Mail server

Why did Hillary Clinton rely on a “home-made” mail server?

How much did Hillary Rodham Clinton use personal email during her tenure as Secretary of State? Let’s put it this way: she apparently had more than just a personal account. She had a whole personal email system.

At least that’s what the Associated Press reports. An AP investigation found that the computer server that processed Mrs. Clinton’s email traced back to an Internet service registered to her home in Chappaqua, NY.

It is unclear who ran this infrastructure, write AP journalists Jack Gillum and Ted Bridis. They traced him to a “mysterious entity, Eric Hoteham”. It is possible that it is a pseudonym, because the name does not appear in any public database.

“Eric Hoteham” is listed as a client at the Clinton house address in Internet registration records. Social media went wild on Wednesday as self-proclaimed sleuths tried to figure out if Eric Hoteham was a real person or an anagram or some other symbolic combination.

As the conservative website Twitchy was quick to note, the letters of the name can be rearranged into a number of other phrases, including “crime under oath, huh?” and “Hi come on hater.”

“What does ‘Eric Hoteham’ really mean? Twitter sleuths are on it! said Twitchy.

Puns aside, why would Clinton go so far as to rely on her own physical computers to handle her email traffic? After all, she probably wasn’t relaxing from the stress of being secretary of state by writing her own code.

Well, more control is an obvious feature here. Her husband is an ex-president and she hopes to become one in the future. Over the decades, the Clintons may have decided that they could only rely on themselves for security and discretion in communications. They have long felt attacked by what Clinton called a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”

After all, Mr. Clinton’s affair with intern Monica Lewinsky became a matter of public interest almost by accident, as independent attorney Kenneth Starr learned of the relationship while investigating other matters, including the Clintons’ involvement in the failed Whitewater land deal in Arkansas.

But this example also underscores the obvious negative implication for Clinton of the email system disclosure. This could easily be interpreted as proof that she has something to hide. That’s certainly how right-wing Clinton critics see it.

“Every American clearly understands what conditions might lead someone to conduct official business in a private email account free from surveillance, and none of them are virtuous,” writes Hot Air’s Noah Rothman.

The legal ramifications of Clinton’s personal use of email are unclear. It is possible that the relevant rules and regulations were not in place until shortly before the end of his tenure at Foggy Bottom, or even after. So say the defenders of his use of his own system.

“During Clinton’s time as secretary, the Federal Records Act did not require federal employees to use government accounts, only to keep records of their communications. This Clinton seems to have done,” writes Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast.

But at least Clinton will be embroiled in lengthy litigation as reporters, advocacy groups and lawmakers debate whether she turned over relevant documents in accordance with Freedom of Information Act requests and congressional investigations.

That said, Vox’s Ezra Klein has an interesting point about this potential mess. Clinton’s personal email system is simply a more organized method of avoiding transparency than methods used by other Washington politicians, he says.

If people have something sensitive to say to DC, they don’t put it in an email. They call. If they don’t want their phone records subpoenaed, they set up a meeting. If they don’t want the meeting to appear in the official logbooks, they make sure it’s not on the grounds of the White House or other government buildings.

“Clinton deserves the opprobrium she receives. But she is just one extreme example of a widespread problem,” Klein writes.