“It is very likely,” Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed when asked by a CBS reporter if he believed the Russians and the Chinese were reading his emails. “I certainly write things with that awareness.” The Democratic Party’s elder statesman and former presidential nominee might have known that he was twisting the knife. While it was perhaps unintentional, his comments reflect an accurate assessment bubbling up from the liberal subconscious that Hillary Clinton has been irreparably damaged by the revelations regarding her scandalous conduct as Kerry’s predecessor at Foggy Bottom.

Hillary Clinton could have surrendered her “homebrew” email server, on which she conducted the affairs of state in violation of both State Department and White House guidelines, to a third party at any time. Indeed, that was the request of the Republican members of the House Select Committee on Benghazi. If she were so inclined, she could have rid herself of the suspicion that she had something to hide. Clinton might not have found exculpation in a third party investigation of the system that once held over 30,000 deleted emails that Clinton assured Americans were of no interest to them, but she would have at least created the impression that she had belatedly embraced transparency. Instead, she dug in, closed ranks, and bristled with indignation at anyone who dared question her integrity. In the process, Clinton repeatedly misled the public and the press on matters both substantial and paltry.

Hillary Clinton could have done many things to mitigate the damage wrought to her political image by the steady stream of information about her behavior at State. Instead, in deference to the sense of entitlement her enablers have cultivated over a quarter-century, she did nothing. Now, Clinton will be forced to surrender her server to the FBI. What’s more, the email communications that were contained on a thumb drive in the care of her attorney, a man without the requisite security clearances who was deemed post hoc by the State Department to suddenly be occupying a secure information facility, must also hand over to the Feds what is in his possession.

This final shoe dropped after two inspectors general alleged that, not only did Clinton’s unsecure email server contain sensitive information that was marked as such at the time in which it was received, but some of that information was classified “Top Secret.” Among the communications Hillary Clinton received on her server included references to coded information and imagery obtained via secure methods. Carelessly allowing this material to be sent over an unclassified and unprotected email system is a violation of federal law. Full stop.

But Hillary Clinton’s privilege does not die easy. Reporters have developed a tic that compels them to assert that Hillary Clinton personally is not the subject of any federal investigation. Only her potentially unlawful conduct has captured the attention of investigators.

“There are several investigations into her conduct, not into her, but into her use of personal email and a personal server,” McClatchy reporter Anita Kumar told MSNBC on Wednesday. She was merely echoing a statement in her employer’s report, which averred, “Clinton, herself, is not a target.”

This is an oft-repeated refrain. The Department of Justice to which this investigation had been referred last month has repeatedly asserted, “Clinton herself is not the target of the investigation.” This transparent effort to preserve Hillary Clinton’s rapidly decaying political prospects has roiled even FBI sources.

“It’s definitely a criminal probe,” a source within the FBI told New York Post reporters last week. “I’m not sure why they’re not calling it a criminal probe.”

“The DOJ [Department of Justice] and FBI can conduct civil investigations in very limited circumstances,” but that’s not what this is, the source stressed. “In this case, a security violation would lead to criminal charges. Maybe DOJ is trying to protect her campaign.”

Maybe. Just maybe.

The rhetorical gymnastics required of reporters and public officials who contend that Clinton is herself not a target of an investigation is simply a marvel. It’s also supremely insulting. The contention that only Clinton’s behavior and not her gilded personage is of interest to criminal investigators is a familiar dodge. It’s of a kind with open borders immigration activists who solemnly scold the public with the contention that “people can never be illegal” and then go about high-fiving one another as if they’ve deftly scored some stylistic points. No, people are not illegal, but their behavior sometimes is. No, Hillary Clinton is not the subject of an investigation, but her reckless disregard for America’s state secrets most certainly is. Only in the minds of Clinton’s increasingly desperate defenders is this a distinction with a perceptible difference.

It seems likely now that the swirling controversy around Clinton’s conduct will dog her for the remainder of her presidential campaign. There will be no exculpation for her behavior – merely a slow drip of information regarding her conduct and the jeopardy in which it put American national security. Clinton’s claim to be a competent commander-in-chief is forever tarnished. Even if someone close to her were to fall on their sword, it is too late to avoid the impression that this attempt at damage control was not done at the behest of a Machiavellian political figure failing in the effort to revive her ailing career.

How could it be possible that a colossus like Clinton who seemed destined to occupy the Oval Office could be undone by such a careless misstep? But in the same way that a mosquito bite can fell the strongest man if left uncared for, what was once a minor scrape for Clinton has grown gangrenous. On Wednesday, a poll of New Hampshire Democrats showed that the eccentric socialist Senator Bernie Sanders has finally eclipsed Clinton. She now faces the prospect of a wounding primary and a competitive general election. If Democrats are forced to choose between advancing the liberal project and Hillary Clinton’s reputation, they will choose the former. That horrible choice was once mere hypothetical. This morning, it is all too real.

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