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Trump and the Curious Case of 'Acid Washed Emails'

Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of acid washing emails. What does that even mean?
Image: Kelly/Flickr and Bloomberg

Hillary Clinton's emails are the gift that keeps on giving, if you like a constant flow of escalating ridiculous conspiracy theories from the minds of her opponents.

During last night's debate and on at least three occasions prior, Republican candidate Donald Trump referred to Clinton's email scandal. Between those occasions he referred to the special process by which she deleted over 30,000 emails as "acid washing", and then bleaching.


Most of the time when you want to securely erase the contents of a hard drive, you overwrite the entire disc, heat it beyond functionality, and then smash it into a thousand pieces. Done. Of course, if you're pulling off an elaborate conspiracy, as Trump has suggested, you'd want to make it look like there were never any emails. That's why this mysterious process is so captivating, especially when he tosses out anecdotes like, "And Rudy was telling me, nobody does it because it's such an expensive process."

(Let us note right now that none of this is coming from the FBI, any investigators into the email scandal, or (from what we've uncovered) anyone with a cybersecurity background. It's all Trump and his golf buddy, Rudy Giuliani.)

So what the hell did Trump mean by acid washing? Or bleaching? It's not really clear. Putting aside the conspiracy concept of a private, clandestine company that comes in and "acid washes" hard drives for the government and charges them for the service, we tried to identify methods and products that he might have maybe been referring to.

The team mentioned BleachBit, a hard drive clearing tool meant to clear caches and ghost files lingering in unused spaces even after you've technically "deleted" them entirely.

But that doesn't cost tens of thousands of dollars—in fact it's technically free, like AdBlock requires an "optional" donation. And while this (totally not secret) software was reportedly used by Clinton's staff, BleachBit doesn't do anything special. Most computers have built-in technology for overwriting those files in "free space" securely, and using the pre-installed software comes with the benefit of not looking like you installed BleachBit to delete records of important files.


Maybe, based on his understanding of the cyber, Trump thought acid washing was a real, chemical process? His camp allegedly denied that to the folks at Fact Check, but it stands to reason that something like this might have come to mind while he was using the phrase "acid washing" here:

But aside from the cost of chemicals, this seems like something you can do in your backyard, garage, or windowless basement, without really leaving any proof behind—or any hard drives for that matter. So again, not a difficult or expensive process.

Maybe there is an elite cybersystems destruction method out there to which Rudy Giuliani is privy, which Clinton was able to pay for without making a record, and which Trump has now brought into the spotlight.

But the simplest answer is that Donald Trump was using a lexicon familiar to him to describe an unfamiliar process. A hotel owner understands the cleaning power of bleach. A Man in his 70s knows exactly what acid washing does to fabric and probably assumes it has the same effect on data. The fact that acid wash is again relevant in 2016 should be a separate and perhaps more alarming cause for concern.

If Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has any acid washing in her past, it's probably in a part of her closet untouched since the 1980s, and we definitely hope they never find that.

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