In an article for the Women section of Huffington Post, writer Emma Gray asks “Can We Finally Admit It Was Always About Sexism, Never Emails?” She was talking, of course, about former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct government business while she was secretary of state.
Gray’s “evidence” of sexism being the reason for the intense scrutiny of Clinton’s emails was the fact that Vice President Mike Pence also used a private email account to conduct official business—an account that was hacked in 2016—yet Pence has not received anywhere near the amount of scorn that Clinton did. Pence is a man, and Clinton is a woman. Therefore, sexism!
A few paragraphs into Gray’s piece, she acknowledges that “these two incidents were not exactly the same” and links to a Washington Post piece explaining the differences, but then proceeds to ignore all of them—except mentioning that the State Department “explicitly discourages the use of personal email accounts.”
Gray even cites some of President Donald Trump’s advisers’ use of email accounts through a private Republican National Committee system as further evidence that Clinton was treated differently. At no point does Gray offer evidence that it was Clinton’s gender that caused the disparate treatment. Indeed, she mentions Kellyanne Conway as one of the Trump advisers who used an RNC account. It seems a more believable claim for the differing treatments would be Republican vs. Democrat, though that would be difficult considering the political slant of most newsrooms.
But the comparison to Pence was even more strained, since the Washington Post explainer Gray links to goes into great detail about how Clinton’s email scheme was different. First and foremost, it’s legal in Indiana for government officials to use private emails to conduct official business. It’s not illegal for State Department employees to do so, but it’s strongly advised against. Clinton herself sent staff an email saying not to use personal email for day-to-day business, even as she used exclusively a personal server to conduct business.
The Post’s Amber Phillips wrote that Pence “may have needed a private account” since “it’s illegal in Indiana for a government official to use her or his official account for political business.”
Pence also—according to Pence—is preserving his emails “consistent with Indiana law.” Clinton, by contrast, destroyed some 30,000 emails she and her staff deemed personal, even though thousands of recovered emails revealed work-related content.
Further, as Phillips notes, the FBI launched an investigation into Clinton’s emails and her mishandling of classified information. No investigation has been opened into Pence’s emails. FBI Director James Comey spoke at length of Clinton’s “extremely careless” treatment of classified information, but ultimately declined to prosecute her, citing a nonexistent “intent” provision of federal law. In the end, Comey made it clear that Clinton’s use of a private email server was borderline incompetent, but that same incompetence got her off the hook.
Clinton also lied repeatedly after her personal server was discovered. She claimed she used the server “for convenience” and so she’d only have to carry “one device for my work and for my personal e-mails instead of two.” Clinton would go on to admit to having a Blackberry, an iPad and an iPhone. She also claimed that no classified information was sent over her private server, but FBI investigators found 110 emails that contained classified information when they were sent or received.
So far, Pence doesn’t appear to have lied about his emails, while Clinton lied repeatedly.
There’s also the glaringly obvious difference that the secretary of state would have a lot more sensitive emails than the governor of Indiana.
If Pence is discovered to be using a private email to conduct official government business while vice president, things will certainly be different. He would then have been putting our national security at risk, which is what Clinton’s server did. Though Comey said it was possible that hostile actors gained access to Clinton’s private server, no such hack has been proven. Pence’s email account was hacked, which prompted him to close it and open a new AOL account (AOL? Seriously?).
The bottom line is that the situations are completely different, and that—not sexism—is why they have been treated differently. Even though the situations are not the same, it was still dumb for Pence and other Republicans to criticize Clinton for using private email accounts while they used one themselves. Even the appearance of hypocrisy should have been avoided.