Who will whisper in her ear?

Photographer: Ken Cedeno/Bloomberg

Hillary Clinton Needs a Dr. No

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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The FBI was right to recommend that no criminal charges be filed against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private e-mail server while Secretary of State. But she still needs a cure for the reckless arrogance she displayed, an attitude that could produce more disasters if she reaches the White House.

QuickTake Q&A: The Clinton E-Mails

To protect herself as president, and to protect her presidency, Clinton needs a Dr. No. That's somebody more powerful than the smart loyalists she surrounds herself with, somebody with the stature to say: "Ma'am, you cannot do that."

Donald Trump and a chorus of Republicans will scream that the long Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiry that's now finally over was fixed, and that she should have been indicted. That's partisan demagoguery.

The decision was made by FBI director James Comey, a man of impeccable integrity and bipartisan credibility. He didn't even inform Attorney General Loretta Lynch, whose impromptu private meeting with Bill Clinton last week gave fodder to critics, even though both Lynch and Clinton said they didn't discuss the case.

Comey said that there was evidence that classified material was mishandled, but not in a way that was prosecutable. Parallels to other cases were flawed; General David Petraeus, for example, was sentenced to probation and fined for deliberately giving classified material to a former lover while he was director of the CIA. Intent was clear, as it was not in the Clinton case.

Secretary Clinton used the private server to prevent critical Republicans -- those she once called the vast right-wing conspiracy -- from rifling through her e-mails and thoughts. It was not for convenience, as she claimed.

The bad faith of her enemies was real enough, but the way she dealt with it was beyond careless. Using private e-mail was systematic and against Obama administration policy. For other officials it could have been a dismissible offense.

It also says something disturbing about Clinton's relationship with a loyal and able staff: No adviser, it seems, is empowered to tell the boss when she's wrong.

What Clinton needs, and probably will resist, is a forceful peer who prizes the public interest over personal loyalty. Only that kind of person could have told her, "Madame Secretary, you cannot use a private e-mail server; it violates the spirit of what's required even if not the letter of the law."

That same person also would have said: "Mrs. Clinton, if you want to give speeches to big Wall Street firms, then fine. But you're a multi-millionaire, and it simply isn't acceptable to take 275 grand for a short speech; it's also unwise politically."

Dr. No might have also told Bill Clinton: "You cannot have a sitdown with the attorney general of the United States while she's presiding over a sensitive case involving your wife."

The Clintons have rejected good advice before. On the final evening of the Bill Clinton administration, Chief of Staff John Podesta left the White House in the wee hours of the night convinced that the president was not going to pardon a sleazy convicted fugitive, Marc Rich. When he returned several hours later, the ill-advised pardon had been granted.

It's not that Mrs. Clinton's fear of her enemies is baseless. Look at the wasteful House Benghazi inquisition, or the effort now to smear Planned Parenthood. There will be right-wing witch hunts if this Clinton gets to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But if she responds by trying to avoid accountability, as she did in setting up the e-mail server, there will be more self-inflicted wounds.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jonathan Landman at jlandman4@bloomberg.net