The real question is, what did Clinton hide?

Hillary Clinton speaks at the Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington on Sept. 13. Reuters | Yuri Gripas

Hillary Clinton speaks at the Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington on Sept. 13. Reuters | Yuri Gripas

Throughout the endless saga surrounding Hillary Clinton’s emails, a good deal of the discussion has surrounded what many members of the public likely consider bureaucratic minutiae. Debate has focused ad nauseam on topics such as exactly how her email server was set up (was it in a basement?), whether she had to have intent in order to violate federal records laws, how thoroughly deleted the data on the server might or might not have been, exactly what kind of investigation the FBI is conducting.

This is no coincidence, of course: It’s how the Clintons have survived scandal after scandal, making it seem as though they’re being persecuted over ridiculous details rather than being investigated for breaking the law. It creates a theater of the absurd and tires the public to the point where they’d prefer to throw up their hands and walk away from it all rather than determine who’s at fault.

This explains why Clinton is still the overwhelming favorite to become the Democratic nominee for president — even in the face of the rise of self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders. It is not because voters don’t care about serious scandals, but rather because they have not yet been convinced that this is serious. The key for Clinton’s opponents, whether her fellow Democrats or (far more likely) her many potential Republican opponents, is to shift the focus.

Rather than debating whether she violated the law through her use of a private email server, Clinton’s opponents have to raise the question of what she was hiding from the tax-paying public. To do that, they have to make it clear that she went to extraordinary lengths to hide her communications. Her explanation that she simply didn’t want to carry two phones around is laughably absurd: there are many, far easier, ways to avoid that issue, if one wished.

No, she created a system that only an extremely paranoid person with a great deal of resources could have pulled off. All of this goes far beyond simply buying a burner phone or encrypting your email. Now, if she were a private individual, she would have every right to be do whatever she wished with her communications.

However, public officials have not only a right, but a legal duty, to maintain records of state business. When other public officials have hidden state business they have rightly been criticized for it (like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin). Indeed, many of those now defending Clinton have excoriated Republicans for far less severe violations of open records laws.

So, what exactly was Clinton hiding with her private communications network? One can presume it wasn’t just personal matters; any politician at her level has to be prepared for all of that to become public knowledge. The answer may lie in her husband’s activities since leaving the White House, especially in raising money for the Clinton Global Initiative. Former President Clinton has been busy running around the world raising money for the initiative, and many of those donors have secured governmental favors of one sort or another.

With the Clinton email scandal, we simply have no idea what she might have been hiding. That should deeply concern every American — but especially those who are passionate about government transparency, campaign finance, and ethics. Clinton has made it clear that she doesn’t trust the American people. So, then, if she doesn’t trust us, why should we trust her to govern in a way that advances the general interest, rather than her own narrow self-interest?

Decades ago, Ronald Reagan coined the phrase “trust, but verify.” Hillary Clinton has robbed the American people of the chance to verify, and has done nothing to deserve our trust.

Jim Fossel

About Jim Fossel

Originally from Alna, Jim Fossel has volunteered with a number of campaigns over the years, including for Peter Mills for Governor in 2006. He previously worked for U.S. Senator Susan Collins and House Republican Leader Josh Tardy.