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Hillary Clinton after making her concession speech following her defeat to Donald Trump, in New York on November 9, 2016.
Hillary Clinton after making her concession speech following her defeat to Donald Trump, in New York on November 9, 2016.Jewel Samad / AFP via Getty Images, File

GOP focuses on the Hillary Clinton email mess it doesn’t remember

The more Republicans try to connect Hillary Clinton's email mess to Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago scandal, the more they forget the relevant details.


For Donald Trump’s critics, his Mar-a-Lago scandal has brought to mind the mess surrounding Hillary Clinton’s emails, and for good reason. Republicans and much of the political world spent years treating the Democrat’s email server protocols as one of the defining controversies of the era — with many on the right calling for her prosecution for allegedly mishandling classified information.

Six years later, it’s the Republican who called for Clinton to be locked up who stands accused of mishandling classified national security information he took and wouldn’t give back.

But in an unexpected twist, it’s Trump’s allies who are also bringing up the story surrounding Clinton’s emails — though the right doesn’t appear to remember it quite as well as it should.

The Hill had this report, for example, on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaking at a far-right gathering earlier this week.

“And you look at the raid and Mar-a-Lago, and I’m trying to remember, maybe someone here can remind me about when they did a search warrant at Hillary’s house in Chappaqua when she had a rogue server and she was laundering classified information,” [the governor said].

DeSantis added, “I don’t remember them doing that.” The point, of course, was to suggest that federal law enforcement treated Clinton with kid gloves, while being vastly more aggressive toward Trump.

But there are a few problems with the story the Florida governor was “trying to remember.” For one thing, the FBI didn’t “raid” Mar-a-Lago. For another, Clinton didn’t “launder” any secrets. While we’re at it, there was no need to execute a search warrant to obtain emails, since they weren’t printed out, and unlike Trump, the former secretary of state didn’t make any effort to obstruct federal officials’ efforts.

But most importantly, the detail DeSantis conveniently overlooked was the fact the FBI, as part of its investigation into Clinton, really did take her email server. (A search warrant wasn't necessarily because the former cabinet secretary, unlike the former Republican president, voluntarily turned over what the FBI was looking for.)

As it turns out, DeSantis isn’t the only one who’s a little forgetful about the story the GOP claimed to care so much about. His fellow Florida Republican, Rep. Michael Waltz, told Fox News this week that Trump, after taking office, made a conscious choice to leave his 2016 opponent alone.

“President Trump took that approach. He said, ’You know what, we’re not going to prosecute Hillary Clinton,’” Waltz said, as if reality had no meaning. The congressman added, “[Trump] said, ‘You know what, let’s move on. Let’s move forward.’ But they are just incapable of doing it when it comes to him.”

For those of us who were awake during Trump’s presidency, the truth is that the Republican repeatedly lobbied the Justice Department to prosecute Clinton, even as late as October 2020. He also reveled in “lock her up” chants before, during, and after holding office.

The idea that the former president magnanimously decided to give the Democrat a pass and “moved on” from the email flap is utterly bonkers and the exact opposite of what actually happened.

Perhaps most amazing of all was Republican Rep. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma who complained late last week that there was no “media frenzy” when Clinton kept “33,000 classified emails” on her server.

In reality, there were 113 emails, and Mullin was only off by 32,887. As for the lack of “media frenzy,” I’m not sure how much more news organizations could’ve obsessed over Clinton’s controversy. Shortly before Election Day 2016, Gallup asked voters what word they most closely associated with the former secretary of state, and “emails” dominated to an almost cartoonish degree.

That was, of course, the result of relentless media coverage. The year after the election, Columbia Journalism Review found that between October 29, 2016, and November 3, 2016 — a six-day span that included early voting in much of the country — the New York Times published “as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as it did about all policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election.”

Taken together, Republicans have spent the last several days arguing that the Justice Department largely gave Clinton a pass; Trump chose to leave Clinton alone; and the media downplayed the significance of the entire Clinton email mess.

None of these claims reflects reality in any way — and the most charitable explanation is that the same GOP voices who were obsessed with the email controversy just don’t recall the events as well as one might expect given the circumstances.