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Advice on Handling Bibi and Other Gems from the New Hillary Emails
The State Department has released the largest batch yet of emails from Hillary Clinton while she was America’s top diplomat, providing more fuel for a controversy that has proved politically damaging for her White House campaign. While Clinton has not been charged with breaking the law or knowingly spilling state secrets, her poll ratings have ...
The State Department has released the largest batch yet of emails from Hillary Clinton while she was America’s top diplomat, providing more fuel for a controversy that has proved politically damaging for her White House campaign.
While Clinton has not been charged with breaking the law or knowingly spilling state secrets, her poll ratings have steadily declined since she acknowledged using a personal server for both work and personal email correspondence while she served as secretary of state from 2009 until 2013.
Clinton’s struggle to put the email controversy to rest has helped feed speculation that Vice President Joe Biden could enter the race for the Democratic nomination.
Out of the 7,000 emails posted Monday, about 150 messages are deemed to be classified. But the State Department said the material was labeled classified after the fact and not at the time the email was sent. Previously, officials said 63 messages were considered classified.
The emails have offered a glimpse behind the scenes during Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, showing her own preoccupation with media coverage and her frequent communication with longtime advisor and confidant Sidney Blumenthal.
Here are four highlights from the newest batch:
The State Department’s help desk had no idea about her personal account
On Feb. 27, 2010 an unwitting analyst wrote to Hillary Clinton’s private email account with what seemed like an innocuous request: “It has come to my attention that one of our customers has been receiving permanent fatal from this address, can you please confirm if you receive this message.” Nonplussed, Clinton wrote to her lieutenant Huma Abedin: “Do you know what this is?”
After some sleuthing, Abedin came back with an answer. It turned out the State Department’s own help desk didn’t know Clinton’s email address. “They had no idea it was YOU, just some random address so they emailed.” If there was any doubt about the State Department’s technological savvy in running its email systems, there you have it.
In this way, the Clinton emails offer a peek into the humdrum aspects of being the world’s most powerful diplomat. Like this email, from Jan. 3, 2010, when Clinton emails an assistant with a question having little to do with her diplomatic agenda: “Can you give me times for two TV shows: Parks and Recreation and The Good Wife?”
Blumenthal: John Boehner is “louche, alcoholic, lazy”
In the newly-released emails, Blumenthal argues that the late 2010 release by Wikileaks of State Department cables “is the opposite of the Pentagon Papers,” because the documents, many of which cast U.S. allies in an unflattering light, “prove that the U.S. government today has been telling the truth.” He sent Clinton a New York Times story about the debut of American Bridge, a super PAC formed by former right wing journalist David Brock to provide fodder for attack ads on Republicans, which Clinton approvingly called “a good launch story!” An email analyzing the then-upcoming 2010 midterm election notes of soon-to-be House Speaker John Boehner, “He is louche, alcoholic, lazy, and without any commitment to any principle. Boehner has already tried to buy the members with campaign contributions and committee assignments, which he has already promised to potentially difficult members,” observations redacted from other versions of the same email.
The attacks aren’t just limited to Boehner. Blumenthal also forwards a piece written by Brock laying out the case for impeaching Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas over charges of sexual harassment that were not aired during his acrimonious confirmation hearings in 1991, as well as a New Yorker article by Jane Mayer describing the influence of conservative donors Charles and David Koch over the Tea Party.
Advice on handling Netanyahu:
As she attempted to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Clinton got some advice from an ex-diplomat on how to handle Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In an email, Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and longtime Mideast hand, told Clinton that Netanyahu needed to be reassured, but not indulged.
“Put your arm around Bibi,” he wrote in a September 30, 2010 message, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “He still thinks we are out to bring him down.”
There was no alternative to working with the prime minister, “even though he makes it such a frustrating process,” Indyk wrote. “But the purpose of embracing him is to nudge him forward, not to buy into his exaggerated political fears or accept his inflated demands.”
Clinton, according to Indyk, needed to convey to the Israeli leader that “his negotiating tactics are counterproductive to his own purposes.”
And “as his friend,” the American secretary of state would need to “paint a realistic picture of the strategic consequences of his negotiating tactics,” including for the Palestinian Authority leadership and not just in terms of Israeli politics, Indyk wrote.
And finally, Indyk advises Clinton that if all else fails, “avoid recriminations in favor of a ‘clarifying moment.’”
The gefilte fish mystery:
Forget terrorism, the war in Afghanistan or Middle East peace talks. Clinton wanted to hear from her staff on an urgent issue: gefilte fish.
In an email with the cryptic subject line, “gefilte fish,” Clinton asked: “Where are we on this?” There was no explanation of what mysterious crisis Clinton was referring to.
But Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to Washington, wrote in his recently published memoir about a headache involving a shipment of carp from Illinois intended for the holy land. Trade restrictions prohibited the carp from being unloaded at Israeli ports. But after much acrimony, a compromise was finally reached and a green light was given for the delivery of nine carp containers — on a one-time basis only.
The congressman from Illinois who had demanded the fillets be delivered asked Oren why Israelis were interested in such a large quantity of carp. The ambassador explained that when the Jewish people celebrate Passover, they eat gefilte fish. “Carp, congressman, is the main ingredient.”
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll