Is Hillary Clinton innocent? Or did she manage to avoid indictment? The two are not the same, as FBI Director James Comey made clear, even as he decided against recommending that Clinton be prosecuted for mishandling state secrets.
About half the country will now conclude what it has long suspected: the Clintons are above the law. How else to interpret Comey’s announcement?
Comey revealed his decision today, just in time to let Clinton hit the campaign trail with President Obama. And, just days after former president Bill Clinton happened to bump into Justice Department chief Loretta Lynch on the tarmac in Phoenix. What a happy coincidence — allowing the two old pals to catch up on the joys of grandparenting.
It is difficult not to be cynical about the sequence of events. Unhappily, given the multiple occurrences of corruption in the Obama White House (see: Lois Lerner, Fast & Furious, etc.) and the innumerable scandals that have engulfed the Clintons over several decades, cynicism is quite appropriate.
Let’s consider Comey’s conclusions. Most curious is that he judges Clinton and her aides to have been “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” Nonetheless, he declines to prosecute her for “gross negligence” in the handling of classified information, which is a felony. How Clintonian to find airspace between those two standards.
As Comey said, “Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.” In other words, Clinton broke the law, but the evidence is not solid enough to indict. Is that the issue? Or were the straight arrow Comey and his FBI deterred by the calamitous political fallout of charging the presumed Democratic nominee for president with a felony.
Most fair-minded people will believe that Clinton purposefully hid her correspondence. It turns out, as Comey noted, that the former secretary of state employed not one personal email server, but several. When she shifted from one to another, large caches of emails disappeared.
Specifically, Comey said, “Secretary Clinton used several different servers and administrators of those servers during her four years at the State Department, and used numerous mobile devices to view and send e-mail on that personal domain. As new servers and equipment were employed, older servers were taken out of service, stored and decommissioned in various ways.”
The FBI laboriously tried to reassemble much of what was destroyed, with only partial success. Remember that public officials are supposed to preserve their work-related correspondence for posterity; Clinton did not.
That Clinton lied repeatedly about her personal server use is a fact. She said she never sent or received classified information. To the contrary, Comey notes that “From the group of 30,000 e-mails returned to the State Department [from Clinton’s server] 110 e-mails in 52 e-mail chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received…For example, seven e-mail chains concern matters that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level when they were sent and received.”
In true Clintonian fashion, Hillary would have us believe that classified emails sent to her were “not marked” as such; Comey blows that line out of the water arguing that “even if information is not marked ‘classified’ in an e-mail, participants who know or should know that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it.”
That mishandling such information is against the law is a fact. Comey referenced the “federal statute making it a felony to mishandle classified information either intentionally or in a grossly negligent way, or a second statute making it a misdemeanor to knowingly remove classified information from appropriate systems or storage facilities.”
It is also worrisome; there’s a reason officials are meant to use secure communications systems. As Comey noted: “None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at departments and agencies of the U.S. government — or even with a commercial service like Gmail.” At the least, the infractions prove Clinton’s judgment appalling.
Clinton also lied about those 30,000 personal emails she claimed concerned matters such as her yoga classes and Chelsea’s wedding. Comey: “The FBI also discovered several thousand work-related e-mails that were not in the group of 30,000 that were returned by Secretary Clinton to State in 2014. We found those additional e-mails in a variety of ways. Some had been deleted over the years and we found traces of them on devices that supported or were connected to the private e-mail domain.” Not only did Clinton lie about those emails, in destroying them she broke a law.
Some will draw parallels between Chief Justice John Roberts’ surprising decision to uphold Obamacare and Comey’s decision on Clinton. Both may have decided that it was more important to prevent massive political upheaval than to follow the letter of the law. Comey himself gave us some sense of that, when he said, “To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that is not what we are deciding now.”
Individuals, for instance, like Petty Officer First Class Kristian Saucier, who was indicted recently for taking cell phone pictures of the engine room of his submarine — even though the government agreed he had no intention of sending the photos to anyone. In a case that many contrasted with the Clinton investigation, Saucier was expected to serve several years in prison for having mishandled national defense information.
So Comey let Clinton off the hook, even as he accused her of breaking the law. Let us hope that voters come November do not follow his lead.