The latest Clinton email controversy

I should say first of all that I’m not all sure if I’m understanding the situation correctly – this is one of those blogposts which is less «explaining a news story» and more «here’s my understanding of this news story, could someone more knowledgeable explain whether I’ve got it right».

But since nobody else appears to know what’s going on with the latest developments in the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server, I figured I might as well add my two cents:

The purpose of the FBI investigation was to determine whether Hillary Clinton had broken federal law by knowingly sending or receiving classified email on her private server. Since the emails on the server had already been deleted, they had to reconstruct them from (partial) backups – and also had to comb through other servers and devices, to see if they were able to turn up copies of emails sent to/from Clinton’s server.

After examining all these emails, the FBI concluded that some of these emails had been «portion marked» as ‘classified’, but that this was not sufficient to press charges against Clinton (or anyone else).

The FBI director’s letter yesterday simply said that they had found (or to be precise, not even that – merely that they had «learned of the existence of») emails that might be relevant, and that they are going to investigate whether they contain classified information or not. Various sources have confirmed that the emails were found on devices belonging to Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin and her husband Anthony Weiner (who is being investigated for «sexting» with an underage girl).

The natural interpretation of this is that there is no «smoking gun» here whatsoever, but that the only development is that the FBI have found some emails that were sent to/from Clinton’s private server. Given this new material, it’s of course proper and necessary that the FBI study these emails to assess whether they contain anything that changes the situation. But given that they’ve already looked at tens of thousands of emails without finding grounds to press charges, it seems exceptionally unlikely that these emails will contain anything game-changing.

In fact, the Washington Post reports that these emails may not even be new ones: They might simply be copies of emails that they’ve already examined during the investigation. This further supports the theory that nobody has any idea of the actual content of these emails and whether it is in any way incriminating – that they’ve simply come across some emails that were sent to/from the server, and need to check whether this provides any relevant new information.

Needless to say, if this is the case, then it ought to (rationally, at this stage) not affect the race in any way whatsoever. If you accept the previous conclusion that there was no grounds to press charges against Clinton in the emails already examined, the mere fact that X new emails (where X may be anything from 3 emails to a thousand emails) have been added to the pile does not, in and of itself, change anything at all.

The hysterical warnings against trigger warnings

In last Tuesday’s Guardian, professor emeritus Frank Furedi launches a scathing attack on the increasing prevalence of “trigger warnings” in academic life. Furedi claims that “Too many academics are now censoring themselves“, but struggles to provide any concrete evidence of this claim.

The entire article is underpinned by an invalid and fallacious conflation of trigger warnings and censorship. In actual fact, the presence of a trigger warning means – by its very definition – that some piece of (potentially) disturbing material has not been censored or removed. If the university was avoiding such material altogether, there would obviously be nothing to warn about in the first place. An established and appropriate system of “trigger warnings” provides a framework for including such subjects in the assigned texts, without creating needless and harmful situations for those students who suffer from previous trauma.

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Electoral College quirks

The recent turmoil in the Republican party has sparked a slew of commentary about how the party might break entirely with Trump and replace him with a different nominee (with this Politico op-ed probably being the most comprehensive).

Personally, I think all these speculations are still extremely speculative, and that the overwhelmingly most likely scenario – even with the current level of internal strife – is that Trump/Pence remains the official GOP ballot choice on Election Day. (The idea, here promoted in the WSJ, of Trump pledging to step down post-election and hand the Presidency to Pence seems particularly far-fetched.)

But the discussion has nevertheless thrown up some little-known facets of the American electoral process, that might become actually relevant in a later election.

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