legalize medical marijuana, but leave it up to the states, which I think is the biggest fucking slam dunk to just legalize fucking weed nationally, like, it's ridiculous. 

As recently as 2007, she's against giving driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. When she's running for Senate, she does a bunch of ugly, anti-immigrant rhetoric. Her centrist plans for her presidency were all these baroque systems of tax credits and shit. The thing that drives us nuts about Democrats, it's always really complicated, like, means] testing levers and pulleys and shit, rather than just giving everybody money and then taxing the rich people back, if it's that fucking important to you. I believe she still says this now, but she definitely said it in 2016 that like, "Single payer health care would never work." She has deep ties to the financial sectors. We all know from these talks that she gave at Goldman Sachs. I feel like all of these are perfectly reasonable reasons to just be like, "I would rather vote for somebody who doesn't have these positions." 

Peter: Yeah. I think that's right. To put a lot of my criticism of her in perspective, so you sort of understand my basic position. I consider her to be a neoconservative in the traditional sense when it comes to foreign policy. Her positions towards the Middle East have always been hawkish, lacked regard for sovereignty in the Middle East. Her and Obama's approach in Libya was brutal.

Michael: Again, wild that we talked about her fucking emails for a year and a half and did not talk about her record as Secretary of State. When we were disastrously bungling the war in Afghanistan, and when there are now emails that we know about where it's like they knew about the CIA drone strikes, and they were like, "Should we object to these? Maybe one or two went too far." 

Peter: Right. 

Michael: I don't know that she's like any worse than a lot of other centrist Democrats, honestly. But this entire generation of Democrats, you look back on their record from the 1990s, the early 2000s, and it looks really fucking bad. 

Peter: She's an avatar for that third way bullshit. An avatar for a democratic establishment that tried to hedge on nearly every single issue from domestic economic issues to foreign policy, right?

Michael: Yeah. 

Peter: We have seen where that got us. 

Michael: I think we're roughly on the same page as far as like, I think it is great to judge public figures by their record in public life. There's a sickness among journalists where they think that just because something is secret, it's important. I think know there are cases of this happening, like, Watergate and shit. But in general, most politicians are fairly easy to judge by what they are or are not doing for the public as far as their votes and their speeches and shit. We have this thing where in public, Hillary Clinton is like a centrist politician and has gotten a lot of stuff wrong and cringey extremely wrong over the years. But then according to the right and to weirdly to the left-wing media, they think that there's like this iceberg of corruption and murder and graft underneath it, and there has never been any evidence of that. 

Peter: Yeah. She's also a politician who is the subject of more completely ludicrous smears and lies than maybe any other politician and also the recipient of more misogynistic political analysis than any other politician. I think that one is probably unquestionably true. 

Michael: Yeah, absolutely. 

Peter: What's weird about discussing her as someone who's a critic of hers from the left is that you can't possibly disentangle all of this. 

Michael: Yeah, of course.

Peter: If you go back and look at the media coverage of the 1992 presidential campaign, so clearly, just like, "Should women be allowed to talk?"

Michael: Yeah, yeah, yeah, oh totally. 

Peter: What we talked about in the Liberal Fascism episode was her writings about children's rights. A ton of the criticism that was levied at her in the early 1990s was just like, "Should first ladies be able to talk about substantive policy?" She was pushing for expanded healthcare coverage. Meanwhile, Nancy Reagan was doing war on drugs shit which didn't clock as political.

Michael: This leads us to the disingenuous case against Hillary Clinton. What really fascinated me is the pattern with Hillary Clinton is the same pattern that I've seen in moral panics over and over again, where it's like, people take these examples of fairly benign behavior, and they use them as a metaphor for much worse things of which there is no evidence. So, I found a Christopher Hitchens article from 2008, which was called The Case Against Hillary Clinton and he's really going to lay it out. 

Peter: Yeah, I remember this. 

Michael: His opening anecdote was about this thing from 1995 when she was first lady and she was in London for something, and she met Sir Edmund Hillary, who was one of the two first people to climb Mount Everest. The other person was Tenzing Norgay, and she's making small talk with Edmund Hillary and she's like, "Hey, did you know you're the reason I have two Ls in my name? My mom was a big fan of yours and she named me Hillary after you, Sir Edmund Hillary." This somehow was on tape or whatever ended up in press reports. People look into it and it turns out Hillary was born in 1947, and Edmund Hillary didn't climb Mount Everest until 1953. She would have been six years old. And so, there's no way that she could have been named after Hillary, whatever. 

Christopher Hitchens uses this as like, "Look at what she'll do to gain power. Look at the way she manipulates people around her." And then, of course, if you actually look into it. Hillary Clinton had never used this anecdote anywhere else. It didn't show up in her biographies. It appears that her mom told her this at some point.

Peter: Which, by the way, is what immediately came to my mind when you told me the timeline. I was like, "Oh, I bet her mom just said it."

Michael: A benign explanation is available for this kind of thing. But it's like, people immediately leap to the like, "Look how fucking bad she is." 

Peter: Right.

Michael: I listened to a right-wing podcast about this and they were like-- They went on this long tirade, they were like, "She's fucking sick. She's a fucking psychopath." It was so brutal. What they were talking about was registering a web domain not in her name. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: One of her aides registered a URL and used his own name on the registration papers. 

Peter: It's very funny to go full bitch eating crackers on Hillary Clinton. 

Michael: I know. [laughs] I do think that an anecdote can be a symbol of something much larger, but you have to have evidence of the much larger thing. You can't just constantly point to symbols. Like, with Trump, you can tell these little anecdotes about, like, he lies about his golf score or something. It's symbolic of the way that he fucking lies about everything. But we have evidence that he fucking lies about everything.

Peter: Right.

Michael: With Clinton, it's like, there's this deep corruption, but we never actually get the deep corruption. We just get these surface level little symbols of it. 

Peter: Also, if a little white lie in conversation is enough to declare a politician, a psychopath, then they all are. 

Michael: Yeah, exactly.

Peter: Is there a single politician you couldn't find an anecdote like this about? 

Michael: I also want to go out of my way to say that she would have been way better than Donald Trump. It's not close. Center left politicians are, in fact, preferable to far-right politicians. 

Peter: Right. 

Michael: Her platform on healthcare, did I love it? No, it was way better than the status quo. She wanted to raise the minimum wage of 12 bucks. Do I wish that was higher? Yes. Is 12 bucks better than 7.50? Also, yes. 

Peter: The argument that Trump wouldn't have been that bad, was ludicrous at the time, and it's more ludicrous in retrospect. 

Michael: Yes.

Peter: It's a ludicrous argument. 

Michael: So, Peter, what is your understanding of the actual facts of the email scandal? 

Peter: Yeah. Hillary Clinton had private email. Well, I'm going to use terms like servers, which I don't actually like-- [crosstalk] 

Michael: Yeah, I still don’t fuck-- I've been reading this for two weeks. I don't know, what the fuck a server is. It's fine. 

Peter: Hillary Clinton had private email servers. She used her BlackBerry to communicate with her aides, and colleagues, etc. That's how she did emails. 

Michael: Yes. 

Peter: Then she gets to the State Department and the State Department, generally speaking, would require or have guidelines that you use their servers. But she does not transition to their servers. She maintains her own BlackBerry. She doesn't want to use their computers. There is a question about confidential information, classified information, because at least theoretically, there could have been classified information being shared in these emails on unprotected or less protected servers. 

Michael: Yes. 

Peter: That is my memory [crosstalk] off the dome. 

Michael: Okay. That was pretty good. The way that Clinton describes it in her book, she says, "It was a dumb mistake, but an even dumber scandal," which I agree with. 

Peter: I agree with that too, but it also annoys me that she would put it that way. 

Michael: [laughs] We'll see if this episode makes you like her more or less. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: I do think that this is a very understandable story. When you hear it in chronological order, if we just go over what actually happened, the striking thing about Clinton's book, Comey's book, and there's various investigations of this over the years is that they really don't disagree on the facts. So, I think the first thing to know if we rewind all the way back is that a lot of politicians don't use email very much. Part of this is to avoid fucking records requests because they're all corrupt fucking ding bats. And some of it is like they're just all old as fuck. So, John McCain did not send or receive an email his entire life.

Peter: Yeah. And especially when you think about 2008. 

Michael: Yeah. I honestly think the fact that Clinton is 62 when she becomes Secretary of State is very important to this story. It really reminds me of all of the boomers in my life and how they use technology. In her book, she says, "I didn't send a single email when I was in the White House as First Lady or during most of my first term in the US Senate. I've never used a computer at home or at work. It was not until 2006 that I began sending and receiving emails on a BlackBerry phone. I had a plain old AT&T account like millions of other people and used it both for work and personal email. That was my system, and it worked for me." So, this is what she's used to. All of her emails, professional, personal, everything comes and goes out of the BlackBerry, right? 

Peter: She's never used a computer?

Michael: She's never had one anyway. 

Peter: Yeah. 

Michael: I think it's very hard for people like us who don't have Teams-

Peter: You don't have a team?

Michael: -to understand what it is the daily reality of these people. Most of us just assume that she's sending and receiving emails all the time, when now that we've seen all the fucking emails. The vast majority of the emails are like one sentence or they're like, "Forwarding it and be like FYI." 

Peter: Yeah.

Michael: They're not substantive. They're not thoughtful. It's like, everything takes place in-person meetings or phone calls. She says, "Her and Bill, they've never sent an email to each other, they call because they're boomers."

Peter: Yeah, that makes sense. 

Michael: So, in 2007, Bill Clinton has a server installed in his house. It's not clear whether either of these boomers knew what that meant or whatever. They're just like, "Okay, this is going to make it easier. Like, more secure. It's encrypted," whatever. Clinton starts using HRL-5 at mycingular.blackberry.net as an email address, which is the most boomer fucking email address I've ever heard in my life. So, that's the situation. When on January 21st, she is sworn in as Secretary of State. 

Peter: Man, this could have all been avoided if Obama wasn't the type to just want to be liked by everyone. So, he was like, "Look, Hillary just ran a really weirdly racist primary campaign against me. I will make her Secretary of State."

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: Oh.

Michael: Yet, another election that I refuse to relitigate. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: We're not touching 2008 in this fucking episode. [laughs] 

Peter: Well, guess what? I'm bringing up the Somali garb picture that her team circulated. 

Michael: Jesus Christ. 


Peter: This is all stored within a very specific compartment of my brain. 

Michael: Yeah, on your servers, on your little brain,-

Peter: That's right. 

Michael: -your little contempt brain servers. So, she starts the Secretary of State. She has this BlackBerry email account that she's using that I think everybody knows. It's super fucking janky. Dealing with classified information is just a giant fucking hassle. Like, she has to lock up her BlackBerry in some weird safe when she goes into work because they're afraid that the Russians or whoever is going to hack it and turn it into a microphone. It's like, "Okay, so, I just don't have my device with me at work all day, and I don't really know how to use a computer." It's just this giant fucking hassle. 

Peter: By the way, whenever I hear about the machinations of our intelligence operations, it always makes me a little bit anxious. Like, do we have technology that can sense whether the Russians are hacking-

Michael: I know.

Peter: -the Secretary of State's phone? It's like, "No, just put it in the no hack box."

Michael: [laughs] And then one of the dark ironies of this is that this entire thing is about email security, like, whether it's being stored on private servers or government servers or whatever. The State Department servers were hacked. Her personal server was not hacked. 

Peter: [laughs] Right.

Michael: The Pentagon was also hacked during this time. So, it's like, the entire thing just fucking dissolves into smoke where it's like, "What are we actually talking about here?" She put them on a more secure server.

Peter: Or, at least a server that was less of a target, right? 

Michael: Although, it was also a target at that time, but yes. 

Peter: Yeah, fair enough. 

Michael: So, on January 23rd, 2009, two days into her tenure as Secretary of State-- Actually, I'm going to email this to you or I'll text this to you. This is from the FBI report. 

Peter: Okay. "On January 23rd, 2009, Clinton contacted former Secretary of State, Colin Powell via email to inquire about his use of a BlackBerry while he was Secretary of State. In his email reply, Powell warned Clinton that if it became public that Clinton had a BlackBerry and she used it to do business, her emails could become "official records and subject to the law." Powell further advised Clinton, "Be very careful. I got around it all by not saying much and not using systems that captured the data." Clinton indicated to the FBI that she understood Powell's comments to mean any work-related communications would be government records." 

Michael: This is fascinating to me. At the heart of this entire thing, we have Colin Powell, the previous Secretary of State, admitting that he used a fucking aol.com address the entire time that he was Secretary of State. He says, "I got around it by not saying much and not using systems that captured the data." This guy did what Hillary Clinton is accused of.

Peter: Right.

Michael: He specifically skirted the rules, so that he would not be subject to FOIA requests and shit. To this day, we still do not have emails from the early 2003 period, which like, "I would like to see." 

Peter: Hey, going to lie to the UN, LOL. 

Michael: What's interesting is he tells her, he's like, "Yeah, just use an external email. Here's how to get around it," whatever. Clinton does not take his advice. She starts using this email address, hdr22@clintonemail.com

Peter: clintonemail.com?

Michael: I know. It's amazing, it didn't get hacked, because it's so fucking obvious.

Peter: Right. I feel like if you found that domain, you would assume it was like a troll who was sitting on the domain rather than the actual one. 

Michael: So, she starts using this personal account. The cludge that she comes up with to comply with eventual records requests and to only have one device with her is she basically moves all of her correspondence, personal and professional, onto this one email address. So, for her entire time as Secretary of State, she does not use a state.gov email address and all of her emails. So, her mother dies while she's in office and her dealings with the estate. Emailing Chelsea like, "How's life?" All of her personal emails and all of her like, "The President of this country just got assassinated" emails are all on the same fucking account. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: So, to me, the best argument that she didn't do this to avoid scrutiny or for any corrupt, deep evil reason is that this is such a fucking stupid solution to the problem. She is ensuring that there is going to be a conflict between her professional and her personal emails, because they're all in one fucking inbox. 

Peter: Right.

Michael: I think when people process the email scandal, what they think happened is that, she had her hillary@state.gov email. And then she was shunting people to this secret personal address. She's like, "Okay, this is spicy shit. Email me the kill list to hillary@clintonemail.com

Peter: Right.

Michael: That's not what she was doing. It was all in one place. 

Peter: It seems to me like what we're building toward and this is how I've always viewed it is that this was essentially just an act of medium negligence. Maybe medium to high, depending on how much you care about national security [crosstalk]

Michael: I would say medium to low, but yeah. Sure.

Peter: I guess, what I mean by medium to high is like, if I were to combine my work and personal emails, the stakes are quite low. You know what I mean? Whereas the worst-case scenario here is relatively bad, I guess. 

Michael: Well, also, one thing that has genuinely given me nightmares about this is that it's very clear that no one on her team thought about this or thought it was a remotely big deal at the time, which, looking back, obviously, is very silly. But at the time, people were basically like, "Okay, it's not actually against the rules. There's a recommendation, like, we'd prefer if State Department employees didn't use personal emails, but it happens." If you end up using your Gmail or whatever, make sure you retain all the documents for FOIA requests, whatever. So, they thought that this was above board as long as they retained all of the emails and they knew that her servers were encrypted.

Peter: But they were advised, right? They were advised by State. Isn't that right? Am I misremembering that?

Michael: There's actually some debate about whether people at State knew that this was happening. It seems like most people didn't know that this was on an external server, because when emails came in from Hillary, they just said H. They didn't say H@ anything. We later find out she only emailed the 13 people her entire time at the State Department. 

Peter: Imagine the panic within State, if some security folks got an email that was from hillary@clintonemail.com? They'd be like, "What the fuck is happening?" 

Michael: I know. There is actually a pretty funny section in her book, where one of the emails that eventually comes out is her complaining that she's trying to talk to Obama, but nobody on the White House operator line will believe that she's Hillary Clinton and she can't get through. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: She's like, "How do I do this? How do I prove that I'm me?"

Peter: Well, ironically, the best way would have been to start leaking classified information about people she's assassinated.

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] We're going to get into the mechanics of how all this becomes public in a second. But before we do, I think it's also important to stress, this is all about the storage of digital information.

Peter: Yeah. right.

Michael: At no point in this entire scandal, does anybody accuse Hillary Clinton of sharing classified information with foreign governments right. Or, leaking it to the press or blurting something out to someone who shouldn't know it. Every single one of the people that she was emailing had top secret clearance. 

Peter: Right. It's about information security procedures. 

Michael: I was trying to think of a metaphor. It's like, you come downstairs in the morning, and you realize your roommate has left the door unlocked overnight, and you're like, "Okay, well, nothing got stolen. There's no effect of this." But also, "Yeah, we'd prefer it if you locked the door." Like, you might want to talk to your roommate about that. But it's not even that bad, because the emails were on an encrypted server that didn't get hacked. So, it's like, you come downstairs and your roommate has deadbolted the door, but the deadbolt he used was not an approved deadbolt.

Peter: Right.

Michael: Okay. Well, ultimately, the door was locked. It just wasn't the technical lock that we were supposed to use. 

Peter: Right.

Michael: I really cannot stress how long it took me to truly accept that this is what the entire scandal was about. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: It was literally just the storage of information on non-government servers.

Peter: Yeah.

Michael: That's it.

Peter: This is a lens into how the media can get manipulated. It pretty plainly doesn't matter that much, whether Hillary was using the Department of State's approved encrypted server or her own. But the way that this resonates in our political and cultural memory is indicative of a whole lot of weird neuroses that our media maintains and projects onto the general public. 

Michael: One of the things I do think is worth stressing is that, other people who have been busted for this over the years, it's been a very minor issue. So, in his book, Comey says, "In 2011, David Petraeus had given multiple notebooks containing troves of highly sensitive, top-secret information to an author with whom he was having an affair. In contrast to those Hillary Clinton corresponded with, the author did not have the appropriate clearance or a legitimate need to know the information, which included notes of discussions with President Obama about very sensitive programs. He even allowed the woman to photograph key pages from classified documents." 

Peter: Yeah, but this is different because he's trying to get laid. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: That's an affirmative defense under the law. 

Michael: And then, as if to underscore that he knew he shouldn't do what he did, he lied to FBI agents about what he had done. Despite all of this clear and powerful evidence on facts far worse for him than for Secretary of Clinton, and after he demonstrably lied to the FBI, the DOJ charged him only with a misdemeanor after he reached a plea bargain agreement. In 2015, he admitted guilt and agreed to a $40,000 fine and probation for two years. 

Peter: I love that he was the Director of the CIA, but still felt like he had to prove that he has access to confidential stuff. 

Michael: It's like, "Look how cool my stuff is." 

Peter: Yeah, check it out. You want to see it? You want to see it? It's like, "Dude, she knows that you have it, relax. [Michael laughs] You don't have to keep doing it."

Michael: "I know you work at Cinnabon. You don't have to bring me another one. I get it. I trust you."

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: It's a reference in high school. To me, at the most, it's like an administrative violation and this fucking guy who lied to the FBI and obstructed justice got nothing. 

Peter: You have to keep criminal history in mind too. When you have a spotless record like Petraeus, [Michael laughs] you get off light. 

Michael: Whereas with Clinton, you got Seth Rich, you got Vince Foster, you got the Clinton Foundation. 

Peter: Look, you can't do this and Benghazi in a two-year span.

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