Wisconsin Journal Sentinel | Opinion|Editorial | Hillary Clinton
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waits to be introduced during a rally at Western Technical College in La Crosse on Tuesday. Credit: Associated Press
Nothing matters more to leadership in a democracy than support for an open, honest government in which citizens are informed and in charge. It is the foundational building block of the republic upon which all else rests. And any candidate vying for the votes of the American people needs to have demonstrated a firm commitment not only to the ideal but to the reality of open government.
As we noted Tuesday, Republican front-runner Donald Trump is not one of those candidates. But neither is Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. Her horrible track record on transparency raises serious concerns for open government under a Clinton administration — so serious we believe they may disqualify her from public office. We hope Wisconsin voters give this issue the consideration it deserves when they go to the polls on Tuesday.
The issue immediately at hand — and under investigation by the FBI — is Clinton's use of a private email server for State Department communications. Clinton may have violated national security laws by making top secret documents vulnerable to hackers and available to people without proper security clearance. Violating those laws rightly ended the public service career of Gen. David Petraeus when he was President Barack Obama's CIA director. The FBI and Justice Department must be free to fully investigate and, if warranted, prosecute Clinton in this matter without any political interference from the Obama administration.
In addition, regardless of Clinton's excuses, the only believable reason for the private server in her basement was to keep her emails out of the public eye by willfully avoiding freedom of information laws. No president, no secretary of state, no public official at any level is above the law. She chose to ignore it, and must face the consequences.
In a lengthy Washington Post article on Sunday, Robert O'Harrow Jr. notes that from the earliest days of her service as secretary of state, "Clinton aides and senior officials focused intently on accommodating the secretary's desire to use her private email account, documents and interviews show.
"Throughout, they paid insufficient attention to laws and regulations governing the handling of classified material and the preservation of government records, interviews and documents show. They also neglected repeated warnings about the security of the BlackBerry while Clinton and her closest aides took obvious security risks in using the basement server."
Last month, in a hearing about a Judicial Watch lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said legitimate questions have been raised about whether Clinton's staff was trying to help her to sidestep the Freedom of Information Act.
"We're talking about a Cabinet-level official who was accommodated by the government for reasons unknown to the public," Sullivan said. "And I think that's a fair statement: For reasons heretofore unknown to the public. And all the public can do is speculate."
"This is all about the public's right to know," Sullivan added.
This is hardly the first time Clinton has tried to sidestep the public eye. Last year, Pro Publica noted five such episodes:
In 1992, during Bill Clinton's first run for office, the Clintons declined to release all of their tax returns because, it turned out, a few of the returns showed Hillary Clinton's incredible success in commodities trading when Bill Clinton was attorney general and then governor of Arkansas. She made almost $100,000 from an initial investment of $1,000 in a matter of months — a return of 10,000% — under the guidance of a lawyer who was also outside counsel to Tyson Foods Inc., Arkansas' largest employer. The returns weren't made public until 1994.
In 1993, Hillary Clinton led a presidential task force to overhaul the U.S. health care system. The effort ultimately failed but the group came under intense criticism from lawmakers and interest groups for meeting behind closed doors. Several court challenges were brought in an attempt to open the process.
In 1994, U.S. investigators subpoenaed Clinton's billing records from her years at the Rose Firm in Little Rock, Ark. — documents that also had been sought by reporters. Of key interest was Clinton's legal work for a failing savings and loan, but records of those billings weren't found. Pro Publica: "Much later, Clinton's longtime assistant, Carolyn Huber, said she found in the White House residence an additional box of records that contained the billing memos. They were turned over to the independent counsel in 1996. Clinton testified she had no knowledge of how the records wound up where they did."
As a senator in 2006, Clinton set up an energy task force that produced a 40-page report. That by itself is not unusual, but this was: The existence of the group, its members and its work product were all kept secret. Turned out the leader of the task force headed an investment firm with major holdings in the energy sector.
Public officials keep secrets because they have something to hide — something they don't want the people they are supposed to be serving to know anything about.
Last year, the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation became an issue. Donors are identified but not the exact amount of each donation or the date of those contributions. And the foundation did not reveal that it was raising money from foreign governments until after Hillary Clinton left office as secretary of state, an office with power over foreign affairs and favors second only to the president's.
Then there are the closed-door speeches to Wall Street financial investment firms, for which she received hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece.
These off-the-record speeches were delivered after Clinton left the State Department and was preparing for her second bid for the White House. Clinton has refused to release transcripts of the speeches, saying she would do so only if other politicians released transcripts of their speeches. But that, as The New York Times noted in a February editorial, is a child's excuse.
"Voters have every right to know what Mrs. Clinton told these groups.... By refusing to release them all, especially the bank speeches, Mrs. Clinton fuels speculation about why she's stonewalling," the Times editorial said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders has used the fees she was paid for the speeches by the most powerful firms on Wall Street against Clinton in their race for the nomination. Of equal concern is the secrecy involved and Clinton's continuing refusal to release the transcripts of what she told the investment bankers.
Clinton has a long track record of public service but an equally long record of obfuscation, secrecy and working in the shadows to boost her power and further her ambition. We encourage voters to think long and hard about that record when choosing the next president.