The decision by the Federal Bureau of Investigation not to recommend a criminal prosecution of Hillary Clinton for her violation of classified government information while serving as secretary of state has become more controversial than ever in recent days with the release of details about the agency’s investigation. While last week’s pre-Labor Day weekend document dump by the FBI won’t change the fact that Clinton will escape prosecution, it has given the Democratic nominee’s opponents ample new ammunition in their fight to cast Clinton as untrustworthy.
“People who have nothing to hide don’t smash phones with hammers,” Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump told a crowd in North Carolina Tuesday night. “People who have nothing to hide don’t bleach their emails.” He added, “Nobody takes all the risks Hillary Clinton took unless they’re trying to cover up massive, massive crimes.”
Trump was referring to two of the revelations in the FBI files: that a Clinton aide physically destroyed at least two old Blackberry devices of 13 that the former secretary of state had used during her tenure and that Clinton staffers had a technology expert use a program called “BleachBit” to erase copies of her emails from their own computers and make them unrecoverable.
In a radio interview on Tuesday, Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan fed the emerging narrative that the FBI was somehow trying to shield Clinton by releasing the documents related to the email investigation on the Friday before a holiday weekend.
“I can’t believe that they would do what is such a patently political move,” he complained. “It makes them look like political operatives instead of law enforcement officers.”
The FBI release does not actually change the larger contours of the Clinton email saga: She improperly used a private email server to communicate while serving as secretary of state, and despite her claims to the contrary, classified information related to national security was transmitted via that system.
But the documents offer a more granular look at how Clinton and her staff handled sensitive information. More importantly, they show their cavalier attitude toward the preservation of evidence that they were legally bound to protect.
Most damning is the revelation that in March of 2015, after the House Select Committee on Benghazi issued a protection order that required Clinton and her staff to preserve all the emails that were sent and received by Clinton on the personal server, a computer technician working for the former secretary of state knowingly erased and then “scrubbed” an archive of her emails to make them unrecoverable.
The email archive had already been isolated and examined by Clinton’s staff pursuant to a request from the Department of State that she turn over any and all communications related to official business conducted during her tenure there. A similar request went out to three other former secretaries of state at the same time.
The FBI documents offer surprising revelations about how Clinton and her attorneys handled the email archive, which ultimately turned out to contain hundreds of sensitive and classified messages.
It was already well known that Clinton decided that she would not surrender the entire archive to the State Department. Instead, she had personal attorneys review the emails to determine which constituted federal records and which were purely personal in nature. This resulted in the destruction of tens of thousands of messages that were identified as personal before they could be independently assessed by the State Department.
One archive of Clinton’s emails, now known to have contained a large number of classified messages, was transferred to a laptop computer that was kept at the personal residence of one of her attorneys. It was also transferred to a thumb drive that was provided to another of Clinton’s lawyers.
The email archive laptop and the thumb drive are now unaccounted for, as are eight Blackberries and two of five iPads that Clinton used to access her email account.
Most remarkably, the process of transferring the emails to the laptop involved a Clinton staffer moving all of the emails to a personal Gmail account. Ironically, the FBI documents make specific note of the fact that Clinton, at one point in 2011, appears to have sent an email with the subject line “Google email hacking and woeful state of civilian technology” after State Department employees had their personal email accounts hacked.
Again, none of these revelations seem likely to change the ultimate determination by the Justice Department that Clinton should not be prosecuted for mishandling classified information. But that doesn’t mean that Trump and his surrogates on the GOP side of the aisle are going to let the issue fade away.