WASHINGTON, July 5, 2016 — FBI Director James Comey’s statement on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server contains observations that would be damning and career-ending for most people.
Clinton, however, is not most people. For her the big news is that she will not be indicted, and that is as close to an endorsement of good character as she could have expected. She will march into the presidential campaign branded as careless with national security, but not a proven criminal.
Clinton supporters have been prone to argue that Clinton made a mistake for which she’s apologized, but it really wasn’t that important. Government servers can be hacked, Colin Powell also used private email, and there’s no evidence she had classified information on her server or that it was hacked.
The earlier State Department inspector general’s report already rebutted some of these points, but Comey’s reply to the others is sharp:
Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.
He goes on:
There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation. In addition to this highly sensitive information, we also found information that was properly classified as Secret by the U.S. Intelligence Community at the time it was discussed on e-mail (that is, excluding the later “up-classified” e-mails).
None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government—or even with a commercial service like Gmail.
Clinton’s system was in no way as safe as a government server, nor even as secure as Gmail. She was oblivious to security concerns. Were she “reasonable,” she would have known better.
Comey raises a related point that goes to Clinton’s claim of unique experience and competence. The Clinton State Department was generally lax about dealing with classified information.
Was Clinton’s system hacked? Comey says there’s no evidence that it was—but:
But, given the nature of the system and of the actors potentially involved, we assess that we would be unlikely to see such direct evidence. We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial e-mail accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account. We also assess that Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent. She also used her personal e-mail extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related e-mails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries. Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail account.
In this case, “possible” means the probability isn’t one, but the odds that it wasn’t hacked are as small as the odds that you’ll win the lottery.
If this were anyone else, there would be no possibility she would ever get a security clearance again, but Clinton is not anyone else. She is the beneficiary of a double standard. Comey says,
To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that is not what we are deciding now.
What the FBI is deciding now is whether there’s enough evidence of intentional criminality to justify an indictment. And the answer to that is “no.”
For anyone else, the FBI’s findings would be career-ending. No one else found responsible for behavior like Clinton’s would ever have a security clearance or a position of trust in the U.S. government again.
Donald Trump said in January, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” That comment was widely condemned, but if the FBI’s findings about Clinton don’t trouble voters, she could join Trump on Fifth Avenue to shoot at voters and it would be seen as “an unexceptional and temporary lapse in judgment.” But only because she did it with Trump.
“Negligent, incompetent, but unindicted: Vote Hillary!”
In this dismaying election year, that might not be bad as political slogans go.