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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

The Latest Hillary Clinton Emails Are as Banal as the Last Round. Mostly.

While the majority of the latest email dump are just mundane notes to staffers, a few messages stand out as potentially harmful to Clinton’s candidacy.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton  Photo: John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune

Another month, another dump of emails from the woman who could be our next president.

I spent Wednesday evening reading the latest batch of emails—the fifth release covering early 2010 and late 2011—some 6,300 pages of the 55,000 Hillary Clinton generated during her four years as Secretary of State. I didn’t find the smoking gun that could blow a hole in the Chicago native’s White House ambitions in these emails, released every month by orders of a federal judge ruling on a FOIA case. And yet, there’s plenty here that her handlers would rather, I’m sure, not have to face.

The reading experience recalled the one I had a month ago when I read emails from the fourth dump—that was before the FBI, employing forensic data recovery tools, reportedly recovered some of the 32,000 emails she and/or her lawyers deleted. This time around, I kept having the same thought I had during the last go round: “The emails don’t sound like the electronic record of the world’s top diplomat.”

First to the important stuff: There are additional emails, 215, that have retroactively been labeled as classified, almost all at the lowest level of classification—“confidential”—and all largely redacted. That brings the total number of emails now labeled classified to more than 400. A few have been marked “SECRET” and two contained information, redacted in this release, on the Iranian nuclear program. Not good for Hillary as the email mess continues to sink her poll numbers and gnaw at her trustworthy ratings.

This email dump also reveals—and this could be a serious problem for Hillary—that, on August 3, 2011, hackers tried, five times at least over four hours, to breach her private server. If the consequences weren’t so potentially dangerous, the hackers’ method would be funny. Under the subject line, “Uniform traffic ticket,” they used a speeding ticket scam; a notice of a ticket from the New York State-Department of Motor Vehicles. They hoped, it seems, that the Secretary of State, who has said publicly that she hasn’t driven a car since 1996, would click on a virus-infused attachment that promised to allow her to print the ticket and snail mail in her payment.

The timing couldn’t be worse for Hillary, as the hackers appear to have Russian roots. The emails do not reveal whether or not she clicked on the attachments and her handlers insisted yesterday that she did not. According to an AP account, “…opening the file attachment would have activated malicious software, known as malware, that would have quietly implanted on her systems a program to spy on her activities and allow hackers to install other programs without her awareness.” The AP also notes, “The fact that these infected emails were delivered to Clinton, even if she didn’t infect herself, suggests that security protections and email filters on her homebrew server were weak or missing.” How the hackers knew Hilary’s supposedly private email address—who provided it?—is another morsel for Republicans to chew on.

There are still more emails from her buddy, former Chicagoan Sidney Blumenthal, who continues to pass along stories written by his son Max—a new epilogue to paperback edition of Republican Gomorrah: The Right’s Days of Rage. Sid also sends her articles to read that confirm his and her political views. One carried the subject line, “H: Yes, there is a vast right wing conspiracy. Sid.” Attached was a Jane Mayer New Yorker article about the Koch brothers and their funding of the tea party. Blumenthal also passes along analyses from experts on such hot spots as Syria. There are also emails in this batch that show Blumenthal writing parts of a speech that Clinton gave in Berlin in late 2009. After the fall of Gaddafi, Blumenthal emails Hillary: “Brava! This is a historic moment and you will be credited for realizing it.” That they are close friends—Hillary had tried to take Sid with her as an aide at the State Department but was stymied by Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel—is evidenced in this batch. Hillary emails Sid, “Thx so much for a wonderful visit. Just reminds me how much I miss seeing you and Jackie [Sid’s wife].”

I couldn’t find much between Hillary and Rahm, but there’s this from Hillary with the subject line “BINGO!” on March 22, 2010, congratulating him on the passage of Obamacare: “Rahm—What a great achievement for all concerned from the POTUS and your WH team to Pelosi and hers. And, most of all, for the American people. Thx for being such a stubborn SOB. Mazel toy [sic] from your AIPAC speaker—H.”

The theme I described last month of Hillary’s aides seeming intent on bolstering or cheering her with articles critical of Obama continues. Cheryl Mills, a long-time Clinton confidante, then Hillary’s chief of staff, sends her a Politico post from March 2011 (that could have been written today): “World events test ‘No Drama Obama.’” But Obama stalwart David Axelrod emails Hillary to praise a rare 2009 appearance on “Meet the Press.”

The emails also show that Hillary was kept abreast of the humiliating downfall by Twitter of then-Congresman Anthony Weiner, husband of Hillary’s closest personal aide, Huma Abedin—often described as so close to the Clintons that she is like their adopted daughter. A June 14, 2011 email includes a Paul Farhi Washington Post article about Weiner mistakenly tweeting lewd selfies to all his Twitter followers: The article is titled, “Only ones not giggling are therapists.

Betsy Ebeling, Hillary’s closest friend from growing up in Park Ridge, is a regular in her in box, sending a Sun-Times clip of a move by DePaul students to ban Sabra brand hummus from campus as a means to punish Sabra’s parent company for, the students allege, financing human rights abuses against Palestinians. Ebeling also emails news of the death of “Judy’s mom.” It goes to Hillary via Huma and Hillary asks an aide to “draft a condolence note.”

Mundane, banal, human—that’s the theme that emerges. There’s the note in which Hillary asks aides what’s on the menu for lunch. She asks them to supply her with the call numbers of NPR affiliates so she can listen while being driven around Long Island and out of range of WNYC. She continues to ask for times of her favorite TV shows. She asks how to turn on her phone’s ringer and how to adjust its volume. (I often email my children with similar questions, so I may be the only one who believes that when Fox News reporter Ed Henry questioned her about “wiping” the server clean of emails she deemed personal and she replied, “What? Like with a cloth or something?” she wasn’t being snide.)

One of my favorites in the new batch is an email, dated October 14, 2011, to Clinton from Cheryl Mills containing three “talking points” for an anticipated meeting with Ellen DeGeneres at a Hollywood Bowl birthday party for Bill. “Should you see [DeGeneres] and end up in conversation, it would be ideal for you to share the following points”:

  • “I’m very excited about the possibility of your using your incredible platform to help us raise awareness about eliminating HIV/AIDS.”
  • “I’m giving a speech in two weeks where I’m going to call upon the world to join the U.S. in creating an AIDS Free Generation.”
  • “Thanks to the science, we are truly on the cusp of making this happen. And if you could help us raise awareness about this historic opportunity, it would be terrific.”

There are emails on serious subjects mixed in, of course—about the fall of Libyan dictator Gaddafi, the fall of the president of Tunisia, the resulting Arab Spring protests, WikiLeaks. Reports on these events to Hillary from others in the state department leaves the impression that they probably should not have been sent over an unsecured server, but, more often, aides are emailing Hillary newspaper stories on these subjects, some of which I remember reading at the time. Many of the emails have to do with hiring decisions, with resumes attached, recommendations, or staff-generated criticism of particular job seekers.

With Wednesday’s dump, about one-third of the emails—37 percent– have been released. The remainder will be released in late October, November, December and January. Enough time will have elapsed for me to recover from the slog through this month’s emails, so I’ll take a look at October’s dump as soon as it goes up on the State Department’s web site.

Carol Felsenthal is a lifelong Chicagoan and self-proclaimed political junkie. She writes occasionally for Politico Magazine and The Hill. Her books include biographies of Bill Clinton, Katharine Graham, and Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Among her many stories for Chicago are memorable profiles of Michelle Obama and Bruce Rauner. Follow her on Twitter at @csfelsenthal.

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