- - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Parsing the weasel words of politicians is not a job for most Americans. That’s supposed to be the job of the newspapers and the rest of the media, but few reporters are willing to do that as they watch Hillary Clinton repeating again and again her claim that her email scandal isn’t really a problem. She insists that much of the classified material she put on the email server in her bathroom “wasn’t classified at the time” she put it there. This is a version of the classic Washington denial: “I didn’t do it, and I won’t do it again.”

Michael Mukasey, the former U.S. attorney general, echoes the belief of many in the intelligence services that what she sent flying into cyberspace when she was wiping her server clean was actually classified at the time. Her campaign says this isn’t so. This scandal, they argue, isn’t really a scandal. It’s just a technical dispute, nothing to worry about, and a distraction from “what the voters really want to talk about.”

That, as it turns out, isn’t much of a defense, playing successfully with only the true believers, who by definition will believe anything she says. She is technically correct, of course, if only because much of what was sent and received on her private account wasn’t seen by anyone who could have classified it. Only Hillary Rodham Clinton could have done that. This was true of her email exchanges with certain foreign officials, such as Tony Blair, the former British prime minister who was a special envoy to the Middle East, carrying a diplomatic portfolio with very sensitive matters. Among the more that 200 emails the State Department has subsequently stamped as classified, are exchanges with Mr. Blair about American interests, meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and other grave national-security matters.

Mrs. Clinton knew as secretary of State, or should have known, that such matters were sensitive and that handling them in the casual way she did was more than careless. It was illegal. Even as the State Department is responding now to Freedom of Information requests that were once ignored, much of the substance of her exchanges with Mr. Blair and others is being eliminated, or “redacted.” Mrs. Clinton’s exchanges with Tony Blair and others were, under executive orders by President Obama, “classified” by definition. Whether she knew this or not, and ignored it even in ignorance, she was guilty of felony violations of the Espionage Act. The act makes gross negligence in the handling of classified information a criminal act.

The president’s executive order was based on the reasonable assumption that the disclosure of conversations and communications with foreign officials must be kept confidential, else there could be no candor in such exchanges. Disclosure is “presumed to cause damage to national security.”

Any other presidential candidate who claimed ignorance and stupidity as a defense would be put out of the race in a cloud of humiliation. The reporters of the mainstream press are not willing to treat this as a serious defense worthy of examination and ventilation. They might better treat it as an admission from the lady herself that she “just plain ain’t up to the job” she says she deserves.

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