Wednesday, May 25, 2016

What the State Department Email Report Means for Hillary Clinton
NBC News

The topline of the highly critical report by the State Department's inspector general into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server when she was secretary of state is that she "did not comply with the Department's policies." But what else does the report mean for Clinton — and for her presidential campaign?

Here are five key questions the report brings to the forefront:

Was Security Compromised?

That remains an open question.

The Clinton campaign has carefully worded its responses when asked whether the server had ever been hacked.

An FAQ section on her campaign's website updated Wednesday poses that very question — "Was the server ever hacked?" — with a not-quite-complete answer: "No, there is no evidence there was ever a breach." [Emphasis added.]

It's clear, however, that attempts were made to hack the server.

In January 2011, non-government adviser providing technical support for Clinton's email system notified her deputy chief of staff, Huma Abedin, that he'd shut down the server because he believed "someone was trying to hack us," according to the report.

Later that day, the adviser updated Abedin with the news that "we were attacked again so I shut [the server] down for a few min." The next day, according to the report, Abedin sent out a notice that staffers shouldn't email Clinton "anything sensitive."

Four months later, according to the IG's report, two top staffers discussed — via email, it turns out — concerns voiced by Clinton herself that someone might be "hacking into her email."

In another development Wednesday, a Romanian man known as "Guccifer" pleaded guilty in federal court to identity theft and unauthorized access to protected computers. It was Guccifer's hacking that revealed that Clinton used a private email address in the first place.

In an earlier interview with NBC News, Guccifer claimed that he was able to breach the server and even download some files — a claim that federal investigators say they can't substantiate.

Can She Be Prosecuted?

Not simply on the basis of this report, which resulted from an administrative inquiry, not a criminal investigation.

The focus of the report is on the State Department's cybersecurity protocols in general, noting that the State Department's "longstanding, systemic weaknesses ... go well beyond the tenure of any one secretary of state."

While Clinton is the star of the show, the report examines her four immediate predecessors' use of technology — and former Secretary of State Colin Powell also comes in for significant criticism for having used a private email address. But the report notes that rules and technological safeguards weren't nearly as advanced during Powell's term, from 2001 to 2005.

However, there are other inquiries that could hold the potential for prosecution. For example, the intelligence community's inspector general and the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security are also looking into the matter.

But it's the FBI that poses the biggest potential headache — it's conducting a criminal investigation into possible mishandling of classified information, the results of which the Justice Department could use to bring charges.

Has She Told the Truth?

It depends on whom you ask.

Clinton has repeatedly said that her use of the server was "allowed." And last year on NBC's "Meet the Press," she insisted that she's been "as transparent as possible."

But the IG's report appears to contradict both assertions. In more than one place, it says no senior State Department official in charge of information security was ever asked to approve the arrangement. Had they been asked, they would have said no, according to the report.

And while Clinton has said she's been cooperative and transparent, the report discloses that she declined to cooperate with the State Department inquiry — along with at least eight of her top State Department advisers.

"This actually rebuts so much of what Hillary Clinton was saying, that people knew what she was doing, that there was no issue, that this was not in violation of State Department practices and procedures," Rep. Peter King, R-New York, a member of the Homeland Security Committee, told MSNBC-TV on Wednesday.

What Light Does the Report Shed on Clinton Herself?

Emails examined in the IG's report tend to reinforce Clinton's image among some critics as ruthless and calculating.

It cites at least two employees in the State Department's executive office for information resource management at the time who indicated that they felt intimated into not speaking up about their concerns.

One of the staffers told IG investigators that it was made clear that "the matter was not to be discussed any further," according to the report. The other employee said staffers were told "never to speak of the Secretary's personal email system again," it says.

Pressure appears to have been put on other officials, as well, according to the report, which says that when staffers of the Bureau of Administration asked whether there was an electronic method that could be used to capture Clinton's emails, the response they got made them "not comfortable" advising the new secretary.

Will the Report Hurt Her Campaign?

Almost certainly.

While it will add more fuel to the theories of conspiracists who've accused Clinton of all kinds of misdeeds — including murder — for more than 25 years, its real impact could come from the fact that it's not a partisan attack. It's an independent report from the agency she ran for four years.

"We're not talking about anybody from the right wing or any conservative or any Republican," King told MSNBC-TV. "This is an independent report coming out by an individual appointed by the president of the United States."

An NBC News/SurveyMonkey tracking poll released Tuesday indicated that nearly 6 in 10 Americans already say they "dislike" or "hate" Clinton.

And the report only reinforces "what we already know about Hillary Clinton: she simply cannot be trusted," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, said Wednesday.

King advised Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to "focus on this, what was wrong with it, why Hillary Clinton did the wrong thing, why this could put security at risk."

But Trump needed no prodding.

At a rally Wednesday in Anaheim, California, Trump referred to Clinton as "crooked Hillary" and said the report made him even more eager "to run against Hillary."

"She's as crooked as they come," Trump said. "She had a little bad news today, as you know, from some reports that came down — weren't so good. Not so good. The inspector general's report — not good."

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