Aides shouldn’t take the fall for her self-serving actions.
Hillary Clinton’s Super Tuesday victory gives her a clear path to the Democratic presidential nomination, but Bernie Sanders has never been her biggest obstacle to the White House. Her real liability is an email scandal that has put her in legal jeopardy.
Camp Clinton is arguing that the State Department’s Monday release of the final batch of emails ends the controversy over her private server. Yet that release is merely the end of one judicially mandated exercise overseen by a bureaucracy friendly to the former Secretary of State. The real action is in the courts, the FBI and Justice Department.
But even the friendly State Department review has been damaging. Of 30,000 emails Mrs. Clinton turned over to State, we now know that 2,093 were classified as “confidential” or “secret.” Another 22 were classified “top secret”—and State withheld their contents from public release. Mrs. Clinton keeps claiming these were “retroactively” classified, but that’s been vigorously disputed by intelligence community members, who note that at least some of the top-secret emails refer to intelligence projects classified from the beginning.
The latest release provides fresh evidence that Mrs. Clinton knew her server held national secrets. In one email from April 2012, aide Jake Sullivan forwarded Mrs. Clinton a blog post from a jihadist group. Mrs. Clinton replied: “If not classified or otherwise inappropriate, can you send to the NYTimes reporters who interviewed me today?”
The fact that Mrs. Clinton had to ask if this one was classified suggests she knew that people were sending sensitive information to her unsecure server. The new email dump also shows then-Sen. John Kerry sending Mrs. Clinton intelligence he’d obtained from top Pakistani generals.
There’s more to come. Federal judges have spent the past year doing what the State Department wouldn’t—that is, upholding the Freedom of Information Act. Judge Emmet Sullivan recently granted Judicial Watch discovery into whether State and Mrs. Clinton deliberately thwarted FOIA laws.
Judge Sullivan said from the bench: “Here you have Mrs. Clinton and [Clinton aide Huma] Abedin and their private counsel deciding, after neither Mrs. Clinton nor Ms. Abedin were government employees, what emails are federal records, and what emails are not. It just boggles the mind that the State Department allowed this circumstance to arise in the first place.” Yes it does.
Discovery could lead to depositions, interrogatories and new documents that show who approved Mrs. Clinton’s unsecure email arrangement, and who tried to conceal it. Judge Sullivan said he may also issue a subpoena requiring Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Abedin to turn over the entire email system they used.
Many other lawsuits are also proceeding and could provide answers to the many questions that Mrs. Clinton has dodged. Did she turn over all her work email? How many did she edit before giving them to State? Who had access to the server containing confidential information? Was her email hacked by foreign governments or criminals?
All of this is presumably also part of the FBI’s investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s mishandling of classified information. Attorney General Loretta Lynch last week largely dodged Congressional questions about the Clinton probe, though she did divulge that “career” attorneys are working with the FBI. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Justice has granted immunity to Bryan Pagliano, the former State Department employee who set up the private server at Mrs. Clinton’s New York home in 2009. This suggests that a grand jury may be empaneled if it isn’t underway.
Now that Mrs. Clinton is the odds-on Democratic nominee, the political stakes of all this are enormous. One excuse we are likely to hear is that Mrs. Clinton shouldn’t be held responsible for others who sent her classified information, as California Senator Dianne Feinstein recently said. In other words, let Mrs. Clinton’s aides take the fall.
But those aides—and the country—wouldn’t be in this mess if Mrs. Clinton hadn’t set up an off-grid account to evade disclosure laws and protect her messages from public scrutiny when she ran for President. Her employees can hardly be blamed for using a system she designed, and Mrs. Clinton was responsible as the senior official for knowing the classification rules.
With Donald Trump emerging as the probable GOP nominee, the political and media temptation in Washington will be to protect Mrs. Clinton and legally excuse her behavior. But the law applies equally to everyone if it means anything. These investigations need to follow their honest course and hold Mrs. Clinton accountable for her actions. The country can handle the political fallout.