The political world knew that the 2016 presidential race would take shape early this year, but few could have guessed that email access and email security would be one of the dominant issues in the nascent election cycle.
Hillary Clinton’s private email account during her tenure as Secretary of State has been the subject of enormous interest to the media and Republicans, with former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) helping lead the charge. “For security purposes, you need to be behind a firewall that recognizes the world for what it is, and it’s a dangerous world, and security would mean that you couldn’t have a private server,” the Republican complained last week. “It’s a little baffling, to be honest with you, that didn’t come up in Secretary Clinton’s thought process.”
It’s equally baffling that Bush had no idea how vulnerable he was on the issue he’s chosen to complain about.
Jeb Bush used his private e-mail account as Florida governor to discuss security and military issues such as troop deployments to the Middle East and the protection of nuclear plants, according to a review of publicly released records.The e-mails include two series of exchanges involving details of Florida National Guard troop deployments after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the review by The Washington Post found.
The Washington Post’s report on the security risks surrounding Jeb Bush conducting official business on his private account coincided with a New York Times article, which noted that it took the former governor more than seven years “to comply fully with a Florida public records statute” on email disclosure.
The report quoted a non-partisan expert with the Florida-based First Amendment Foundation who said Bush’s disclosure policy was “a technical violation of the law.” The governor was required to turn over records pertaining to official business “at the expiration of his or her term of office,” and the Republican waited more than seven years to meet these obligations.
And while the revelations are themselves noteworthy, what seems especially problematic for Bush is the broader context in which these details appear.
If, for example, the Clinton story never existed, and we were just now learning about Bush’s emails, my suspicion is the revelations would be treated largely as an afterthought. To be sure, transparency and sunshine laws matter, but it’s hard to imagine the Beltway media creating a feeding frenzy, featuring breathless coverage of Jeb’s email “scandal.” Even his Democratic detractors would probably prefer to focus their energies elsewhere.
But the Clinton email story does exist, and collectively, the political world decided this is an important national issue, crucial to evaluating the competence and credibility of a leading presidential contender. Bush himself encouraged this heightened scrutiny, talking publicly about how “baffling” Clinton’s actions were on the issue.
It’s against this backdrop that we’ve discovered that Bush “did exactly what Hillary did.” After he and his team went through official emails, they decided “what were public-record emails and what wasn’t.” The fact that he also ignored state law and created security risks only complicates matters further.
What we’re left with are legitimate concerns about Bush’s judgment. When he went on the offensive on the Clinton email story, did he not think his own, nearly identical problems would emerge? Or was this a case in which Team Jeb went on the attack without bothering to recognize their vulnerability?
Either way, Bush has worked assiduously to cultivate an image of a hyper-competent manager. If he wants this reputation to be taken seriously, the GOP candidate has a long way to go.