It took all of 36 hours for the next shoe to drop in the ongoing saga of Hillary Clinton’s personal email server.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday about technical problems on her server that seemed to occur somewhat routinely.
Later Thursday evening, Fox News reported that an FBI investigation into the matter is focusing on a “gross negligence” provision of the Espionage Act.
And on Friday the FBI – which is investigating the former secretary of state’s email server – pushed back against President Barack Obama’s suggestion that Clinton simply made a “mistake” and had already atoned for it.
The latest wave of reports remind Clinton and her campaign that the biggest thorn in its side – the one that caused headaches for the campaign all summer – probably isn’t going to simply go away, despite a triumphant moment for the former secretary of state earlier in the week.
‘Thank you, Bernie’
During the first Democratic debate of the campaign season, to which more than 15 million people tuned in, Clinton’s chief current rival for the Democratic nomination, progressive insurgent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), was handed on a platter a chance to bash her over her use of a private email server while at the State Department.
Instead, he offered backup – in theatrical fashion.
“Let me say something that may not be great politics. But I think that the secretary is right. The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!” Sanders said, as the audience roared.
“Me too, me too,” Clinton said, smiling.
“Enough of the emails – let’s talk about the real issues facing America!” Sanders boomed.
“Thank you, Bernie,” Clinton said. The pair shook hands.
That defense may play well with Democrats, many of whom are sick and tired of hearing about Clinton’s emails – and at least partly because the saga has disrupted her standing as the overwhelming Democratic front-runner.
In fact, Sanders is betting it plays well with Democrats. His campaign sent out a fundraising email off the comments during the debate. He touted them Thursday on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” His campaign said it raised more than $2 million in post-debate funds by Thursday.
But it’s a much different story with the rest of the country, polls show.
‘It’s not just going to go, “Poof”‘
According to a Washington Post/ABC poll from September, registered voters are evenly split – 48-48 – on whether the Clinton email story is a “legitimate” campaign issue.
Breaking the numbers down further suggests that while Democrats are indeed tired of the issue, its lingering presence could complicate a potential general-election contest for Clinton. By more than 50 points each, Democrats and Republicans differ on whether the issue is “legitimate.” Independents are split, with a narrow plurality saying it is legitimate.
“I think you’d be correct to say it’s not just going to go, ‘Poof,'” said one Democratic strategist unaffiliated with any of the party’s presidential campaigns. “It adds to the whole perception.”
That perception is the one that has helped to crumble her standing in polls all summer. By about 20 points, according to an August poll, Americans said they don’t view her as “honest and trustworthy.” That was about the same score as Republican front-runner and real-estate tycoon Donald Trump.
“Republicans say Trump is honest and Democrats say Clinton is honest, but among all voters, both candidates come up short,” Tim Malloy, the assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said at the time.
“How can you become a general election front-runner if most voters don’t trust you?”
- Thomson Reuters
The drop is reflected in her overall poll standing: According to a Fox News poll released this week, Clinton trailed four top potential Republican opponents in hypothetical general-election matchups. (Vice President Joe Biden, mulling a late entry into the race, beat five Republican candidates in theoretical matchups.)
Clinton has taken pains to put the issue in the campaign’s rear-view mirror. A report in Politico earlier this week detailed how the email issue ended up being a scandal that “blindsided” the campaign, and how Clinton herself eventually went from defiant to publicly apologetic over her use of a personal email server.
But any steps she and the campaign takes obscures the fact that, to some extent, the saga is out of her control. Clinton handed over about 30,000 work-related emails for the State Department to make public. Many of the emails contained information retroactively marked “classified” or “top secret.”
Every month, the State Department is mandated by court order to release another batch of her work-related emails. Some of them deal with mundane topics like Gefilte fish. Others are more serious, and detail various hacking attempts that have led to questions about whether any classified material fell into the wrong hands.
‘This was a mom-and-pop setup’
After she left the State Department in 2013, Clinton hired at least three separate firms to manage different aspects of her server.
The firms included Platte River Networks, a Denver-based firm that hosted her server; SECNAP, which sold her a firewall program known as CloudJacket SMB to detect hackers; and Datto, Inc., a cloud-storage company that backed up Clinton’s emails in case her server crashed.
The companies, which are relatively unknown, have been described by some cybersecurity experts as odd choices for such a high-level public figure.
Reports that hackers in China, South Korea, Germany, and Russia tried to break into Clinton’s server have raised questions about thekind of security precautionsthe 2016 presidential candidateand her teamtook to safeguard the sensitiveinformationthat sometimes passed through her inbox.
- REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
It is unlikely that the attacks on Clinton’s server were targeted at her directly: The attempts discovered were basic phishing scams disguised as speeding tickets, the AP reported, and rather unsophisticated.
But the malicious emails highlight the fact that Clinton’s server was at least vulnerable.
And according to a new AP investigation, the way Clinton’s server was connected to the internet- via a Microsoft remote-desktop service that permitted remote-access connections without additional protective measures-made it particularly vulnerable to hackers, which is something her security experts should have known.
“The company that installed the devices has no security pedigree. No security staff were brought in to harden the box. This was a mom-and-pop setup and operation,”Jeff Bardin, chief intelligence officer of Treadstone 71, told Business Insider.
And Clinton’s emails are being investigated by the FBI as part of a broader inquiry into Clinton’s use of a private server while she was secretary of state. Clinton is not a target in the investigation, the FBI has emphasized.
Nevertheless, both aspects mean the story isn’t going away anytime soon. And for its part, the FBI sent a strong signal on Friday that their investigation is far from over. Agents privately grumbled about President Barack Obama’s decision to enter the fray of an ongoing investigation last Sunday, when he told “60 Minutes” that he didn’t believe Clinton’s personal email server had put national security at risk.
“Injecting politics into what is supposed to be a fact-finding inquiry leaves a foul taste in the F.B.I.’s mouth and makes them fear that no matter what they find, the Justice Department will take the president’s signal and not bring a case,”Ron Hosko, a former senior FBI official who retired in 2014, told The New York Times in a story published Friday.