Nearly every day fresh revelations emerge in the federal investigation of the national security and presidential records that Donald Trump purloined from the White House. So far, his alibis have been exposed one after another as empty, and we have seen no adequate public reckoning of why he took those papers, what he meant to do with them, how some went missing, or even exactly how many documents he hijacked to his Florida estate.
As more and more evidence of the former president’s reckless and potentially criminal misconduct comes to light, he and his defenders keep pointing to “her emails.” They insist that because the Justice Department declined prosecution of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after a long and thorough probe of how she handled allegedly classified information, there should be no investigation, let alone indictment or conviction of Trump.
But while we don’t yet know the extent or nature of Trump’s abuse of classified documents, we can determine how many were found by investigators, after exhaustive searches, among Clinton’s thousands of State Department emails.
The accurate and definitive answer is zero – although few if any news outlets have informed the public of that startling fact. Moreover, it is a fact that the Trump administration itself confirmed three years ago.
In the recent coverage that references her emails, former FBI Director James Comey is sometimes quoted as saying that of the 33,000 Clinton emails examined by bureau investigators, three had classification markings. That’s less than one-hundredth of one percent, and not worth comparing to Trump’s malfeasance anyway, but it’s still false -- apparently meant to bolster Comey’s absurd claim that other Clinton emails were “classified” although never marked as such.
Those three State Department documents were “call sheets,” innocuous memos reminding Clinton to make scheduled phone calls. During her FBI interview, investigators showed her one of those memos, reminding her to place a condolence call to the president of Malawi--not exactly a top secret matter. As Comey himself later admitted, any classification marking on that sheet had been wrongly applied.
In short, the three supposedly classified documents attributed to her emails were barely even confidential, let alone secret or subject to the sanctions of the Espionage Act.
Still, the hunting of Hillary never ends and – amid regular threats to her by Trump when he was president -- inevitably resumed after the FBI investigation concluded. What has been overlooked is that “her emails” and those of her State Department aides became the target of not one but two departmental probes that picked up where her exoneration by the Justice Department left off.
The first round, which began under Rex Tillerson, Trump’s first Secretary of State, opened with an inquiry into a claim of 41 “security incidents” attributed to Clinton and concluded, after months of argument and appeals by her attorneys at Williams & Connolly, that none of those alleged incidents was valid, though she shouldn’t have used a private email server. In that respect her conduct was no different from her Republican predecessor, the late Colin Powell, who advised her to use private email, or many officials in the Bush White House, including Karl Rove.
The second State Department review commenced with more fanfare in 2019 under Tillerson’s unscrupulous successor Mike Pompeo, who, it is worth noting, soon came under official scrutiny himself for gross and self-serving misuse of State Department resources. By then, the hypocrisy behind Republican indignation over “her emails” had been highlighted by massive, repeated security breaches in the Trump White House, where numerous officials , including Ivanka Trump, unlawfully used private email accounts and normal protective protocols were routinely flouted.
No doubt Pompeo, a veteran of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, hoped to find something, anything to arraign Clinton. But again, in the end, there was zero, zilch, nada. Although the second review began with a July 31, 2019 notice from State Department officials that they “suspected” Clinton might be responsible for 12 classified “spillages,” this investigation concluded nine weeks later that she did not “bear any individual culpability” for those incidents.
Again, the overarching absurdity of the State Department and FBI investigations lay in the fact that nearly all of the documents at issue had been classified retroactively – meaning they had carried no markings identifying them as such when Clinton handled them. Comey's assertion that documents can somehow be deemed inherently secret, without proper markings or any classification history whatsoever, is extremely dangerous and hostile to the concept of open democratic governance. It is an idea that should never have been entertained by a free press.
Nobody in their right mind would hold Clinton, or any official, to be culpable under those circumstances.
The same cannot be said for Trump in the current documents scandal, as must be obvious to anyone who has seen that photograph of the folders, clearly marked “TOP SECRET,” strewn around his office floor at Mar-a-Lago, or the folders emptied of their contents, who knows where.
Despite the hysterical accusations that persist to this day, Hillary Clinton was repeatedly judged to be innocent of jeopardizing national security, including twice by the Trump administration. It now appears frighteningly obvious that Donald Trump is not nearly so innocent.
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