I’m not a national security lawyer and lack any on-the-job military or intelligence experience. But I can’t help thinking that one of the biggest reasons to be outraged about the scandal stemming from Hillary Clinton’s handling of official emails as Secretary of State is being missed.
There’s no doubt that Clinton’s campaign is on the line here. If the emails already found on her private server or thumb drive, or yet to be found or recovered, have contained classified material, she likely faces legal liabilities and would almost certainly need to bow out of the White House race. Two related, emerging Clinton defenses – that these materials actually weren’t sensitive in real-world terms, and that the government classifies too indiscriminately – should be moot points. Making and acting on such judgments isn’t an individual’s call. Ask retired top U.S. General and former CIA chief David Petraeus, and former Director of Central Intelligence John Deutch.
The former was convicted of sharing classified information with his lover, received a suspended sentence and a hefty fine, and avoided jail time thanks only to a plea bargain. The latter was found to have used inadequately protected computers in his home and while on travel to work with classified materials. An appointee of President Bill Clinton, Deutch avoided criminal prosecution due to a Justice Department decision considered so controversial that the former spy chief was still in legal jeopardy until January, 2001 – when he was spared by a president pardon.
Hillary Clinton, of course, set up an entire private computer system for handling official emails – an offense that’s arguably much more serious legally, and more threatening to national security, than those committed by Petraeus and Deutch.
Politically speaking, however, neither Petraeus nor Deutch was running for office – though Petraeus was often mentioned as a potential political star. Hillary Clinton’s quest for the presidency means that her likely computer problems aren’t only legal. Her judgment has already been called into question, and is sure to be slammed further the more she and her defenders insist that sensitive material wasn’t classified when she received it. Even if true, Clinton’s failure to understand that such memos and emails needed special protection mocks her claim to possess the experience needed to lead effectively.
But as badly as all of these charges reflect on Clinton, the under-appreciated scandal, as I see it, is that her cavalier attitude toward official information and procedures is now diverting valuable government manpower and resources that are urgently needed to handle much more dangerous threats to national security.
With the nation confronted with ISIS and other terrorist groups striking targets overseas and inspiring attacks in the United States, nuclear challenges from Iran and North Korea, and belligerence from China and Russia, it’s appalling that anyone in the intelligence community or the FBI or the State Department is spending any time or money on figuring out whether and to what extent Hillary Clinton broke the rules. And the longer these issues remain unresolved, the longer this unconscionable and dangerous waste of U.S. defense and intelligence wherewithal will continue.