Decision 2016: Who will tell the smallest lies?

If the delegate forecast holds steady, Americans choosing their next president will pick between two known liars in November.

Donald Trump lies flamboyantly on a wide range of subjects, from his net worth to his business failures to his donations to veterans. He lies so often and so casually that it barely rates a headline anymore.

Hillary Clinton’s style of lying is more calculated and nuanced, but we got a peek last week from the State Department’s inspector general. He issued a blunt, damaging report about her controversial use of private emails while she was secretary of state.

The report didn’t accuse Clinton of recklessly sharing classified information, but she was called out for lying on a key point. Ever since it was revealed that she’d used a private email server and a personal email account for official communications, Clinton has insisted that the State Department had “allowed” or “permitted” her to do that.

Not true, according to Inspector General Steve Linick.

He said Clinton never asked for permission to use a private server, and wouldn’t have received permission if she’d requested it. Diplomats aren’t supposed to email via private servers because of “significant security risks.”

Apparently no one at the State Department instructed Clinton to use the agency’s official email service, which was a bureaucratic bungle, but as secretary of state she surely should have known the rules.

And when the issue was later raised by two officials in the State Department’s record-keeping section, their boss ordered the staff “to never speak of the secretary’s personal email system again.”

Subject closed, Nixon-style.

Clinton’s supporters point out that former Secretary of State Colin Powell also routinely used a personal email account for government business. However, the department’s rules about cyber-communication had become more defined by the time Clinton accepted the post.

The FBI’s ongoing investigation probably won’t result in a criminal indictment, but the email furor will provide potent ammunition for Republican PACs and Trump, Clinton’s opponent in the general election.

For months Clinton has said she’ll cooperate with investigators and answer questions about her emails. Yet this promise is looking more and more like another shaded lie.

Such uncooperative moves won’t elevate Clinton’s image with the public. Poll after poll shows her chief weakness is that lots of voters in both parties don’t trust her. The only person with worse “unfavorables” is — no surprise — Trump.

A Clinton-Trump matchup is basically Liar vs. Liar, a soul-sapping scenario with the election only five months away.

Once the attack ads begin saturating the media, both Clinton and Trump will further wither in stature.

Glum voters will be left to ponder not who is the better of the two candidates, but who can do the least harm to the country.

Most Americans aren’t naive enough to expect total honesty from politicians. At this point we’re worried mainly about the size of future lies, because we’ve heard some White House whoppers in the past:

America’s winning the war in Vietnam.

Watergate is just a third-rate burglary.

I did not have sex with that woman.

Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction.

In the absence of candidates who tell us the truth, we need to pick the one who will tell the smallest, least dangerous lies. That, sadly, is Decision 2016.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Clarence Page is on vacation.

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