Hillary Clinton

Clinton Email Defender Does Not Understand How Email Works

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Hillary Clinton / Twitter

It's been a week since news that Hillary Clinton exclusively used a privately run email system during her time as Secretary of State, in violation of clear organizational policies.

Despite intense media interest and public concern, however, she has yet to say anything on the matter aside from a single Tweet issued late Thursday night, although she is expected to hold a press conference on the matter sometime this week.

In the meantime, though, a handful of Clinton surrogates have been tasked with defending her. This has been somewhat awkward, since Clinton seems to have provided little warning to her allies about the scandal, despite knowing for months that the issue was brewing.

Nevertheless, Clinton's allies have tried valiantly, though not particularly successfully, to fend off critics and explain away the likely Democratic candidate's dubious behavior.

For example, Lanny Davis, a crisis communications guru long favored by dictators and Democrats, including and especially the Clintons, rose to her defense over the weekend on Fox News Sunday opposite host Chris Wallace. In the process, Davis managed to demonstrate that he is willing to exaggerate on Clinton's behalf, and also that he does not understand how email works.

For one thing, Davis rejected the idea that the emails could have been deleted. "Last time I looked you cannot delete on a hard drive," he told Fox News host Chris Wallace while suggesting that a "neutral" review of her emails might be acceptable, according to RealClearPolitics.

Perhaps he should look again before he next appears on national television to discuss the matter because that's, well, not true. Yes, permanently deleting data from a hard drive—including email—is usually harder than just pressing the delete button once, but it can definitely be done on most any system. Indeed, even if a hard drive were somehow set to prohibit deletion, hard drives can crash or disappear. Backups can fail to backup. There is no natural law that requires the permanent conservation of email.

Davis also insisted that Clinton had already disclosed all of her emails. "She's turned over all of her emails, the first secretary of state to ever do that," he said.

Unless the last week's worth of reports are wrong, this is also not true. Clinton turned over 55,000 pages of emails to the State Department which had already been combed through by her aides. She has not turned over "all of her emails"—just a selection picked by people whose job is to protect her.

Finally, as The Weekly Standard's Ethan Epstein notes, Davis bizarrely defended Clinton's decision to rely exclusively on a private email system as some sort of travel necessity, saying that "a secretary of state traveling to 111 countries might be needing to have one email system versus people in the department who should use the official system," and he followed up by saying that "as secretary of state she might feel the need, traveling all over, with a hand-held device…"

This is so incoherent that I'm not even sure it counts as an argument.

Perhaps it's worth reviewing some of the basics. One of the most useful things about email is that it can travel great distances over wires and through the air, even to handheld devices—and even, yes, to handheld devices that have been taken to other countries. (Sometimes additional charges apply.) This is not only one of the most useful features of email, it is also one of the most widely known.

And before you ask, no, this is not an effect that is limited to privately managed, "homebrew" email systems like the one Clinton relied on. Indeed, other staffers at the State Department manage to travel to other parts the world and still maintain access to their government email accounts. Some of them, in fact, are expected to, and then punished when they don't. 

Maybe Davis knows all this; maybe he doesn't. Either way it's telling that the best defense this longtime Clinton defender and professional crisis communicator can come up with requires one to either not know how email works or pretend not to.