This Hillary Clinton Email Flowchart Shows How Complicated It Is Being A Diplomat

The latest batch of Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails was released Thursday. As with the last batch, they offer a fascinating look into the mundane, logistical problems that arise when running a government agency. Last time, we got to see Clinton asking what channel Homeland was on on; now, we’ve got a flowchart dictating who should ride with Clinton in her limousine, and under what circumstances.

The message was sent by Philippe Reines, a Clinton advisor who Vogue once referred to as “her Michael Clayton-esque image man and fixer,” to several other aides. After acknowledging that “it’s tough to figure out who should jump in the car with the Secretary” during official business, Reines revealed a flowchart he’d created to help them determine which individuals should join Clinton, and when.

At its essence, this is an ordered list of which personnel received priority in riding with the then-Secretary. Huma Abedin, Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff at the time, was number one, followed by top policy advisor Jake Sullivan, and so on. It seems to have been written at least partially, if not entirely, in jest. One path leads to a conclusion marked “So What;” this appears to be a joke, though it’s unclear what the joke is. There’s a reference to the possibility of Reines himself being “presumptuously” already in a vehicle with Clinton, which leads to the conclusion, “Chutzpah!” And so on.

But the chart is a bit hard to decipher for two reasons. First of all, Reines composed it in plain text. There are no boxes, bubbles or arrows here; just regular ol’ letters, numbers and symbols. Flowcharts normally aren’t so minimalistic in their presentation, and with this email, we now know why. It’s difficult to figure out which path leads to which conclusions, which significantly disrupts the flow of this chart.

Secondly, it’s full of inside references that, unless you were part of Clinton’s inner circle during her time at the state department, you probably won’t understand. Who is “CDM,” for example, and why might it be “Too Early/Late” to call them? How come Sullivan gets to ride in the limo even if Abedin is there? And what’s the significance of the SUV that keeps getting mentioned?

That’s not to say it’s entirely uninformative to plebs like us. The chart dictates, for example, that ambassadors were allowed to ride with Clinton — but only if they were deemed “tolerable.” If not, and the ride lasted more than 10 minutes, those unfortunate diplomats had to find alternative transportation.


Moreover, the chart is a reminder that, when you’re in the highest levels of government, everyday decisions that most of us don’t give a second thought to become complicated matters that demand advance planning. When I’m going to the movies with friends, it’s generally irrelevant which of them I get in the car with; when you’re the Secretary of State, having the wrong aide by your side during a 15-minute car ride can have serious ramifications.

A few days after Reines sent this email, he sent an amusing follow up. Complaining that he didn’t receive “sufficient appreciation” for the work he’d done creating it, Reines claimed that “without positive reinforcement I’m not sure I can continue to really invest myself in these missives/diatribes.” It seems like he’s kidding, but only sort of.

Image: U.S. State Department