Politics & Policy

Hillary’s E-mails Contained Classified Information — Hold Her Accountable

(Photo Illustration: NRO)

Hillary Clinton’s e-mail problems keep getting bigger and bigger. And now the questions she faces are increasingly not just about poor judgment but possible criminality. The more we find out about Hillary’s private “homebrew” e-mail server, the more it appears she violated federal laws about the handling and dissemination of classified information.

When the story about Hillary’s peculiar communication practices broke in March, we were told that they were “perfectly permissible.” It was all just a question of “convenience,” you see, and as secretary of state, Hillary was obeying both the “letter and spirit of the rules.”

Then, as more information dripped out, the party line from the Clinton camp about her e-mails morphed into “not technically illegal.” The former cabinet official maintained that no classified information was ever disseminated via her private e-mail accounts. That was the clear red line that Mrs. Clinton and her ardent defenders established.

All of those assurances — even that last part, about no classified information — have now been proven to be lies.

Classified information was in Hillary’s e-mails and sent on her private, unsecured account, which she was constantly using for official business. According to an inspector general’s report from the Department of Justice, in a random sampling of Hillary’s e-mails that had been turned over to the State Department, 10 percent (four of 40) e-mails contained information that the government considers to be classified. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

RELATED: Has the Justice Department Seized Hillary’s Server? If Not, Why Not?

The American public has access to only 12 percent of the 55,000 pages that former secretary Clinton turned over. Of those, which were pre-selected by Mrs. Clinton, there are at least 64 instances of material blacked out because it was classified by the federal government. Anyone want to place bets on how many more instances of classified info are found in the other thousands of e-mails?

From what we already know, Hillary’s e-mail system was unthinkably irresponsible. For anyone who has ever held or still holds a national-security clearance and worked with sensitive government information, Clinton’s e-mail practices while she was secretary of state are an outrage. She definitely knew better, but she didn’t care, because Hillary Clinton simply thinks she is too important for the rules to apply to her.

RELATED: Why a Criminal Prosecution of Hillary Clinton Might Not Happen

As a former CIA officer who spent years handling all kinds of classified documents and information — and who lived under rules of information protection that can only be described as totalitarian in their severity — I can say that Hillary Clinton’s information security was an abject disgrace. I’ve spoken to many former intelligence colleagues, and they all agree: A normal (read: non-Clinton) government employee would be stripped of clearances and fired, without question, for doing what Hillary apparently thought was just fine.

But it wasn’t fine. Hillary’s private e-mail practices, while she had near-unlimited access to our national-security secrets, was a slap in the face to all of us who have served our country and taken our responsibilities to protect classified information seriously. What Hillary did may very well have been criminal.

Hillary’s irresponsibility left the door wide open to foreign governments and hackers. What did the Russians see? The Chinese? We will never know.

There is federal law — specifically, 18 U.S.C. — that deals with disclosures of classified information. And it doesn’t cover only intentional espionage or leaks. Transmission to an unauthorized person is a violation. Even if the person receiving the e-mail has a clearance, holding the information on an unsecure server can itself be a violation under certain circumstances (depends on the prosecutor).

And apart from all that, her irresponsibility certainly left the door wide open to foreign governments and hackers. What did the Russians see? The Chinese? We will never know.

Of course, the Clintons have already circled the wagons with a defense: that information was only “retroactively classified.” This misses the point. As secretary of state, Hillary was privy to very sensitive information, and she was obligated, under law, not to disclose it in any form or jeopardize its release through dissemination in unprotected channels.

#related#She used open e-mail channels, and information has been blacked out of her e-mails in public release because the information was in fact classified. She failed in her duty, willfully and repeatedly. That she did not write “Secret” atop her personal e-mails does not mean that the information they contain is not classified. If that were the case, then any classified paper document could be de facto declassified with a pair of scissors, after cutting off the words that designate its level of secrecy.

The failings at this point are clear: Hillary Clinton operated a private e-mail system to evade transparency and hide some of her dealings while secretary of state. Her e-mail practices were reckless and jeopardized national security. She must be held accountable.

As to whether the offenses were criminal, perhaps Madame Secretary should call General Petraeus and ask about how the government typically treats those who fail to properly secure classified information, even when that information has no immediate impact on national security, and even in the absence of any intent to cause harm.

Either there are rules to protect classified information, or there are not. Being a Clinton is no excuse.

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