An Alternative Explanation for Hillary’s Private Email Server

I think she did it so she’d be able to remember every minute, and recount it with authority

Susan Crawford
Mar 24, 2015 · Unlisted

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is nothing if not earnest. From her high school time as a Goldwater Girl — “right down to my cowgirl outfit and straw cowboy hat emblazoned with the slogan ‘AuH20'” — through her famously hard-working tenure as a cabinet official who traveled nearly a million miles and visited 112 countries during her long and exhausting stint in office, she has always Done Her Best. So why wouldn’t Secy. Clinton have followed State Department policy warning against routine use of personal email accounts for government work?

Here’s a possible reason: She wanted to be able to remember what she had done.

Far from wanting to avoid public scrutiny, Secy. Clinton may have wanted to celebrate her tenure as our country’s skillful representative in foreign lands.

If she had relied solely on government email during those years, remembering what she had done would have become exponentially more difficult.

Anyone who has left government service in the era of email can relate to her predicament: While you are inside, you are physically and mentally at one with your BlackBerry. The two of you are constant companions, waking and sleeping. If the unit of interest of government work is the meeting (leading to endless worries for people who worry about things like this — who’s in the meeting? why am I not in the meeting?), the fuel, the calories, the energy of the government is email. Endless chains of email, “looping in” people, giving endless updates so that no one is surprised by important news, setting more meetings, preparing more positions, preparing to postpone more meetings — a dazzling electronic stream. Secy. Clinton was unquestionably swimming in these waters at all times. She was doing her job at every moment she possibly could.

When you leave, though, you have to put down the BlackBerry and back away from it. It’s hard, very hard, to leave it pulsing on the government-issue desk. You’re attached. You know the feel of the thing in your hands; you can type in the dark. But when it’s time to go the two of you have to part. (I served as a Special Assistant to the President at the beginning of the Obama administration — way back, years ago, but even then we had email.)

And that’s it. If you use a government BlackBerry, all those messages, containing every pulse of your day, are lost to you and you are cast into darkness; there is no chance you will remember what happened. It is so over.

Every day, in a job like hers, was a mountain to climb; she likely faced a daily torrent of crises and judgment calls and quick decisions. But without her email records she would not be able to remember any of it; no one possibly could. The emails were, in an important sense, the vivid story.

How could she ever have gotten those memories back? Secy. Clinton would never want to file a FOIA request for her own communications. A squad of State Department lawyers would be deployed to respond, and they’d all be irritated at her; she’d be wasting the resources of government servants she respected and honored.

Nor would Secy. Clinton ever have wanted to make her memories concrete by forwarding a zillion emails from her government account to her personal email server. Why? Because logs are automatically kept of forwarding and you are not supposed to do it.

Also: All that forwarding would have taken time away from the work she undoubtedly kept doing until the very last moment. Remember, she’s the earnest one.

Nor would Secy. Clinton have had time to keep a journal. No one can deny that Secy. Clinton was a very busy Secretary of State. She was undoubtedly sending emails until the moment she tried to get to sleep at night, and the sleep she got became less and less. She was on the job.

Now, notice that General Petraeus took notes by hand in his journal about the meetings he attended — it’s the passing of that journal to his erstwhile paramour that got him in trouble. He must have somehow had more time than Secy. Clinton; fewer countries to travel to, maybe. At any rate, he wasn’t planning to rely on email records. He knew he would have to leave them all behind.

I have never met Secy. Clinton; I have only heard her speak. I am sympathetic to her. I believe that she tried as Secretary to do the best possible job she could do for the country at all times. I also believe that she wanted to be able to remember what she did. Not just for the self-serving purpose of writing a memoir. I think this was bigger for her. It was for the purpose of being able to speak for herself about how she had carried out her job.

And now her greatest strength — her earnestness and devotion to task — is the source of a scandal. Skeptics will never buy this. But maybe, just maybe, all of this happened because her memory, like that of every one of us, is frail.

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