Hillary Clinton's "damn emails" are a self-inflicted wound in a political cycle full of "gotcha" and "you're fired." And worse, for the fraying patience of the public, the injury is one her Republican opponents are blithe to spin and churn into a political fatality.
I'm no spring chicken, nor a community elder. I do have sufficient political experience to remember how Republicans of an earlier era would handle Clinton's private server. For certain, they would scorch Clinton. But they also would focus on the FBI's uncovering of security deficiencies at the State Department going back well beyond Clinton's years as secretary.
Our current secretary of state, John Kerry, is the first in U.S. history to have a department email address. That's no accident. Insiders have known for years that State's email system is a relic from the Fred Flintstone cyber age. It's no wonder past secretaries rarely used it.
Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice pretty much shunned using State's email. Colin Powell, like Clinton, used a private email account exclusively, though his was on a commercial server.
Additionally, the media is ignoring the FBI's most important finding. FBI Director James Comey revealed, "We also developed evidence that the security culture of the State Department (was) generally lacking." From most accounts, State's email system remains insufficient for everyday work efficiency, and that alone affects security.
Clinton was cleared of all but a very bad call. Right-wing extremists (including Trump) and normal Republicans are spinning the FBI director's report as "a point-by-point refutation of Clinton statements." Combined, they've made enough political cow pies out of the report to fertilize every last farmer's crop on earth.
Let me review, from Comey's transcript, what the FBI director found:
-- Clinton committed no breach of U.S. laws: "In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts."
-- There was no cover-up: "There was no intentional misconduct" in identifying and turning over Clinton's work-related emails.
-- Clinton's personal email server was not hacked. "We did not find direct evidence that Secretary Clinton's personal email domain, in its various configurations since 2009, was successfully hacked." The fact: Her server was not hacked.
Republicans in Congress are making comparisons to other cases that involved willful, deliberate, sharing of classified material, whereas Clinton did none of that. "Only facts matter," said Comey, and this is the fact: Clinton broke no laws.
There is a blog from Benjamin Wittes and two other legal experts called LawFare -- a term defined as "the use of law as a weapon of war," or in this case, the use of law as a weapon of political war. Wittes scrutinized the FBI case and found that "Hillary Clinton is not above the law, but to indict her on these facts, she'd have to be significantly below the law."
Republicans are angry with FBI Director Comey for not using law warfare to remove Clinton from White House contention. Republicans, however, profited wildly when Comey breeched professional practices. Comey gratuitously offered a number of personal criticisms, which generally isn't done in a report to the Justice Department. Transparency is not an excuse for an end run around official, professional procedures.
Republican congressmen summoned Comey before the House Oversight Committee, where they gleefully asked him to repeat criticisms that were decidedly not "apolitical" and are subject to sound dispute by other professionals.
Clinton is a public servant. PolitiFact, a ruthless fact-checker and Pulitzer Prize winner, gives Clinton the best truth-telling record of all the 2016 candidates. Still the public views her as being untrustworthy. It's a tough stain to remove from her public persona.
Jill Abramson is the former executive editor of The New York Times. Though younger by a few years, her journalism career has paralleled the Clintons' time in Washington. She has personally scrutinized or overseen teams of reporters who investigated Hillary Clinton over every charge ever raised against her. She's "not a favorite in Hillaryland." Her conclusion: "Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest and trustworthy."
How did Clinton get in to so much trouble with her private server? Abramson says Clinton herself caused some to view her as dishonest by her penchant for "insisting on a perimeter or 'zone of privacy.'"
Clinton fully acknowledges making mistakes around her emails, and takes responsibility for them. The important thing about mistakes is to reflect and learn from them -- which Clinton has done. We teach our children that admitting mistakes is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength and character.
The email matter and Clinton's response actually highlights -- in a meaningful way -- one of the most essential and fundamental differences between the two candidates for president. Her opponent has yet to take responsibility for any of his mistakes, or false statements, or smears, including a racist tweet. As a legal expert on Twitter observed, "Trump is refusing to admit error and tripling down on a stupid tweet. Imagine how he'd react if a military operation went south."
Clinton admits and learns from her mistakes.
That's what a leader should do. Reflect, learn and grow from this experience.
Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News, and a contributing columnist to Ms. Magazine and O, the Oprah Magazine.