Don't worry, this is from her personal account.

Photographer: Na Son Nguyen/AFP/Getty Images

Why You Should Care About Hillary's E-Mail

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
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What can Hillary Clinton have been thinking? On January 13, 2009, she -- or, more likely, someone on her staff -- registered a new domain: clintonemail.com. And for her entire term as secretary of state, she would use private e-mail instead of government accounts for all her electronic correspondence. She never even got a government e-mail address, which must have taken some doing, because in most organizations, those e-mail accounts are created before the new employee even arrives.

As Politico points out, keeping Clinton's e-mails off government servers means that they were invisible to Freedom of Information Act requests about her communications with anyone outside the State Department. Her staff has turned over e-mails from the private account, but this is not the sort of job that should be performed by someone personally employed by Hillary Clinton. Decisions about what to turn over and what to keep private should be made by career government lawyers whose job comes from the agency, not Hillary Clinton.

It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that this was an attempt to avoid transparency and accountability for whatever it is she wrote. Such manipulations should severely hurt her presidential aspirations. Odds are, however, that Democrats will rally around her, because what choice do they have?

A spokesman for Clinton says that her actions comply with the "letter and spirit of the rules." To put it kindly, this seems to be complete nonsense. Federal officials are not supposed to have private e-mail silos that are their sole means of official digital communication and are reviewed only by their personal staff. And that should apply doubly to the holder of one of the most important cabinet roles. Moreover, the fact that she never even got a State Department address certainly gives the impression that this was a deliberate attempt to avoid the public eye. She didn't just sloppily default to her own personal e-mail address, as many people do; she also made sure that it was not possible to accidentally send her an e-mail on a work account that government oversight groups could access.

Even more troubling is the fact that a large number of people in the White House and the State Department must have known that she was using a private address that wouldn't leave copies on government servers. Why didn't any of them gently suggest that this was not OK?

If this were a normal campaign, Clinton's primary opponents would be cackling with glee as they fired up the oppo cannon. But this is not a normal primary season, and Democrats will instead devote their time to coming up with excuses for her behavior, or reasons that it's really not a big deal that the secretary of state structured her communications to avoid leaving a checkable record. They have to, because jettisoning Hillary Clinton at this point would almost certainly mean losing the race in 2016. She has drawn in all the donor funds and media attention that would normally have been spread among several candidates. There is no one ready to step into that vacuum, and it is already too late to start grooming someone new.

And the timing of this release is fortuitous -- so fortuitous that it may well have come from the Clintons themselves. The Republicans don't yet have a front-runner who can mount a high-volume complaint. By the time she actually starts campaigning, this will be months in the past, and it will be hard to get journalists interested in re-trumpeting old news. So most voters will forget about it, if they ever noticed the story in the first place.

That's bad news for the country. It's bad enough that our last two presidents developed a penchant for secrecy and executive overreach once they got their hands on the reins of power. But if Hillary Clinton starts at "flagrantly breaking transparency rules," where can we expect her to end up?

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net