My July Fourth optimism about America’s future lasted less than twelve hours, from colorful fireworks splashed across a South Texas sky to Tuesday morning’s whitewash of Hillary Clinton.
But maybe that’s just me because, for the best part of a 25-year military career, I was a special agent in the Army equivalent of the FBI. Most of my experience took place during the Cold War but even today, it is impossible to read the espionage laws without recalling that Congress remains deadly serious about protecting our secrets.
Just look at Title 18, Section 793 (f): “Whoever, being entrusted with or having lawful possession or control of any document, writing, code book … or information, relating to the national defense, (1) through gross negligence permits the same to be removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of his trust … Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.”
Bottom Line: If you are in government, protecting our secrets is what you do.
Halfway through my military career, my clearances were updated and I was “read on” to special access programs which went beyond Top Secret. I still remember those jaw-dropping briefings and the no-nonsense warrant officer who witnessed my signature. “Captain, if you ever allow these secrets to be compromised or lost, even by accident, then you can expect to end your career in the federal penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth.”
That was it, no exceptions or any suggestion that the espionage laws could somehow be bent for the higher-ups. Far from it: Real leaders were always expected to set the example, but especially in government hierarchies finely attuned to knowing what the boss really expects. Every general I ever worked for demanded both tight security standards and honest, accurate travel vouchers: Any deviation from either one was apt to be fatal.
But on Tuesday morning, FBI Director James Comey described something that went far beyond either accident or deviation. What Hillary Clinton had clearly done in setting up her private email server was a scandalous repudiation of her baseline responsibility as a Cabinet-level official. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was an original classification authority; that is, she had the authority to classify or to de-classify information she determined to be in the national interest. Implicit in that authority is the responsibility to protect those crucial jewels of information on which lives may well depend.
That is the principal responsibility where Hillary Clinton failed so miserably. Director Comey described his agents’ extraordinary, year-long investigation into the debacle: reconstructing the deleted email trails, cross-checking them against other government officials and even assessing if foreign hackers accessed the Clinton homebrew server. And yet nothing in such a shocking case could equal Mr. Comey’s appalling conclusion: “Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”
Are you serious, Mr. Comey? Did you even listen to the data your agents uncovered, underwritten at every step by the American taxpayer? If you did, then how do you justify a conclusion so obviously out of sync with the facts? It is as if you had played an elaborate game of Clue for an entire year. But rather than announcing proudly on Tuesday morning that the murderer was Mrs. Peacock in the Conservatory with a candle-stick, you instead declared the game over: No charges, no murderer and really nothing much to worry about.
May I offer a slightly different conclusion? Washington bureaucrats instinctively protect their own agencies. President Obama had already foreshadowed the outcome of the Clinton Case by casually assuring the public that no harm had been done to national security – a prejudicial indicator the military calls “command influence.” Then there was Mr. Comey’s immediate boss, Loretta Lynch, who recently met with President Clinton under circumstances suggesting he might have called in old favors for Hillary’s benefit.
Director Comey was probably correct to conclude that he was facing third down and long yardage. Small wonder that he punted and left the ultimate decision on Hillary Clinton’s guilt to the American voter.