Once again, Hillary Clinton owes the American people candid answers. Once again, she wants voters to believe her intent was pure even as she ignored the rules. Once again, she has wounded herself with arrogant decisions and feeble explanations that erode the public's trust, fuel the harsh rhetoric of her opponents and undermine her campaign for president.
The unsparing report by the State Department's inspector general on Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state is clear. She did not seek approval to use the server and private email account, and approval would not have been granted. She ignored directions to State Department employees to use only secure accounts to exchange sensitive information even if the information was not marked classified. She did not archive her emails by printing them out or storing them electronically before she left office as the law requires for preservation of federal records. The pattern of willfully acting as though she is above requirements that apply to everyone else is obvious.
In pursuing convenience and privacy for personal communications, Clinton ignored more serious considerations about national security and public records. She initially explored obtaining a department-issued BlackBerry, but dropped the idea after being warned that exchanges would be subject to public records requests. No one at the State Department told her to use a government email address, and she never asked permission to use a private account or the email server at her private home. When State Department employees raised concerns, they were told by their boss never to mention Clinton's email system again. When Clinton was sent a memo about hacking attempts aimed at State Department officials, she kept using her private email server — and the report says that server was briefly shut down twice when it appeared to be a target.
Further undermining Clinton's credibility are her own explanations. She has claimed the State Department "allowed" her to use a private email server, but the report says no permission was given. She has correctly pointed out former secretaries of state such as Colin Powell had private email accounts, but the rules had changed by the time she held the office. She has said she would cooperate with any investigations, but she declined to be interviewed by State Department officials.
Whether Clinton should be charged with anything other than poor judgment remains unclear. She has released tens of thousands of emails, and the FBI is conducting a separate investigation. That investigation should be concluded as soon as possible, because as the general election grows closer, voters deserve to know the complete picture as they make their own judgments.
Clinton has a strong grasp of public policy and is well-qualified to be president. But the State Department's report on her private email server once again calls into question her trustworthiness and illustrates her disregard for the rules at a pivotal moment in the campaign. Donald Trump on Thursday celebrated capturing enough convention delegates to nail down the Republican Party nomination and is consolidating support within his party. Clinton has yet to fully shake Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination, and her unfavorable ratings in the opinion polls are nearly as bad as Trump's.
A presidential campaign that should be focused on serious issues facing the nation is now consumed by personal attacks and questions of trust and integrity. Voters may wind up backing the candidate they dislike the least, and that is no way to choose the next leader of the world's most powerful nation.