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Hillary Clinton will be exonerated in the email 'scandal'

| Saturday, May 14, 2016, 9:00 p.m.

The latest news on the Hillary Clinton email controversy reinforces everything we've heard so far on this subject: Prosecutors and FBI agents investigating her use of a personal email server have so far found scant evidence that the Democrats' leading presidential candidate intended to break classification rules, though they are still probing the case aggressively with an eye on interviewing Clinton herself, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

That point about her intending to break classification rules is important because in order to have broken the law, it isn't enough for Clinton to have had classified information in a place where it was possible for it to be hacked. She would have had to intentionally given classified information to someone without authorization to have it, like Gen. David Petraeus did when he showed classified documents to his mistress (and then lied to the FBI about it). Despite the enormous manpower and time the Justice Department has devoted to this case, there never has been even a suggestion, let alone any evidence, that Clinton did any such thing.

But when it comes to the presidential campaign, that isn't going to matter. Republicans already know what they think: Hillary Clinton is a criminal whose every thought and action is vile and despicable, so of course she broke the law. If the investigation doesn't show that, it could only be because the investigation was a sham. So they'll just keep saying that this is a scandal, over and over and over.

As Bill and Hillary Clinton's entire careers have proven, when you're trying to take someone down, the next best thing to a real scandal is a phony one. Let's not forget that when Bill was president, no alleged wrongdoing was too trivial to investigate, complete with dark insinuations about nefarious conspiracies and potential criminal behavior. You think the endless investigation of Benghazi is ridiculous? In the 1990s, congressional Republicans took 140 hours of sworn testimony on the urgent question of whether the Clintons had misused the White House Christmas card list. Seriously.

And the media, always operating on the rule that when it comes to the Clintons any smoke should be treated as fire — even if there's a bunch of Republicans operating a smoke machine in full view — will offer endless breathless stories about the “scandal” and how it just shows that people don't trust Clinton.

That also means that they will allow Donald Trump to say whatever he wants about this subject and never hold him accountable for whatever outlandish statements he issues from the fact-free universe he inhabits. Every time he brings this topic up he says something absurd — that Clinton committed horrible crimes, that people who did far less than her are rotting in jail, that she'll soon be indicted, that she should be barred from running for president, so great were her crimes.

That's part of Trump's mad genius and the failing of the political press: he lies so often and so obviously that the reporters covering him have all but given up trying to correct him.

I'm not defending Clinton's decision to use her own email for work and house it on a private server. That was a mistake. It violated State Department policy. She shouldn't have done it.

But acknowledging that is very different from saying she broke the law or jeopardized national security. As of now, there is zero evidence that she did either.

Paul Waldman is a contributor to The Plum Line blog and a senior writer at The American Prospect magazine.

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