Magazine article The New Yorker

Keeping Secrets

Magazine article The New Yorker

Keeping Secrets

Article excerpt


Hillary Clinton, in her memoir "Living History," recounts her struggle to defend her privacy while residing in the White House. Some of her stories have a gothic tone. After Bill Clinton's first inauguration, Harry and Linda Thomason, friends from Hollywood, found a jocular note under a pillow in the Lincoln Bedroom. It was from Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio host. How did the note get there? "I don't believe in ghosts, but we did sometimes feel that the White House was haunted by more temporal entities," Clinton writes.

A few months later, as she grieved over the death of her father, she noticed that furniture in the living quarters had been disturbed. She discovered that security officers had searched for bugging devices, without consulting her. "I suddenly remembered the Rush Limbaugh note," she writes. "I was undone by the invasion of privacy. Yes, we were living in a house that belongs to our nation. But there's an understanding that individuals who occupy it are allowed some rooms of their own."

That sensibility partly explains this summer's Clinton non-scandal or mini-scandal or proto-scandal, as it may be. The matter arose from a decision by Clinton when she was the Secretary of State to eschew the government's e-mail system for a private one. In this hot summer of Donald Trump's smash reality show and excited crowds for Clinton's Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders, the e-mail imbroglio is giving her supporters indigestion. The headlines recall the bewildering, partisan-inflamed, and largely inconsequential controversies that surfaced during her husband's Presidency--Whitewater, Travelgate, the Paula Jones case, the Monica Lewinsky matter, and, finally, President Clinton's impeachment hearings. It was an era in Washington about which only white-collar defense lawyers may feel nostalgic.

Now the Clintons again confront a scrum of Republican congressmen and conservative activists who are clearly out to get them. Yet the tenacity of Republican opposition researchers does not by itself explain why Clinton and her husband are so often beset by accusation. Both of them too often co-author their dramas by obfuscating and tolerating conflicts of interest, such as when, between 2009 and 2013, with Hillary Clinton guiding American foreign policy, the Clinton Foundation accepted large donations from foreign governments, including several that abuse human rights.

The e-mail case is, so far, a more ambiguous tangle. In late 2008 or early 2009, the incoming Secretary installed a private server at her New York home. She has said that she wanted to avoid carrying multiple e-mail devices, something that using the State Department system might have required. "What was supposed to be convenient has turned out to be anything but convenient," Clinton remarked last week. Late last year, Clinton turned over to the State Department about thirty thousand e-mails from her home system. But, before doing so, she and her attorneys singled out more than thirty thousand other e-mails, which they deemed to be "private," and, as far as is known, deleted them permanently. Clinton has said that the deleted notes concerned only "yoga routines, family vacations," and the like. Her unilateral culling raised eyebrows, but her lawyers approved her action, and her assertion of privacy rights seems to have resonated with Democratic voters.

Now, however, the F.B.I. is involved. …

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