Hillary Clinton’s continually evolving defense of her apparent mishandling of classified information is starting to sound a lot like a running gag from Get Smart, the Sixties spy sitcom. Trapped in life-or-death situations at the hands of his archenemies, Agent Maxwell Smart would always seek to bluff his way out of trouble. When Mr. Big wouldn’t budge, Agent Smart moved on to the next prevarication until he found something that might stick:
Maxwell Smart: I happen to know that at this very minute seven Coast Guard cutters are converging on this boat. Would you believe it? Seven.
Mr. Big: I find that pretty hard to believe.
Maxwell Smart: Would you believe six?
Mr. Big: I don’t think so.
Maxwell Smart: How about two cops in a rowboat?
With her first line of defense overrun, Mrs. Clinton subtly shifted her story. In an August 2015 press conference at the Iowa State Fair, Mrs. Clinton insisted, “I did not send nor did I receive material marked classified.”
When confronted this weekend by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos with this signed non-disclosure agreement, Mrs. Clinton argued that she had complied with the agreement, insisting, contrary to its plain terms, that “when you receive information . . . there has to be some markings, some indication that someone down the chain thought that this was classified, and that was not the case.” It’s not the case, indeed.
Perhaps recognizing these problems with her defense that the e-mails weren’t “marked classified,” Mrs. Clinton trotted out a new excuse this weekend, telling Stephanopoulos that the classified e-mail chains “did not originate with me.” She falls back on a time-tested Clinton standard: throwing her staff under the bus.But even there, the former secretary of state cannot completely avoid legal liability for the classified e-mails found on her server. She certainly forwarded many of the e-mails containing classified information to other staffers. And even where she didn’t, she had an obligation to report any security violations to the State Department’s classification officials. Federal criminal statutes make it a felony for any person entrusted with classified information to fail to report the illegal removal of that information from its proper place of custody. So even if Mrs. Clinton did not originate the e-mails containing classified information, she would have had an obligation to report the illegal mishandling of that classified information by others.
Mrs. Clinton’s shifting defenses are more befitting a Sixties sitcom than a presidential candidate in 2016. Would you believe her latest gambit? She’s certainly counting on it.
— Shannen W. Coffin, a former Bush-administration lawyer, is a contributing editor to National Review.