A limited defense of Hillary Clinton

This article appears in the Election 2016 feature series. View the full series.

It is difficult to find someone who can truly provide a balanced view of the significance of Hillary Clinton's actions while serving as Secretary of State. There are those who can't stand her and would be willing to believe the most terrible things about her. There is nothing anyone can say that would change their opinions. At the other end of the spectrum, her staunch supporters would be willing to overlook any evidence that might be presented.

I suspect that the closest we can come to a balanced view of Clinton's actions comes from FBI Director James Comey. His investigation of Hillary Clinton's email account and his subsequent interrogation by a Congressional committee provide the most complete analysis of this episode.

There are a number of points that came out of the investigation that suggest the facts are not as black and white as some would like to believe. While Comey pulls no punches in his criticism of Hillary Clinton's actions, he also makes some statements that provide some clarification as to what occurred.

First of all, the investigation concluded that no criminal charges would be filed. Many had hoped that charges would be filed, and Republicans in Congress grilled Comey as to why they were not. Yet Comey made clear that no reasonable prosecutor would have filed charges in this case. He noted that only one case of gross negligence has been prosecuted in 100 years. Comey said one has to also consider intent, and there is no evidence of intent to deliberately misuse classified information. Comey also made clear that he does not believe Hillary Clinton lied to the FBI.

There is every indication that Comey is a man of the highest integrity and has conducted himself in an exemplary manner. He is a Republican who served the George W. Bush administration prior to his current role in the Obama Administration. Until the current decision by Comey he was widely praised by Republicans who indicated they would accept his findings. We have to start somewhere with trust, and trusting the head of the FBI in the person of James Comey seems a reasonable place to start.

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In addition to his criticism of Clinton for excessive carelessness, Comey made some points which do not seem to have been given enough attention. In the Congressional hearing Comey noted that only three items were marked classified. They were not labeled classified and Hillary could have legitimately been unaware that these documents were in fact classified.

Most who have accused her of lying point to her continued claim that she never sent or received classified information. Yet Comey's explanation could well justify this statement and reflect her actual understanding of the circumstances.

In another statement that seems to have been glossed over, Comey spoke about the culture of the State Department and suggested that the carelessness involved extended beyond Hillary Clinton to the way classified information was handled at that department. We know that former Secretary of State Colin Powell and others used private email communication for some of their State Department business.

There appear to have been different ways of handling classified information among different agencies, and there seems to have been some controversy among the CIA , the State Department and other agencies as to how classified information should be handled. One thing seems clear. No one gave Hillary Clinton absolute clarity that her use of a private server was an unacceptable way to do business.

There is of course much valid criticism about Hillary Clinton's actions that can be raised and has been raised. She is a flawed individual as most of us are. People of good will can look at the same data and come up with different interpretations. I did, however, want to highlight some of the data that is sometimes overlooked and suggests a more positive interpretation. While no one is likely to change their views, I do think that the results of the FBI investigation offer a more balanced view of what occurred than what is often presented.


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