How Servergate Happened, And How Hillary Can Escape

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton may escape the mounting scandal involving her use of a personal e-mail server while her time a Secretary of State.

Mounting pressure to address the growing Servergate scandal forced Clinton to say the following at the Iowa State Fair last weekend:

“I am repeating the facts, and the facts are that I did not send, nor did I receive, material marked classified.”

The history of the Clintons and how they escape scandals comes down to the wording in their explanations. In Hillary Clinton’s statement, the key word comes down to “marked”.

As of August 17, the Washington Times reports that at least 305 e-mails found on Clinton’s private server contain confidential material. The scandal has taken a new focus on the e-mail headers themselves, which appear to have been stripped from the correspondence. Were they marked “Classified,” “Top Secret,” or the highest level of secrecy, “Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI)”?

What a PIV card looks like.

What a PIV card looks like.

According to high-ranking sources within the federal government that wish to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter, all e-mail defined “Confidential” and above must be encrypted. These e-mails can only be decrypted by the person or persons the e-mail was sent to; the decrypton can only be done by the person’s PIV card, an ID badge that must be displayed at all times and is used to sign in to the person’s computer. To decrypt the e-mail, the PIV card must be physically inserted into the machine that is trying to read the e-mail.

Based on this information, there are three possible scenarios that explain how confidential information wound up on Clinton’s private server:

  • Clinton decrypted the e-mails herself on her State Department computer and the forwarded them to her server. This is a highly unlikely scenario.
  • A second and more possible scenario is that Clinton gave an assistant her PIV card, and had that person decrypt and forward the e-mails to Clinton’s unsecure, unencypted personal server.
  • Clinton had either her Chief of Staff, Huma Abedin, or Cheryl Mills, who also served in the State Department, cc’d on the e-mails, then had them either decrypted or forwarded. This third and most likely scenario would explain how the headings were stripped and Clinton was able to read the e-mails on her non-governmental server.

Clinton can get away with claiming she did not know the e-mails were confidential because they were not marked. But if she is truly up against it, Clinton can also claim that it was her staff that forwarded her e-mails to the unsecured server without her consent or knowledge. While a few lower-level staff members may be fired or reprimanded, either Abedin and/or Mills could be thrown “under the bus” to save Clinton.

The PDA issue, and the fact that the classified information was also stored on a flash drive kept by Clinton’s lawyer and a second backup server, are not covered by these scenarios. Those aspects of the scandal may prove to eventually be Clinton’s downfall.

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