From the start, since we first learned about the home-brew email system then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set up for conducting her government business, I’ve argued that she very likely committed felony violations of federal law. Yet it appears I underestimated the gravity of her misconduct — ironically, by giving her the benefit of the doubt on a significant aspect of the scheme.
When the scandal went public in March 2015, Mrs. Clinton — already the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee — held a press conference to explain herself. Among other well-documented whoppers, she maintained that she had never stored classified documents on, or transmitted them via, her private server. I theorized that she was exploiting the public’s unfamiliarity with how classified information is handled in government systems:
In the government, classified documents are maintained on separate, super-highly secured systems. … Mrs. Clinton would not have been able to access classified documents even from a “.gov” account [i.e., a non-classified State Department account], much less from her private account — she’d need to use the classified system. In fact, many government officials with security clearances read “hard copies” of classified documents in facilities designed for that purpose rather than accessing them on computers.
[S]ince we’re dealing with Clintonian parsing here, we must consider the distinction between classified documents and classified information — the latter being what is laid out in the former. It is not enough for a government official with a top-secret clearance to refrain from storing classified documents on private e-mail; the official is also forbidden to discuss the information contained in those documents. The fact that Mrs. Clinton says she did not store classified documents on her private server, which is very likely true, does not discount the distinct possibility that she discussed classified matters in private e-mails.
In sum, knowing how physically difficult it is to move classified documents from the secured communications systems to the non-secured ones, I figured Mrs. Clinton’s claim that she had never done that was “very likely true.” Instead, I reasoned that her main violation would be privately communicating the substance of the information contained in classified documents, not transmitting the documents themselves.
While that would still be a felony, it was one she hoped to obscure and, if called on it, to dismiss as unintentional sloppiness by a busy government official, not willful flouting of the law.
My bad: The Clintons have made careers of defying our assumptions about how low they can go. I should have reminded myself that anything was possible.
Now, Paul Sperry reports that the FBI is probing indications that Mrs. Clinton did precisely what I assumed, because of the time and purposeful effort involved, she wouldn’t have done.
In his New York Post column over the weekend, Mr. Sperry explains the difference between the government systems for classified information — SIPRNet and JWICS (i.e., “Secret Internet Protocol Router Network” and “Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System”) — and its NIPRNet system (i.e., the Non-classified Internet Protocol Router Network).
As I noted in my National Review weekend column, we now know that highly classified information from the secure systems ended up on Clinton’s private, unsecured (and relatively easy to hack) system. That, however, is not the half of it. Sperry reports that the actual documents themselves appear to have ended up in Clinton’s unsecured system — but carefully shorn of their classified markings.
Quoting a veteran Diplomatic Security Service special agent named Raymond Fournier, Sperry elaborates:
[I]t’s clear from some of the classified emails made public that someone on Clinton’s staff essentially “cut and pasted” content from classified cables into the messages sent to her. The classified markings are gone, but the content is classified at the highest levels — and so sensitive in nature that “it would have been obvious to Clinton.” Most likely the information was, in turn, e-mailed to her via NIPRNet.
To work around the closed, classified systems, which are accessible only by secure desktop workstations whose hard drives must be removed and stored overnight in a safe, Clinton’s staff would have simply retyped classified information from the systems into the non-classified system or taken a screen shot of the classified document, Fournier said. “Either way, it’s totally illegal.”
It takes a very conscious effort to move a classified e-mail or cable from the classified systems over to the unsecured open system and then send it to Hillary Clinton’s personal e-mail account[.] … That’s no less than a two-conscious-step process.
Sperry believes the FBI is focusing on three top Clinton aides at the State Department — chief-of-staff Cheryl Mills and deputies Huma Abedin and Jake Sullivan — as the potential culprits who carried out Clinton’s suspected scheme to defeat classified information protections.
An already reported string of email exchanges between Clinton and Sullivan is particularly damning in terms of Clinton’s intent and knowledge: Clinton directed her aide to “Turn into nonpaper w no identifying heading and send non-secure.”
As Sperry translates:
Clinton instructed Sullivan to convert a classified document into an unclassified email attachment by scanning it into an unsecured computer and sending it to her without any classified markings.
Note the evolution of Mrs. Clinton’s talking points. Remember, her initial claim was that there was no classified information stored or transmitted on her private system. When that became untenable — i.e., the moment the emails she chose to retain (as opposed to the 30,000-plus she destroyed) started becoming public — Clinton morphed it into an insistence that nothing “marked classified” had been transmitted or stored.
I made the apparent mistake of giving her the benefit of the doubt: I thought she was guilty of felony mishandling of classified information, but I assumed (wrongly, it seems) that she was being forced by her reckless disregard for the rules to retreat to what she hoped would be a more plausible defense.
Now, it appears there was nothing reckless about it.
Mind you, even the reckless mishandling of classified information is a serious crime. But all indications are that Mrs. Clinton was not grossly negligent. This was a thought-out, quite intentional violation of law. It now looks as if her scheme involved erasing the markings from some documents because she (a) knew what she was doing was a serious violation of law, (b) anticipated the possibility of being called on it, and (c) hoped to set up a fraudulent defense that she lacked knowledge that the documents were classified.
That would be willful criminality, not just criminal recklessness. What is reckless is the Democratic party’s rolling of the dice on Hillary Clinton with no Plan B … just a Plan Bernie.