Yesterday the Wall Street Journal revealed that the FBI’s criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information was zeroing in on “a series of e-mails between American diplomats in Islamabad and their superiors in Washington about whether to oppose specific drone strikes in Pakistan.” The Journal noted that the e-mails were “vaguely worded” and sent within the “often-narrow time frame” when State Department officials had an opportunity to object to CIA drone strikes.
Before we go on, let’s revisit Clinton’s words from August 26, 2015. Back then, she declared that, “I did not send classified material and I did not receive any material that was marked or designated classified, which is the way you know whether something is.”
This was a classic Clintonian defense, resting as it did on a largely irrelevant straw man – if she did not receive information “marked” or “designated” classified, and such designations are “the way you know” something is classified, then she never knowingly mishandled classified information. Yet as I (and many others) have pointed out before, Clinton’s actual legal obligation was to safeguard marked and unmarked classified information, and to fulfill that obligation she would necessarily have to know the classification of everything she handled, whether it was marked or not.
That isn’t always a particularly difficult task. When it comes to drone strikes and many other sensitive issues, it is remarkably easy to determine whether information is or should be classified. And as you read the Journal article, it becomes quite clear that all parties knew drone-strike information was classified, yet they were doing their best to evade classification requirements for the sake of speed and convenience.
The picture the Journal paints is appalling. For example, in one instance an ambassador sent a “short, cryptic note” just before Christmas indicating a drone strike was imminent, triggering a conversation among Clinton advisers “over the next few days, in which it was clear they were having the discussions in part because people were away from their offices for the holiday and didn’t have access to a classified computer.” (Emphasis added.)
No doubt it’s inconvenient to disturb Christmas festivities for the sake of national security, but the idea that classification rules should be bent to accommodate holiday plans is absurd, and it mocks the sacrifice of countless service members and other members of the national-security establishment who actually observe the rules. To substitute the use of classified computers for unsecured communications using ad hoc vague wordings as some form of primitive code is dangerously amateurish and very likely criminal.
#share#Clinton then of course compounded her offense by leaving these messages sitting on her private server. Let’s not forget the requirements of 18 U.S.C. 793(f), which makes it a crime to remove information “relating to the national defense” from its “proper place of custody.”
Make no mistake, information regarding drone strikes relates to the national defense, and a private server is not its proper place of custody.
RELATED: Clinton E-mails: Is the Fix In?
For now, the Clinton team seems to take solace in the assertion that the practice of sending “vaguely worded” e-mails about highly sensitive national-security information was allegedly “widespread” in the diplomatic corps. And there might be evidence that the FBI is buying this defense, with the Journal reporting that “several law enforcement officials” are predicting that no criminal charges will be filed, in part because “government workers at several agencies, including the departments of Defense, Justice and State, have occasionally resorted to the low-side system to give each other notice about sensitive but fast-moving events.”
#related#So, to review: If the Journal’s report is accurate, Clinton received and retained information about drone strikes that all parties knew should be communicated through secure channels. Rather than use those channels, they often – for the sake of convenience alone –chose to talk about matters as sensitive as drone strikes while trying to remain vague enough to avoid attracting attention. This is behavior that would get members of the armed forces discharged and very possibly thrown in prison. But because it is, supposedly, rampant within our most important cabinet agencies, Clinton may well get off scot-free and become the next president of the United States.
Lady Justice weeps.
— David French is an attorney, and a staff writer at National Review.