There is no way of getting around this: According to Director James Comey (disclosure: a former colleague and longtime friend of mine), Hillary Clinton checked every box required for a felony violation of Section 793(f) of the federal penal code (Title 18): With lawful access to highly classified information she acted with gross negligence in removing and causing it to be removed it from its proper place of custody, and she transmitted it and caused it to be transmitted to others not authorized to have it, in patent violation of her trust.
Director Comey even conceded that former Secretary Clinton was “extremely careless” and strongly suggested that her recklessness very likely led to communications (her own and those she corresponded with) being intercepted by foreign intelligence services.
Yet, Director Comey recommended against prosecution of the law violations he clearly found on the ground that there was no intent to harm the United States.
In essence, in order to give Mrs. Clinton a pass, the FBI rewrote the statute, inserting an intent element that Congress did not require. The added intent element, moreover, makes no sense: The point of having a statute that criminalizes gross negligence is to underscore that government officials have a special obligation to safeguard national defense secrets; when they fail to carry out that obligation due to gross negligence, they are guilty of serious wrongdoing. The lack of intent to harm our country is irrelevant. People never intend the bad things that happen due to gross negligence.
I would point out, moreover, that there are other statutes that criminalize unlawfully removing and transmitting highly classified information with intent to harm the United States. Being not guilty (and, indeed, not even accused) of Offense B does not absolve a person of guilt on Offense A, which she has committed.
It is a common tactic of defense lawyers in criminal trials to set up a straw-man for the jury: a crime the defendant has not committed. The idea is that by knocking down a crime the prosecution does not allege and cannot prove, the defense may confuse the jury into believing the defendant is not guilty of the crime charged. Judges generally do not allow such sleight-of-hand because innocence on an uncharged crime is irrelevant to the consideration of the crimes that actually have been charged.
It seems to me that this is what the FBI has done today. It has told the public that because Mrs. Clinton did not have intent to harm the United States we should not prosecute her on a felony that does not require proof of intent to harm the United States. Meanwhile, although there may have been profound harm to national security caused by her grossly negligent mishandling of classified information, we’ve decided she shouldn’t be prosecuted for grossly negligent mishandling of classified information.
I think highly of Jim Comey personally and professionally, but this makes no sense to me.
Finally, I was especially unpersuaded by Director Comey’s claim that no reasonable prosecutor would bring a case based on the evidence uncovered by the FBI. To my mind, a reasonable prosecutor would ask: Why did Congress criminalize the mishandling of classified information through gross negligence? The answer, obviously, is to prevent harm to national security. So then the reasonable prosecutor asks: Was the statute clearly violated, and if yes, is it likely that Mrs. Clinton’s conduct caused harm to national security? If those two questions are answered in the affirmative, I believe many, if not most, reasonable prosecutors would feel obliged to bring the case.
Alternative Headline: “FBI Declares Hillary Clinton to be Complete Liar”
By Steven Hayward
I don’t expect we’ll see that headline, but Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post comes close to delivering this judgment:
Here’s the good news for Hillary Clinton: The FBI has recommended no charges be brought followings its investigation of the former secretary of state’s private email server.
Here’s the bad news: Just about everything else.
FBI director James Comey dismantled large portions of Clinton’s long-told story about her private server and what she sent or received on it during a stirring 15-minute press conference following which he took no questions. While Comey exonerated Clinton legally speaking, he provided huge amounts of fodder that could badly hamstring her in the court of public opinion.
Most importantly, Comey said that the FBI found 110 emails on Clinton’s server that were classified at the time they were sent or received. That stands in direct contradiction to Clinton’s repeated insistence she never sent or received any classified emails. And, it even stands in contrast to her amended statement that she never knowingly sent or received any classified information. . .
Comey said that Clinton had used not one but multiple private email servers during her time at State. He said that Clinton used multiple emails devices during that time. (She had offered her desire to use a single device for “convenience” as the main reason she set up the private server.) He noted that the lawyers tasked by Clinton with sorting her private emails from her professional ones never actually read all of the emails (as the FBI did in the course of its investigation). . .
It’s hard to read Comey’s statement as anything other than a wholesale rebuke of the story Clinton and her campaign team have been telling ever since the existence of her private email server came to light in the spring of 2015. She did send and receive classified emails. The setup did leave her — and the classified information on the server — subject to a possible foreign hack. She and her team did delete emails as personal that contained professional information.
About those thousands of “private” emails Hillary deleted, one of our readers sensibly asks:
One issue I have not seen addressed in the media is how a busy person could have half of her emails deemed as personal . If you are busy maybe 5 to 10 percent is a stretch but 50 percent either means she was not working at her job or hiding something probably as a result of Clinton Foundation connections – we may never find that out but any busy person understands the 50 percent is just not possible and suggests only one reasonable conclusion.