Legal experts see no criminal trouble for Clinton

Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Hillary Clinton

WASHINGTON -- Experts in government secrecy law see almost no possibility of criminal action against Hillary Clinton or her top aides in connection with now-classified information sent over unsecure email while she was secretary of state, based on the public evidence thus far.

Some Republicans, including leading GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, have called Clinton's actions criminal and compared her situation to that of David Petraeus, the former CIA director who was prosecuted after giving top secret information to his paramour.

Others have cited the case of another past CIA chief, John Deutch, who took highly classified material home.

But in those cases, no one disputed the information was highly classified and in many cases top secret.

Petraeus pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor; Deutch was pardoned by President Bill Clinton.

By contrast, there is no evidence of emails stored in Hillary Clinton's private server bearing classified markings. State Department officials say they don't believe emails she sent or received included material classified at the time.

And even if other government officials dispute that assertion, it is difficult to prove anyone knowingly mishandled secrets.

"How can you be on notice if there are no markings?" said Leslie McAdoo, a lawyer who frequently handles security-clearance cases.

Clinton's critics have focused on the unusual, home email server Clinton used while in office and suggested she should have known that secrets were improperly coursing through an unsecure system, leaving them easily hackable for foreign intelligence agencies.

But to prove a crime, the government would have to demonstrate Clinton or aides knew they were mishandling the information -- not that she should have known.

A case would be possible if material emerges that is so sensitive Clinton must have known it was highly classified, marked or not, McAdoo said.

But no such email has surfaced.

And among the thousands of documents made public, nothing appears near the magnitude of the Top Secret material Petraeus and Deutch mishandled.

Trump last week argued differently, saying Petraeus' case involved "far less important documents."

Clinton's documents, he told Fox News, "were more highly secret, they were more important, there were more of them. It's really General Petraeus on steroids."

Petraeus, a married former four-star general who led the CIA from 2011 to 2012, admitted he gave his biographer and lover, Paula Broadwell, journals containing Top Secret information.

These included "the identifies of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings and discussions with the president of the United States," according to court documents.

Petraeus also admitted lying to the FBI, while his emails showed he knew the journals contained highly classified information.

He pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material, a misdemeanor.

Although eligible for up to one year in prison, he was sentenced to two years' probation and a $100,000 fine.

Broadwell didn't publish the material.

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