Is There a "Conservative Case For Letting Clinton Skate"?
No, but there's a strong pragmatic and libertarian case for honest transparency in government action and conduct.
While FBI Director James Comey recommended the Justice Department not pursue criminal charges against Hillary Clinton, he didn't exactly stint on criticism of her actions and those of her staff. Indeed, given his long list of particulars, his prosecutorial cop-out was a non sequitur.
Be that as it may. Over at Bloomberg View, national security writer Eli Lake (an occasional Reason contributor) lays out "the conservative case for letting Clinton skate." It is to my mind pretty creative and pretty unconvincing.
Part of Lake's case is that much of the classified and top-secret stuff that was almost certainly what Comey was talking about was already widely known and discussed in the media.
Many outlets have reported that some of [the Clinton materials] dealt with the U.S. targeted killing program. Until recently these drone strikes were considered top secret. At the same time they were widely reported and discussed in Washington, to the point where President Barack Obama himself joked about his drone strikes at a White House Correspondents Association dinner.
"We know that until very recently the administration considered the discussion of specific targeted killing operations to be highly classified, and in fact covert action," said Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists. "Outside of government most people find that ridiculous because it has been reported around the world."
And there's this larger point Lake makes:
Conservatives have an interest in diminishing state secrecy, not empowering it. Even for something like the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, the mishandling of classified information played a crucial role in exposing the White House narrative that the attack was really a demonstration gone awry. Had it not been for timely leaks of classified assessments, the public would not have known until after the 2012 election how many U.S. officials on the ground contradicted the White House line.
Come on, get real. "Conservatives" and Republicans are interested in diminishing state secrecy only when a Democrat or liberal is in the White House. Or perhaps even more narrowly, only when it suits their political or electoral ends. I remember very few right wingers being happy when whistleblowers such as William Binney, Thomas Drake, Chelsea Manning, or Edward Snowden came along. At the start of the War on Terror, characters such as Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and John Ashcroft were never slow to suggest that loose lips sink ships and that even congressional demands for information were either not really necessary or advisable.
And when it comes to Clinton specifically, she has a long record of trying to lower the biggest boom she can on people she thinks compromised state secrets.
That said, I do appreciate the gesture Lake (disclosure: a friend) is making here and I do think it touches on a larger point.
Whether the powerful like it or not, or know it or not, transparency is upon us and it's going to be harder and harder—if not downright impossible—for governments, corporations, churches, you name it, to keep things hidden. There are just too many ways for the beans to be spilled. The proper and effective response to this new age is not to double or triple down on secrecy laws but for governments to live in the light of the day and have fewer secrets. That means giving up the ability to act however a government wants, but it also means that the decisions for which it makes convincing arguments will actually be supported by its citizens. The same goes for corporations and other organizations.
When Wikileaks dumped a huge cache of diplomatic messages in 2010 conservatives called for "whacking" the organization even though the United States came out looking relatively good. Unlike many other countries, we didn't say one thing publicly about our intentions and something very different during private communications with other members of the American government. THAT sort of honesty and integrity is the only defense against revelations in the Age of Transparency, but it also means a willingness (or even necessity) for actually being, well, honest and having integrity. That's something that is all too often in short supply in governments and their functionaries.