So You Think Hillary Clinton is a Liar
So Mike… I’m going to start by assuming that you respect me, based on our interactions together while working at PNNL. If not, well, then none of what follows will matter and you can probably just stop reading now.
You posted on my facebook page sentiments about Secretary Clinton that others have expressed as well – that they don’t feel they can trust her, that they believe that she had lied about things that are important to them, that they question her judgment.
You need to follow your own conscience, of course. But I wanted to share with you a different perspective, a different context.
Since you know me so well, I hope you also would say that I try always to be an honest person. That I try always to speak the truth. Again, if you don’t know or believe that of me, what follows won’t matter to you and you can stop reading.
Even though I think you know me to be a truthful person, I can share with you several occasions when people who heard me speak were easily convinced that I was lying; in fact, in some cases I was. In other cases, it was a matter of context. Here, let me give you some examples.
I led a research initiative at the lab in bio detection, consisting of seven or eight interdependent projects. In return for the lab investment, I was called on to provide status briefings for the initiative and it fell to me to advocate for more money as the initiative progressed. In status briefings, I would say with complete honesty that things were going well. In the briefings in which we were requesting additional funds, I described the areas in which the research fell short of our goals – areas where we needed continuing or additional funds. Now if you were someone who had some reason to dislike me or question me, when you heard those two briefings, you might be tempted to ask “Which is it? Were you lying when you said the projects were going well or when you said the projects needed more money?” I’ve faced people like that. But of course both things can be true, and depend on the context.
In another example, sometime after 9-11, I spoke at a conference of science writers. President Bush had just ordered troops back into Iraq with the understanding and expectation that President Hussein still had WMD. Based on what I knew of the previous Iraqi WMD program documented by the UN, my knowledge of bio production requirements, as well as confidential information that I had available to me as part of my job that I could not share publicly, I made the case with this group of science writers that the renewed efforts to search for and destroy Iraqi WMD were warranted. To say that they were the most hostile audience I’ve ever spoken in front of would be an understatement. I am sure that most of them thought that I was lying. When coalition troops found no additional stores of WMD, I’m sure they would be even more convinced that I was lying. But if I were in the same situation again, with the same knowledge and experience, I would make the same judgment. I might be wrong – again – but I was not lying. I gave them the very best information that I could at the time, under the circumstances.
As someone who has had a security clearance, you and I both know and have both faced occasions when someone might have questioned us about information we knew to be classified. We were obliged to respond without confirming or denying the information. To someone with hostile interests, of course, we would be considered to be lying.
So, when you say you’re unhappy that you know Secretary Clinton has lied – are you equally disapproving of me? Of yourself? I don’t consider myself, or you, or Secretary Clinton liars because to me, context matters.
I know some people are upset at what they believe to be a failing of Secretary Clinton regarding the handling of sensitive or classified information. This is another one where to me, my own experience handling sensitive and classified information requires me to give others the benefit of the doubt. I’ve unintentionally transmitted classified to others. As a derivative classifier, I had reviewed a document, and deemed it unclassified based on the classification guidance that was available to me. Once I reviewed it, I saved it onto an unclassified computer. I was not aware that there was additional guidance on the subject, and the document was in fact classified. In addition to this event happening to me, I’ve also had someone transmit classified information to me, when it was very clear it was not their intention to do so. Of course we don’t want classified information transmitted or compromised. But we operate in an imperfect world. Based on my own experience, I see the issues with Secretary Clinton’s email through a more forgiving lens than others who perhaps have not had experience dealing with classified information. Tell me – did you ever have a security infraction? If not, well done you! But I’m guessing there’s at least a chance you’ve had one.
There is another aspect of the handling of classified information that is unique to working in the State Department (which I have) and being involved in international negotiations (which I have been). I told my daughter not long ago that I had passed classified information to representatives of foreign governments myself. It was kind of fun watching her reaction before I explained. In negotiations, the Secretary of State, or the delegation at large, have prepared guidance in advance of the negotiations. That guidance is almost always classified. But the whole point of the guidance is to tell the Secretary or the delegation what they are allowed to say to the negotiating partners. So what was classified one minute before the negotiations begin can be unclassified one minute into negotiations. So as with handling sensitive information that may have been transmitted on the unclassified email system, I probably give wider berth to the concerns that others have about specifics of what was shared with whom, and when was it classified – if it was part of a negotiation.
So now I’ve given you multiple examples where I lied and where it could be said that I mishandled sensitive or classified information. I would be surprised if telling you this changes your opinion of me. If it does, then again, you can stop reading now. But if it doesn’t change your opinion of me, why not? Likely because you know me, you know my character, you’ve spoken to me. You know that in order to handle that information I have been fully and repeatedly vetted by OPM, FBI, DOE and others. I hope that when you first met me, you saw that I treated others with respect, tried always to do my best job, and hopefully was treated with respect by my colleagues. You may have seen that I was entrusted by our bosses and customers to execute projects that required the handling of sensitive or classified information. I hope that you trust me, my judgment, and have confidence that I would always do my very best to protect my country and the trust that it has placed in me.
I hope all that is true of you, and is why we are friends and respect each other. But we both also know that there are others in my professional environment with whom I did not always agree. As you know, sometimes I push back on co-workers, bosses and (gasp!) even customers. Happily, most of them knew me and trusted me, even if I annoyed them with my directness. You know as well, however, that there were some who didn’t trust me, who had no particular reason to trust me, and felt threatened by my questioning. I could name several people who seriously questioned my judgment or questioned my suitability for the job. Happily, I don’t think you are one of them, as I’ve said, I think we enjoy mutual respect.
So… what’s all this have to do with Secretary Clinton? It’s just a really long winded way of saying we have different context for what she has said, what has been said about her, how we would judge the decisions that she’s made. I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt specifically because I’ve been in similar situations and because I see someone who has spent her life trying to make things better for others.
When I’ve heard others say they don’t trust her, that they think she’s a liar, that she’s a criminal – it makes me wonder what more she has to do to persuade people to the contrary. I live an open life, but she makes me look like a mountain recluse in comparison when it comes to transparency and openness. As someone who filled out political appointment financial disclosure paperwork one year – and it was ugly – It matters to me that she has made her personal financial information available for the public to sift through in tiny, excruciating detail for over a decade. And that of her charitable foundation. That includes the executive level financial disclosures as well as making her tax returns public for longer than any other elected official that I know. It matters to me that she has had to get vetted for clearances just like we did with the endless SF86 forms; most people aren’t aware of the level of detail and transparency involved in those forms, with 127 pages before you even add the supplemental pages. Most people don’t know how many of your family and neighbors the investigators talk to, to ensure that you are, that she is trustworthy, or how far back in your history they go. I appreciate the work of the career civil servants in the ethics office at State and in the other agencies whose job it is to evaluate activities of senior governmental personnel to ensure that they are not involved in questionable or unethical activities. I’m pretty sure that the standard is the same there as it is within the lab – they are there to protect against not only actual conflicts of interest or impropriety but also the appearance of a conflict or impropriety. I respect them enough and trust them enough to do their jobs, that I’m not going to second guess that Secretary Clinton was doing anything illegal or unethical during her time as Secretary of State.
There are other experts that have persuaded me she is trustworthy as well. How many months did the GOP investigate the alleged scandal with Benghazi, how many millions of our taxpayer dollars did they spend only to conclude that Secretary Clinton did nothing wrong? And the same with the emails – I trust the FBI to have done their job. Were there problems? Yes. Could Secretary Clinton and others have made different choices? Yes. Was there a finding of illegal activity, despite the months of investigation and again countless tax dollars spent? No. Neither the Benghazi committees nor the FBI produced any substantial findings to justify the attacks on Secretary Clinton’s honesty, integrity and judgment.
So, I understand you and others are convinced — despite all evidence — of serious flaws in her character. I’m inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, to trust her, to have confidence in the agencies in government whose job it is to ensure ethical behavior and lack of criminal activity. I understand those are not adequate for the anger toward her that others feel, but the lack of evidence of wrong doing makes me think that anger is based on something not related to her experience and history at all.
Finally, I listened to President Obama tonight. He talked about her experience as Secretary of State. About how he had the opportunity to see her in action, to see her work ethic and her character. President Obama made clear how much he trusted her then – and still trusts her. If I had any remaining doubt, it was erased when he said that however good of a president he or President Bill Clinton were, that Hillary Clinton was going to be a better president than both of them. You may not trust her. Even if I didn’t have enough reasons of my own to trust and respect her, my Commander in Chief does and that’s good enough for me.