Can The State Department Disqualify Hillary Clinton As The Nominee? The Email Saga Is Less Threatening Than You Think

Hillary Clinton’s email scandal isn’t going away any time soon. Days after the FBI announced that it won’t be recommending criminal charges against the former secretary of state, the State Department said that it will be resuming its own internal probe into Clinton’s email activities. This comes just weeks before Democrats meet at the convention in Philadelphia to formally nominate her, but can the State Department disqualify Clinton from being nominated?

No, it cannot. The State Department can do a lot of things, but invalidate the results of a party’s primary is not one of them. At the end of the day, political parties are private organizations, not organs of the government, and the State Department certainly doesn’t have the authority to overrule the votes of the Democratic delegates who will nominate Clinton at the convention.

That said, the agency does have some tools at its disposal to punish Clinton, should it decide to do so. State Department spokesperson John Kirby said Thursday that the agency could impose a variety of sanctions on Clinton, the harshest measure being revoking Clinton’s security clearance. This would prevent her from accessing classified and top-secret information at the department, which is potentially a big problem for a would-be president.

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Or is it? After Clinton officially becomes the nominee, she will start receiving national security briefings regardless of her security clearance, as will the Republican Party’s nominee. Furthermore, presidents and vice presidents can’t have their security clearances revoked, so if Clinton wins the election, she’ll have no problem accessing classified State Department documents. Because she’ll be, you know, the president.

In all likelihood, the biggest problem the State Department investigation poses for Clinton is more political in nature. This faux-scandal has been dragging on for the better part of a year, and there’s probably nothing Team Clinton would like more than for it to be put to rest permanently. Although Clinton didn’t do anything particularly salacious or interesting, the basic facts of the case appear to confirm an existing negative stereotype of Clinton: that she’s shifty, secretive, and dishonest.

Then again, that stereotype — which isn’t really based in fact — has been haunting Clinton since the early 1990s. But it didn’t prevent her from winning the Democratic primary, nor has it stopped her from consistently leading Donald Trump in general election polls. It's entirely possible that, when all is said and done, Clinton’s email problem will end up as nothing more than a historical footnote.