Hillary Clinton’s Emails and the Dangers of Conducting Diplomacy in Private

Bill Curry and Terry O’Neill join Paul Jay to discuss the FBI statement and the need for all government official’s communications on public matters to be FOIA-able

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

FBI director James Comey in a statement issued on Tuesday said that 30,000 emails Secretary Clinton turned over to the State Department in 2014, FBI investigators found 110 emails containing information that was classified at the time the emails were sent. Eight of those were Top Secret, the highest level of classification.

Joining us now to talk about this are two guests. First of all, joining us from now in DC, Terry O’Neill, and in Farmington, Connecticut, Bill Curry. Terry is the founder and president of the National Organization for Women. Bill is a columnist for Salon.com. He was the White House counselor to President Clinton. Thank you both very much.

So let me start with you, Bill. What impact do you think all of this is going to have on, well, first of all, the convention, the Democratic Party Convention, and then the general election. Now, the FBI director recommended no indictment. I guess most people know that by now that are following this story. But these emails were classified, and this issue’s being played up all throughout the press more or less as the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune did today in an op-ed, which they called this Hillary Clinton’s Carelessness. And this is going to be a theme, I guess, of the Trump campaign. How serious an issue is this going to be for Secretary Clinton?

BILL CURRY: I think, first of all, that on the whole this was a big day for Hillary Clinton and for Democrats running in November. This, really, I think was the last great possible roadblock. And as you and I discussed once, Paul, I really felt that once I saw the auditor’s report and it was clear there was nothing here that was anything like espionage, there was nothing here that went to character, that it was just this question of carelessness, that unless the FBI was looking deeper, and in fact into other areas like influence-peddling, that it was probably over.

And today she got an even more resounding statement from Comey. Comey, who was a Republican, who’s gone into Republican campaigns part of the Bush, George W. Bush Justice Department, came out today and said no reasonable prosecutor would ever bring a case on this. And usually when the feds don’t indict you, the most you’ll get is a letter saying you’re not being indicted. He came as close as he felt, I think, he could come to giving her a clean bill of health on the issue of criminality in the handling of these emails. And I think that was the real issue here.

For a lot of people, myself included, there are deeper issues about the handling of the issues that go to, that really haven’t, by the way, been brought up in any of this stuff, for the most part. And that is the degree to which American foreign policy and national security issues are decided in private. The degree to which Secretary Clinton in this way, and hosts of other people in that establishment, have worked to sequester their actual policy-making process from public inspection. And it is our overwhelming experience, I would argue, that when America does things in secret we end up with calamities like Vietnam and Iraq. When we do things in an open and transparent way, the country often makes us proud.

To me, the real issues of these emails never really even got debated. But the political issue here, whether or not there was any kind of breaking of the law, criminal or otherwise, in her handling of it, the FBI said there wasn’t any criminal case to be found of any sort, they made a statement that indicated that there were no legal issues.

So this was big. This was a bad day for Donald Trump, a big day for Hillary Clinton.

JAY: Terry, as a Clinton supporter–I’m not sure if I mentioned that off the top, that you’re a supporter of Secretary Clinton, and Bill has been supporting Bernie Sanders. I assume you agree with the first part, that this is a good day for the secretary, and a clean bill of health from a legal point of view. But how do you respond to this issue, as I said, for example, this is the Chicago Tribune’s title exactly: An Extremely Careless Hillary Clinton: The FBI’s Damning Non-Indictment. So much Top Secret information is being handled in ways that could be so easily accessible.

TERRY O’NEILL: Honestly, I think that Senator Bernie Sanders was exactly right when he said, and he said it repeatedly, “I think the American people are sick and tired of hearing about the damn emails.” I think that’s still true today. I’m glad that the Clinton campaign is going to be able to put this behind her. I know that her enemies, or her opponents, will try not to let it be put behind her.

But I do think that the, that the whole issue of the emails is an extraordinary example of grasping at straws. It is, in my mind, on the same level as the multiple inquiries into Benghazi, which is also on the same level as the multiple inquiries, quite frankly, into Planned Parenthood. This is, this repeated attempt to create something out of nothing is really poisoning politics in our country. When we talk politics we should be talking about it in the most elevated way; namely, it’s about policy.

I actually agree with Bill. I think that the national conversation should be had about the degree to which leaders, national leaders, international leaders, should have some measure of privacy, if you will, talking things that do not become completely public, and some measure of sunshine and publicity in their decision-making process. That is a national conversation worth having. This nonsense about Hillary Clinton’s email is sheer nonsense.

JAY: Okay, Bill, expand on your point about foreign policy being conducted in secrecy. And in fact, a lot of people thought Bernie Sanders held back a little bit in terms of his critique of Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy record.

CURRY: Just to make a–I want to make two observations. The first one sentence, a [raw] political observation, that is that if Democrats are looking to expand their base, there is among libertarian-leaning voters of all stripes an extraordinary sense that the right to individual privacy has to be greater than the right to government policy has to be less. And we’ve been–when President Obama in 2008, he promised the most transparent government in history, but we haven’t delivered on it. Across the board whistleblowers have less protection. There’s been some recent progress in this last year that has made some good points, and there’s been some strengthening of FOIA just recently. But the overall record of the last eight years hasn’t been what was promised.

And throughout our history–and moving away from the president, Secretary Clinton, for a second–throughout our history, especially the foreign policy establishment has been draped, cloaked, in the utmost secrecy. And everybody pretty much, left and right, anywhere near the center has gone along with it, and I would just argue to our great and everlasting detriment.

And the hardest part for Secretary Clinton on the email stuff, I agree with most of what Terry just said, but the assertion that this was all just to protect some personal stuff, her daughter’s wedding, her mother’s health, et cetera. That was never true. It never, it never struck most people who weren’t already strongly in her camp as being true. What we’ve learned hasn’t really borne it out. The point here was to take an awful lot of her process off the record, to protect it from Freedom of Information inquiries. That’s not criminal. And what’s the [inaud.] of it is to me unjustifiable, particularly on the right.

But it’s bad for America. We’ve paid such a, a bad price, as I said before. And when we’re out in the open you get the Marshall Plan and the Alliance for Progress, and when we’re in the dark you get Vietnam and Iraq, drone strikes, you get–against countries with whom we’re not at war. It’s already too easy to slip into war, I’ll just conclude by saying.

JAY: But Bill, if the objective is to hide information from Freedom of Information Act–why shouldn’t that be illegal?

BILL: I think that [inaud.]. Well, it has to be specifically illegal, and I can’t find that it was. You might say that it ought to be illegal–.

JAY: That’s what I’m asking. I’m asking shouldn’t it be.

BILL: Okay, yeah. And I think that we should strengthen those laws. I think it ought to be very clearly, strongly illegal. Clearly there’s been a precedent set here now, or a precedent corrected, rather, and it’ll be a little harder for anyone in any position to come and do what the secretary did with her emails.

But we need a forceful–a debate we really need to have is how we really take those FOI principles and apply them more broadly and more forcefully to national security issues. As I started to say, it’s already too easy to go to war. The Congress doesn’t fulfill its Constitutional obligations, its responsibility over questions of venturing war. We put war on credit card, now. We’ve automated war so that you can send in drones and not American troops. We’ve made it too, too easy to go to war. The wars we’ve gone into have hurt us far more than they’ve helped us, and they’ve hurt the world.

And so this last question right now of whether they do this and how much of this gets done in private. We have–you know, no more secrets. We have to bust this thing open and make national security really like the rest of our government. At the very least, really make it as open. The justification of this, of covert operations, is almost never held up, in retrospect.

JAY: Terry, first of all, what do you make of the idea that at the very least this legislation should be rewritten so this cannot happen if the–I mean, what do you make of the premise, I guess, first of all, that this was done to avoid Freedom of Information inquiries? That’s the objective here?

O’NEILL: Honestly, I have not delved into the email question deeply enough to have considered that. But I will say this. My organization was formed about 50 years ago. I’m actually not a founder. The founding generation were people actually in my mother’s age category, born between the years 1918 and 1928, in there. But NOW was formed in 1966 from women who had been active in the peace movement, the labor movement, and the civil rights movement. At the time, all three of those movements were very open and proud in their rejection of any form of women’s leadership in those movements. Those women felt that they had something to contribute, that women ought to be included as potential leaders in all movements. And that is actually where NOW came from.

I mention that because I think that when we talk about the libertarian ideal of total privacy for “individuals,” and total transparency for government, let’s be clear that we are working on a history of privacy and entitlement for the most privileged in our country. That would be white males, white women, and some other people of color, at the expense of marginalized individuals, including many white women, but definitely many women of color. So I’m a little nervous, frankly, about saying, well you know, the Democratic Party really needs to reach out to these libertarians, unless and until I am convinced that we have inclusiveness.

JAY: The question I’m asking is: Should there be legislation that makes illegal taking such correspondence off government servers and thus taking it away or exempting it from Freedom of Information Act [inaud.].

O’NEILL: Okay. Not being a lawyer on that I don’t want to–let me, let me just say things from a non-legal perspective. Of course there should be legislation that determines when public officials are supposed to be putting things on the record, and let’s make that robust, and when public officials don’t need to be putting things on the public record.

I totally agree that when you’re talking about issues like war, and–actually, all public measures—definitely we need to have a very robust government in the sunshine. I believe we do have laws like that. I’m not an expert in that area. But I–and we can certainly have a conversation as to how robust those laws need to be. There is no question, there is no question whatsoever, that even public officials need to have some space when they’re making deliberations about what positions they’re going to take. Nobody doubts that there should be some space for privacy. So it’s a balancing act.

JAY: Bill, just finally–.

CURRY: Could I respond to just two things, there, that Terry said. One is that this is about getting all in bed with Rand Paul. But here are lots of libertarian [feed] here that we should be, be appealing to. And I remember that, I would argue that the National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood and the Libertarian Party are probably the three entities that I would name first in America as having done the most for the right to privacy. And they have a common heritage in the right to privacy which is the cornerstone of Roe v. Wade, and which had been inherited from the private state from Connecticut, from Griswold v. Connecticut, the great contraception case which was the first to set the right out. And our respect for the right to privacy of the individual–the problem is that we’ve become more transparent to the government. The government’s become less transparent to us. And these two things, I think, are really linked.

And the second point is a political point is, which is if you look at these polls right now, even today with the proto-fascist Trump as the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, when you put the Libertarian Party in the mix this race is almost a dead heat. And so I think there’s reason for us to look at all these [inaud.]–and consider some of the important [inaud.].

JAY: Well, the Libertarian Party and Green Party. Bill, include the Green Party, which is polling around 7 percent.

CURRY: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. The big vote now is going to Johnson and the Libertarians. But there’s a substantial vote going to the Greens, that’s absolutely correct.

So I’m just saying, and it’s obvious, my feelings about the Green Party, is that there’s a lot in these platforms that we need to take much more seriously than we have. And again, on a policy basis. Not just coming up with a few phrases and some message, but really sitting down and saying what are the issues here, and where do we have to find common ground?

JAY: Okay, thank you both for joining us.

CURRY: My pleasure.

O’NEILL: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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