BY DIANE DIMOND
What’s that old axiom? Prosecutors have so much power they could indict a ham sandwich? Apparently that does not apply when it comes to career politicians who are seeking the highest office in the land.
Minutes after FBI Director James Comey’s news conference, at which he outlined the bureau’s yearlong investigation of Hillary Clinton’s handling of top-secret and classified emails (An “extremely careless” act, he said.), my email blew up with reactions from within the Department of Justice.
“I am, literally, embarrassed to be a DOJ attorney,” one federal prosecutor wrote me. “I used to be so proud but not anymore.”
For days after Comey’s announcement that “no reasonable prosecutor” would take the case against Clinton to court because her intent to break the law could not be proven, my online conversations with insiders continued. All of them said the law does not require a prosecutor to prove intent, and they couldn’t figure out why Comey even mentioned that. Several said that after hearing the evidence the FBI gathered they would be happy to take the Clinton case to court.
“I’ve held people accountable for 20 years with the full force of federal law behind me and they stood no chance most of the time,” one career federal prosecutor wrote. “But for HRC the rules simply do not matter. This is a devastating message to us on the front lines, a truly terrible feeling.”
Even if you’ve had it up to here with news about the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s handling of classified information while she was secretary of state, be sure you understand the law that applies to those who mishandle secret government documents. It’s Title 18 of the U.S. Code, section 793(f) (edited here for space):
“Whoever, being entrusted with … information, relating to the national defense … through gross negligence permits the same to be removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of his trust, or to be lost, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed … Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.”
You decide if you think Clinton committed gross negligence by allowing sensitive national security documents to be removed from the “proper place of custody” or lost, stolen or destroyed.
You decide whether Clinton’s repeated claims that she “never sent or received classified material” via her unsecured server are true. The FBI director said that’s exactly what she did.
You decide whether Clinton told the truth when she repeatedly claimed she had turned over all her work-related emails to the State Department. The FBI director said his agents found “several thousand” such emails that were lost in the so-called “slack space” of the multiple private servers Clinton used over the years.
And you decide whether Clinton was truthful when she stated, “There were no security breaches.” The FBI director said Clinton had used her email extensively while traveling abroad where we have “sophisticated adversaries.” “We assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail account,” he said.
When do we hold our politicians accountable for what they do as public servants? What do we do when they look right at us and lie?
Secrecy is a revered trait among those who populate Washington, D.C. And the Obama administration has displayed an iron fist when it comes to enforcing punishment for those who have mishandled and revealed classified documents. It has ferreted out and prosecuted more low-level government workers under the 1917 Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined. But if the accused are in the top political echelon in Washington, then they seem to get a pass.
Former CIA Director Leon Panetta spoke about classified “top secret” information at an awards ceremony in 2013, revealing the name of the Navy SEAL unit that captured and killed Osama bin Laden. He faced no repercussions. General David Petraeus, another former head of the CIA, shared classified information with his biographer/lover. He reached an agreement to plead guilty to a simple misdemeanor and was sentenced to a fine and two years of probation. Today, Petraeus continues to advise the White House on the fight against the Islamic State.
One federal prosecutor I spoke with was particularly irked by what Director Comey said at the end of his news conference: “He said, in effect, ‘Oh, and by the way. You other government people out there, you better not think this is a free ride for you. … Just because we’re not prosecuting her doesn’t mean we won’t prosecute you!'”
Rack up another one for the idea that in America if you’re rich and politically connected the law doesn’t necessarily apply to you.