Has the Clinton counterattack against President Obama begun?
The Clintons have never taken a political hit lying down. But given their weak and panicky reactions to Mr. Obama’s current, well-orchestrated hit on her — the FBI investigation into her alleged mishandling of classified material as secretary of state — they have appeared to passively absorb the escalating attack. Until now.
As he presses his attack, Mrs. Clinton has two choices. Option one: fold early and negotiate a mild end to the investigation in exchange for dropping out of the race. But Mr. Obama is not a forgiving sort, and now that he’s drawn blood, he’s likely to go for the kill.
That suggests that the Clintons are going with option two: fight him — as part of an elaborate, unspoken negotiation between them over their secrets and futures. That requires a plausible defense. Their go-to strategy has always been to blame others, or inanimate objects such as documents, servers, “processes” — and to designate a fall guy (or gal) to take the rap.
This is the well-worn path they now appear to be pursuing to try to escape Mr. Obama’s ever-tightening political and legal vise.
According to a well-placed source, the four known documents at the center of the FBI investigation are deeply problematic. (They came from a relatively small sample; with each new email dump, there are more questionable documents.) Some of the documents appear to have had no original classification markings.
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A critical point: the federal government classifies by information, not by marking; that is, if a document contains obvious classified material, ie. information provided by a foreign government, it is automatically considered classified, even if it isn’t marked as such. Mrs. Clinton knew this — or should have. Further, the federal government could not classify material that originated with her since they had no access — or knowledge — of her private server.
Some documents have also been manipulated. Their classified markings have been removed or changed, which would explain why she has changed her public statements about what was in her possession — and when. Initially she claimed unequivocally that there “was no classified material.” She now says, “The facts are I did not send nor did I receive material marked classified.”
This appears to be the basis for her defense: that some of the documents’ classified markings were removed or changed — without permission — before she saw them.
By whom? There are only three people who were close enough to her to have had that kind of access: Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, Deputy Chief of Staff Jacob Sullivan, and her longtime Gal Friday, Huma Abedin.
Ms. Mills, Mrs. Clinton’s Valerie Jarrett and shadowy hatchet gal, is a lawyer, which may present evidentiary issues for the government as much of her communication with Mrs. Clinton may be privileged.
Ms. Abedin, who has had her own issues involving her husband, former Rep. Anthony Weiner, her family’s alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, and her extracurricular employment activities while at State, is not a lawyer and may be more exposed. She lawyered up recently, but like Ms. Mills, she knows too much about the Clinton Foundation and Bill Clinton operations and how they mixed with Mrs. Clinton’s State Department (and server) to be sacrificed.
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This leaves Mr. Sullivan, the outsider. If it’s true that he is cooperating with the FBI, Mrs. Clinton may try to smear him as a John Dean-style rogue, who either didn’t alert her to unmarked classified material or removed the markings himself and is now trying to save his own hide.
So: Mrs. Clinton may claim ignorance, blame the documents and her former lieutenant and dare Mr. Obama to charge ahead.
Sound familiar? It’s the Whitewater strategy. Mrs. Clinton knows how to manipulate documents and designate a chump. Like a game of Clue, the Whitewater documents were found years later in the study with Col. Mustard and a pipe. She got away with it then, but unlike Susan McDougal, Mr. Sullivan isn’t prepared to go to prison. Does he have a smoking gun, or is he merely providing a he said/she said scenario out of which they both will skate?
The Clintons must also go on offense, meaning possibly threatening Mr. Obama with her knowledge of any relationship he may have had with the Clinton Foundation donor network, the lies about Benghazi, and so on. Whether or not their side of this highwire negotiation works depends on what leverage they have against him.
It also means threatening anyone who gets in her way of the nomination. In a panicky attempt to scare off other contenders such as Vice President Joe Biden, she claimed that she already has substantial (but easily changeable) delegate support. While it may be tough for her to directly attack Mr. Biden, she may choose to attack others close to him to get him to think twice.
Can the old Clinton nuclear strategy work this time? Her poll numbers are dropping, and she has consistently underestimated her adversaries, Mr. Obama and Mrs. Jarrett, who have already activated their plan for a Joe Biden (or whomever else Mr. Obama may bless)- Elizabeth Warren ticket — which reportedly has Mr. Clinton “incensed.” They’re not in 1998 anymore.
If Mr. Obama holds the meaningful cards in this bloody negotiation, he may greenlight a special prosecutor or indictment of Mrs. Clinton. They are in a political death match, for their own futures, and the future of the party, the Obama revolution and the country. It won’t end until one side is destroyed.
In this “Game of Thrones,” it’s now “game on.”
• Monica Crowley is online opinion editor at The Washington Times.