Politics & Policy

Hillary and Bill vs. the ‘Little People’

Bill and Hillary in 2009. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty)

The late real estate magnate Leona Helmsley sealed her reputation as the “queen of mean” when she told a housekeeper, “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”

Hillary Clinton is under new scrutiny after the revelation that some of the e-mails on her now-infamous private server included information then classified as “top secret.” Her flat denial in March that classified information ever passed through the server was laughable at the time, and it’s been proven false now. But no one expects the Obama administration to punish Hillary the way it has so many “little people” who have mishandled classified data in the course of their government service.

Take former State Department analyst Stephen Kim. He’s now serving a 13-month sentence in a federal prison for leaking classified data on North Korea to Fox News reporter James Rosen, who in turn had his e-mail records searched by the Obama Justice Department without his knowledge. Journalist Peter Maass has made a compelling case that the North Korean material wasn’t sensitive: “According to court documents, one State Department official described the intelligence assessment as ‘a nothing burger,’ while another official said Rosen’s story had disclosed ‘nothing extraordinary.’” But Kim sits in prison nonetheless, a victim of the Obama Administration’s crackdown on the abuse of classified material.

Liberal journalist Glenn Greenwald documented this week just how “wildly overzealous” the crusade has been

NSA whistleblower Tom Drake, for instance, faced years in prison, and ultimately had his career destroyed, based on the Obama DOJ’s claims that he “mishandled” classified information (it included information that was not formally classified at the time but was retroactively decreed to be such). Less than two weeks ago, “a Naval reservist was convicted and sentenced for mishandling classified military materials” despite no “evidence he intended to distribute them.” Last year, a Naval officer was convicted of mishandling classified information also in the absence of any intent to distribute it.

In the light of the new Clinton revelations, the very same people who spent years justifying this obsessive assault are now scampering for reasons why a huge exception should be made for the Democratic party front-runner.

Hillary Clinton herself has supported that “obsessive assault.” In 2011, when Chelsea Manning was convicted and sentenced to 35 years in prison for passing classified material to Wikileaks, Clinton held a news conference to emphasize that classified information “deserves to be protected and we will continue to take necessary steps to do so” because it “affect[s] the security of individuals and relationships.” Not one document involved in the Manning leak was “top secret.” At least some of the material on Clinton’s private server was.

RELATED: Hillary Clinton and the Perks of Being Powerful

Obviously, Clinton didn’t intend any of the information on her server to be misused. But negligence can be its own form of misuse. Christopher Budd, a specialist in computer security, says Clinton’s use of a private server while in office may “represent one of the most serious breaches in data handling that we’ve ever heard of.” He goes on to explain:

The Secretary of State is a very “high value target” from the standpoint of nation-state threat actors. The President, Secretary of Defense and the head of the CIA would also qualify in this top tier. These individuals handle the most important, most sensitive, most dangerous and therefore most interesting information to foreign intelligence. . . . 

The best of the best are gunning for those people to get their information. . . . if the best of the best are after your information, you need the best of your best protecting it. And there is simply no way that a “homebrew” server is EVER going to have the security and resources appropriate to defend it adequately.

But this isn’t the first time a Clinton in high office has been cavalier about America’s national security. The scandal surrounding President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky — which Hillary Clinton dismissed as part of “a vast right-wing conspiracy” while her allies set out to smear Lewinsky — had real national-security implications, and left him vulnerable to international blackmail.

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President Clinton himself realized the security risk his relationship with Lewinsky represented. Special prosecutor Ken Starr’s 1998 report reveals that Clinton told Lewinsky “he suspected that a foreign embassy was tapping his telephones, and he proposed cover stories” for them to use if they were questioned about their relationship. Regarding “phone sex” between them, Clinton told Lewinsky that she should say, if asked, that, “They knew their calls were being monitored all along, and the phone sex was just a put-on.” This laughable “explanation” wouldn’t have helped much if a hostile regime had intercepted the explicit calls.

The Code of Federal Regulations (Title 32, Chapter 1, Part 147) makes clear that a person may lose a security clearance for “personal conduct or concealment of information that may increase a person’s vulnerability to coercion, exploitation, or duress, such as engaging in activities which, if known, may affect the person’s personal, professional, or community standing or render the person susceptible to blackmail.” 

One of the reasons the American people are so cynical about Washington is that they see a disparity between how the system treats the powerful and how it treats average citizens.

Even in a non-judgmental age, we can’t completely ignore personal behavior when it places high officials at risk of blackmail or worse.

Liberals attacked the hypocrisy of politicians who had affairs of their own but pointed fingers at Bill Clinton, even though none of them committed perjury under oath or lost their law license because of it, as Clinton did. Hypocrisy in sexual matters is offensive, but only one politician had the authority in August 1995, just three months before his relationship with Lewinsky began, to sign Executive Order 12968. It stipulated that to be eligible for access to classified information, an individual must have a record of “strength of character, trustworthiness, honesty, reliability, discretion, and sound judgment, as well as freedom from conflicting allegiances and potential for coercion.”

Under the guidelines he signed, President Clinton himself was a security risk who shouldn’t have had access to classified information. Indeed, several people in government lost their security clearances or their jobs for failing to live up to the executive order in the years after Clinton issued it.

RELATED: Will Computer Equipment Take the Fall for Hillary?

But the rules on many matters were in Bill Clinton’s eyes only to be applied to “little people.” In 1996, Clinton had the nerve to argue in a Supreme Court filing that he was on “active duty” in the military, and thus immune from Paula Jones’s sexual harassment suit under the 1940 Soldiers and Sailors Act. (He later quietly dropped that absurd claim.) But soldiers under Clinton’s command were routinely punished for the same kind of misbehavior. Kelly Flinn, a female Air Force bomber pilot, resigned rather than face a court martial for lying about adultery to superiors. In 1998, the same year as the Lewinsky scandal, Sergeant major Gene McKinney was tried for sexual misconduct similar to that alleged against the president by Kathleen Willey. McKinney was acquitted of the misconduct charges, but convicted of obstruction of justice.

#related#One of the reasons the American people are so cynical about Washington is that they see a disparity between how the system treats the powerful and how it treats average citizens. The Clintons have railed against this double standard, but in a twist have complained that they are the victims of it. “All I’m saying is the idea that there’s one set of rules for us and another set for everybody else is true,” Bill Clinton complained to NBC News this spring, in the face of allegations that the Clinton Foundation traded political favors for foreign contributions. “There is no doubt in my mind that we have never done anything knowingly inappropriate in terms of taking money to influence any kind of American government policy. That just hasn’t happened.”

Hmmm. “Never done anything knowingly inappropriate.” That may well be Hillary Clinton’s last line of defense against charges that she compromised national security with her private server — the contention of her aides that she didn’t know anything on her server was classified. Plenty of comparatively powerless government functionaries have paid and will pay a heavy price for similar lapses. But they will be forgotten in the wake of the Clintons’ relentless drive to return to the White House — where they can once again set the rules for “the little people.”

— John Fund is national-affairs correspondent for National Review.

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