Why Clinton’s Emails Matter
It may come as a surprise that one of this country’s greatest experts on Richard M. Nixon’s many crimes is, in fact, Hillary Clinton. In 1974 she was, by many accounts, among the brightest members of the staff of the House Judiciary Committee that investigated Nixon and prepared the articles of impeachment. In this bizarre election year, it must be painful to her that she should find herself at the center of a scandal described by her hyperbolic political opponent, Donald J. Trump, as “worse than Watergate.”
希拉里·克林顿(Hillary Clinton)算得上这个国家最了解理查德·M·尼克松(Richard M. Nixon)种种罪行的人之一，这可能有点让人惊讶。1974年，从很多方面来说，在众议院司法委员会(House Judiciary Committee)负责调查尼克松一案，并准备弹劾文件的人员当中，她都算得上是最聪明的人之一。然而在这个奇异的大选之年，她却发现自己也置身丑闻中心，还被她那夸大其词的政敌唐纳德·J·特朗普(Donald J. Trump)描述为“比水门事件还糟”，这一定让她很痛苦。
But while “Emailgate” is no Watergate, there are some noteworthy echoes.
For one, the controversial decision by the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to inform Congress about new evidence in the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s email server makes sense only if you think of what Watergate meant for the bureau. Its reputation was badly hurt by the behavior of L. Patrick Gray, its acting director at the time, and the revelations of its Hoover-era misdeeds that followed. Subsequent directors like William H. Webster, Robert S. Mueller III and now Mr. Comey have all appeared to understand that the country needs a trusted, nonpartisan F.B.I.
首先，联邦调查局局长詹姆斯·B·科米(James B. Comey)通知国会，声称对克林顿电子邮件服务器的调查发现了新证据，只有考虑到水门事件对于联邦调查局的影响，才能理解为什么会有这个争议性的决定。当时的代理局长L·帕特里克·格雷(L. Patrick Gray)的行为，乃至其后泄露的一系列调查局在胡佛时期的不当行为，严重伤害了它的声誉。后来的几任局长，诸如威廉·H·韦伯斯特(William H. Webster)、罗伯特·S·穆勒三世(Robert S. Mueller III)和现在的科米似乎都明白，这个国家需要的是一个值得信任、无党派倾向的联邦调查局。
The fact that emails on Anthony Weiner’s computer might be relevant to the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s private email server had to be reported to an interested congressional investigative committee. If Mr. Comey had sat on the information — with part of the country already voting in the presidential election — he would have not only made the F.B.I. more of a target for partisan fury, but also made himself a target for future House investigations, since he had testified under oath that the F.B.I. had completed its Clinton email investigation.
And there is another useful comparison to Watergate. As is clear from the F.B.I.’s investigation thus far, Mrs. Clinton and her team’s explanations of the handling of the server still seem, at best, incomplete. She ran the State Department too well for incompetence by her inner circle in handling government emails to explain everything. Perhaps as a result of scars from Republican witch hunting of the 1990s, Mrs. Clinton turned a blind eye because she did not trust civil servants to maintain her privacy. Despite the noisy, partisan chatter on the issue, the public deserves a better explanation.
I do not come at this just as a historian; for five years I supervised a group of archivists at the Nixon library, members of a profession who deal every day with balancing the public’s need and desire for official transparency with the authority of government departments to decide when their materials can be declassified.
As secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton had the authority to determine the classification of most of her own communications and those of her staff members; but it was not up to her to decide what the C.I.A., the White House or any other agency might consider classified. If someone from one of those agencies interacted by email with Mrs. Clinton or her staff, there would have been a decent chance that something classified would find its way onto the Clinton family private server.
Had she used a government server, State Department archivists would have reviewed all of her email and then given back or destroyed (at her request) what was not considered official. Instead of letting that happen, Mrs. Clinton decided to keep all of her email and return only what she or her representatives deemed to be her official messages. It is hard to imagine that the I.T. security experts at the State Department, or any of the agencies that might have learned of her private email address, did not warn Mrs. Clinton’s staff that she was taking the risk of the inadvertent release of classified information.
As a result, the email matter involves more than politics, and the F.B.I. has no choice but to investigate it. Mrs. Clinton put at risk some secrets (though very likely none of them life-threatening) and, equally important, the careers of public servants who knew about her nongovernment email address. Like former President Bill Clinton in the Lewinsky matter, Mrs. Clinton was guilty of arrogance, doing something very risky that she was most likely advised against.
Yet unless the F.B.I. finds evidence among Mr. Weiner’s dirty laundry that Mrs. Clinton sought to use the power of government to hurt innocent Americans, Nixon won’t have a competitor for America’s worst official scandal. But there are very good, nonpartisan reasons the email matter won’t — and shouldn’t — just go away without further explanation by Mrs. Clinton.
Should she win, as it still seems likely she will, Mrs. Clinton ought to consider taking very public steps, very soon, to reassure Americans of her commitment to the protection of official records and transparency. No one wants to have to worry that some of her future White House electronic records will go missing.
Timothy Naftali @TimNaftali是纽约大学历史与公共服务学系临床助理教授，也曾是理查德·尼克松图书馆与博物馆的创始总监。