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With a whimper, State Dept ends examination of Clinton emails

Voters were told Hillary Clinton's email protocols were a genuine national scandal. A multiyear State Department probe helps prove otherwise.
(FILES) This file photo taken on April 06, 2017 shows former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking at the Eighth Annual Women in the World Summit at...

When Donald Trump holds campaign rallies, it's common to hear the president's followers chant "lock her up" in unison -- three years removed from the 2016 election, and seven years after Hillary Clinton left public office. It's easy to forget sometimes the ostensible reason so many on the far-right still want to see the former secretary of State incarcerated.

Whether Republicans have thought this through or not, the core allegation against Clinton was that she mishandled classified information -- to a literally criminal degree -- with a private email server. An FBI investigation determined that there was no need to charge the former cabinet secretary with anything, and as the Washington Post reported, a State Department probe reached a similarly underwhelming conclusion.

A multiyear State Department probe of emails that were sent to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton's private computer server concluded there was no systemic or deliberate mishandling of classified information by department employees, according to a report submitted to Congress this month.The report appears to represent a final and anticlimactic chapter in a controversy that overshadowed the 2016 presidential campaign and exposed Clinton to fierce criticism that she later cited as a major factor in her loss to President Trump.

The New York Times, which has a deeply unfortunate record on covering this story, ran its article on the State Department's findings on page A16 of its Saturday print edition. The print headline read, "Quiet Ending For Inquiry Into Emails And Server."

There's some truth to that. It's probably not a coincidence that Donald Trump's State Department, led by an unabashed partisan, released its findings on a Friday afternoon. Had officials uncovered evidence that Clinton systemically and deliberately mishandled classified information, it's a safe bet the Trump administration would've made more of a fuss.

Call it a hunch.

But the Times' use of the word "quiet" struck me as notable, in large part because the adjective reflects an editorial choice. The State Department's findings don't have to be "quiet"; they only go unnoticed if major news organizations -- many of which obsessively told American voters that email server protocols were a pressing national issue of historic importance -- decide that the revelations don't much matter.

And given the circumstances, I can appreciate why some are tempted to sheepishly look the other way. The political world made a ridiculous mistake in 2016 and the consequences of that error will be felt by many for a very long time.

But perhaps that should serve as a reason to pause, take stock, and come to terms with what we've learned.

We know, for example, that the focus on Clinton's emails in the recent past was absurd, as some are  now acknowledging. We also know the problem isn't limited to the past.

The New York Times' report on Saturday noted, for example, "Mr. Trump's own administration officials -- including his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner -- have admitted to using private messaging services to conduct official work. House Democrats' impeachment inquiry has revealed that Trump administration diplomats used private phones to message each other about their efforts to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate the president's American political rivals, including the Bidens."

This was brought to readers' attention in the 15th -- and final -- paragraph in the article that appeared on page A16. After years in which Republicans and major news outlets insisted that State Department email protocols were of the utmost importance, we've seen ample evidence of Trump administration figures failing to comply with the same federal record-keeping rules, and it tends to be treated as trivia.

Which would make sense, were it not for the fact that the American electorate was told the opposite when it was Hillary Clinton's messages making headlines.

There's also the near future to consider. Rachel's tweet on this from Friday afternoon stood out for me: "This ought to be a fairly somber reckoning moment for the American news industry [regarding] 2016. I don't think it will, but it ought to be. (Because here comes the exact same play from the exact same bad-faith actors for 2020)."