Politics & Policy

Clinton Coronation Back on Track? Not So Fast

Clinton campaigns in Las Vegas the day after the debate. (Alex Wong/Getty)

In the Perils of Pauline–like cliffhanger serial that is Hillary Clinton’s career, she has once again escaped and is declaring herself safe.

A strong debate performance — aided by chief rival Bernie Sanders’s dismissal of her e-mail scandal — has Clinton backers claiming the scandal is a dead issue in the Democratic primaries. Clinton’s pollster, Joel Berenson, notes that some 75 percent of Democrats approve of her, even though 31 percent of them also think she is lying about the e-mail scandal. Her questioners on the House Benghazi Committee, this line of thinking goes, have revealed their partisanship, and she ought to have no trouble besting them in her appearance before the committee this Thursday.

Not so fast. An intelligence source told Fox News the FBI is focusing on evidence that Clinton may have engaged in “gross negligence” in her mishandling of government documents, a violation of the Espionage Act. FBI agents are also looking at obstruction-of-justice allegations. More than 400 e-mails containing classified information flowed through Hillary’s homebrew server, but she continues to insist that she handled no classified material on it. But the mishandling-of-government-documents charge doesn’t even require that any of them be classified.

As for Hillary’s new political peril, Vice President Biden leaked his interest in running for president to columnist Maureen Dowd in early August, knowing that the e-mail revelations would spool out over months. As new revelations are pried out of the State Department, the scandal has taken on new dimension. All appearances to the contrary, its resolution is still beyond Clinton’s control: It lies with the FBI and the national-security establishment, as it always has. Biden might not enter the primaries now, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t fully aware new twists in the story could have party leaders begging him to jump in and replace a badly crippled front-runner at some point in the near future.

RELATED: Hillary’s Server Is the Smoking Gun

The fundamental danger Clinton faces is that the professional investigators digging into her e-mail server are some of the least politicized people in Washington. Some are old enough to remember all the intelligence problems the Bill Clinton administration caused, from misplacing the nuclear-launch codes to conducting blackmail-bait conversations with Monica Lewinsky over unsecured phone lines monitored by Russia and the Israelis.

It’s déjà vu all over again, as the late Yogi Berra might say. Investigators are just beginning to learn how much highly classified material flowed through Clinton’s private server, which at least three different countries attempted to hack, according to the Associated Press. While those attempts were apparently blocked by anti-hacking software, her server lacked such software for more than three months during 2013, during which time it was clearly vulnerable to cyber attacks from foreign governments and private hackers.

‘That’s the holiest of holies inside CIA — the true identity of a secret source.’

Two new revelations make matters far worse. In a letter to the ranking Democrat on the Benghazi Committee, its chairman, Trey Gowdy, has revealed newly uncovered e-mails indicating that Clinton knew of her close confidant Sid Blumenthal’s business interests in Libya at the very time Blumenthal was privately lobbying her to push for U.S. military action against Moammar Qaddafi — action from which he stood to profit. As part of her e-mail exchange with Blumenthal, Clinton forwarded the name of a confidential CIA source to staff at the State Department through her insecure server.

The revelations rang alarm bells throughout the intelligence community. Former CIA counsel John Rizzo told MSNBC that the protection of human-intelligence assets is the agency’s most vital task. “That’s the holiest of holies inside CIA — the true identity of a secret source,” he said. “Even inside CIA, in e-mails, internal e-mails, or cables, or even conversations, you never mention, you never talk about the true name of the source.” Failure to do so, he said, “could be literally lethal.” Just recall the furor created in Washington by the public unmasking of Valerie Plame, who at the time was not an active intelligence asset but a mere desk-bound CIA analyst.

RELATED: Server Company Employee Saw ‘Shady’ Cover-Up Behind Clinton’s Requests

Michael Isikoff, the investigative journalist who became famous for his role in uncovering the Lewinsky scandal, told MSNBC’s Morning Joe that the e-mail revealing the CIA asset’s name was “evidence of a federal crime by somebody.” He cautioned he wasn’t yet sure by whom. “All we know at this point is that Secretary Clinton forwarded that e-mail to a colleague at the State Department.”

#share#No doubt the Benghazi committee will also have questions about Clinton’s exchanges with Blumenthal, her longtime policy whisperer, over U.S. policy in Libya. “At the same time that Blumenthal was pushing Secretary Clinton to war in Libya,” Gowdy’s letter notes, “he was privately pushing a business interest of his own in Libya that stood to profit from contracts with the new Libyan government — a government that would exist only after a successful U.S. intervention in Libya that deposed Qaddafi.”

The implications of this Blumenthal revelation are huge, as the Washington Free Beacon points out:

Among the newly revealed (Benghazi) e-mails were a pair of messages from July 2011 in which Blumenthal described efforts to secure Libyan government contracts for Osprey Global Solutions, a company in which Blumenthal has admitted to having a financial interest.

Blumenthal warned Clinton that French companies were looking to scoop up security contracts from the Transitional National Council, the revolutionary government of the Libyan resistance, and plugged Osprey’s ability to be an American counterweight.

“It puts Americans in a central role without being direct battle combatants,” Blumenthal wrote of Osprey’s TNC contract. He described his efforts in “putting this arrangement together through a series of connections, linking the Libyans to Osprey and keeping it moving.”

Clinton forwarded that message to Jake Sullivan, her deputy chief of staff, and asked to discuss it later.

E-mails also show that Clinton actively promoted security arrangements that might have benefitted Osprey. Blumenthal told Clinton in an April 2011 e-mail that Libyan revolutionary leaders were “considering the possibility of hiring private security firms to help train and organize their forces.”

Clinton forwarded that e-mail to Sullivan, adding, “the idea of using private security experts to arm the opposition should be considered.”

A former congressman who served on the House Intelligence Committee tells me he is appalled by these newest e-mail revelations. “The Clintons don’t support privatization, except possibly when they want to have State Department diplomacy serve private interests linked to Sid Blumenthal and the Clinton Foundation,” he says. “Iran-Contra began as an off-the-books operation involving private contractors, and these e-mails beg for the Committee to dig deeper and see what else is there.”

#related#That won’t be easy. Clintonistas are already mounting a full-blown counter-offensive, seizing on House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s now-infamous boasting about the damage the Benghazi Committee has caused Clinton as evidence that the investigation should be shut down.

But the FBI isn’t going away or curbing its interest in getting to the bottom of Clinton’s private server. The intelligence community takes national security very seriously — and it is unlikely to pull many punches when faced with security breaches.

The final decision on what laws or regulations Clinton violated will be up to President Obama’s Justice Department. Until then, it’s safe to expect further embarrassing revelations at a minimum, and to assume that Biden and other potential late entries will be monitoring the situation carefully.

The one thing that’s always a sure bet in those Perils of Pauline shorts is that another installment — with another crisis — lies just around the corner.

— John Fund is National Review Online’s national-affairs correspondent. 

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