Bernie Sanders may think the American people are "sick and tired" of hearing about Hillary Clinton's "damn emails." Maybe he's right. But the American people certainly should care about Clinton's emails. They're scandalous — and potentially very dangerous.
Last winter, a congressional investigation into the sacking of an American consulate in Benghazi, Libya — and the death of four Americans — on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks discovered that as secretary of state, Clinton had a hidden, private email server on which she conducted all of her official email communications. Clinton long maintained that she did nothing wrong, and that none of her emails contained particularly sensitive information.
Within weeks, it became apparent that Clinton had not told the truth. Investigators began redacting her published emails for containing classified information. The inspector general of the intelligence community, Charles McCullough, determined that more than 1,300 emails on the homebrew server stored in the Clinton house in Chappaqua, New York, had classified information, including some on highly restricted "special access programs."
In the past week, the State Department — which had gone along with Clinton in claiming that the information wasn't classified at transmission — had to acknowledge that they themselves determined that several emails in the latest tranche contained top secret information. In fact, State announced that they couldn't even release redacted versions of these messages, in case malicious operators could match them to copies of the Clinton email system that intelligence services assume exist.
This is a big deal. These classified emails could jeopardize "sources, methods, and lives," in the words of Fox News. John Schindler, an intelligence analyst writing for The Observer, independently verified that while reporting more specifics. The emails exposed "Holy Grail items of American espionage such as the true names of Central Intelligence Agency intelligence officers serving overseas under cover," Schindler reported. "Worse, some of those exposed are serving under non-official cover."
Clinton admitted that she set up the private email system for her "convenience" — it was easier than operating another email account through the secured State Department system. As a price for this "convenience," Clinton seems to have personally retained custody of classified material in both the hardware and database in her house without authorization or proper security, until surrendering both to the State Department and FBI last summer.
This is potentially very, very bad. Unlawful retention of classified material of any level is a crime under 18 USC 1924 with up to a year in prison on each count. Exposure of sensitive national security data through either gross negligence or malice is a felony under 18 USC 793, which carries ten years in prison on each count. The exposure of NOC-listed agents could violate the Intelligence Identities Act of 1982. Two people have been convicted under this statute; John Kiriakou, the former CIA agent turned whistleblower on waterboarding, got out of prison just as this scandal broke in February 2015.
If this sounds familiar, it should: A decade ago, a similar national scandal over the handling of classified material broke out into the open, thanks in large part to the roiling controversy of America's 2003 invasion of Iraq. Joseph Wilson, a diplomat who had opposed the war, wrote a column in The New York Times criticizing the Bush administration's analysis of intelligence regarding Saddam Hussein's weapons program. A week later, Robert Novak wrote a column accusing Wilson's wife of arranging Wilson's assignment for the probe into Team Bush's much-dissected yellowcake uranium claims, outing her as a CIA employee who had operated under "non-official cover" — a status considered to be classified information, and potentially dangerous to both Plame and national security.
The purposeful public revelation of Plame's identity touched off a furor in Washington over mishandling classified information and potentially putting American resources, methods, and personnel at risk. The CIA demanded that the Department of Justice begin a criminal probe, which began shortly after Novak's column appeared. President George W. Bush expressed a desire to get to the bottom of the leak. "I want to know who it is," Bush declared, "and if the person has violated the law, the person will be taken care of." In the end, though, the actual leaker (Richard Armitage) escaped any criminal or civil consequences, while Lewis "Scooter" Libby got convicted of obstruction of justice in 2007 and sentenced to 30 months in prison. Bush commuted the sentence before Libby began serving it, but refused in the end to pardon his vice president's close aide, leaving the fines and the convictions on Libby's record.
Yes, Clinton's email scandal is different. She didn't purposefully and publicly out anyone in the pages of a national newspaper. But playing fast and loose with sensitive, classified information is still very bad.
In the year since the Clinton email scandal was initially exposed, neither the president nor the attorney general have acted at all. Barack Obama has publicly dismissed concerns over the emails, while Loretta Lynch has given no indication as to whether she will pursue the massive and serial violations of federal laws. It is time to ask why. It's not unreasonable to infer a former Cabinet official and current Democratic frontrunner to succeed Obama rises above the laws applied to other Americans, and that she is exempt from close scrutiny by a politicized Department of Justice.
Americans should demand that the rule of law take precedence over the protection of the governing class. Otherwise, government becomes just another spoils system for the powerful, and the rule of whim and favor will destroy liberty and justice for most.