On Monday, in response to a request I made last week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said he would not refrain from giving classified information to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign. That’s dangerous. Here’s why he should reconsider:
One thing is clear from the FBI’s investigation of Clinton: She recklessly mishandled classified information.
Clinton set up multiple unauthorized servers from which she sent and received tens of thousands of sensitive government emails, including over 100 that had classified information when they were sent.
Clinton’s actions may have given our enemies access to intelligence vital to our national security. The FBI found hostile actors could have accessed classified information sent and received by Clinton, her staff and their contacts. In fact, the FBI confirmed hostile actors did gain access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Clinton was in regular contact. FBI Director James B. Comey said a standard Gmail account would have been more secure than hers.
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The FBI’s recommendation not to pursue charges against Clinton rests on the belief she did not intend to endanger national security. Instead, Comey called her and her staff “extremely careless.” But Clinton’s actions seem careful – careful to place her interests over national security. Setting up unauthorized email servers is quite an undertaking. Transmitting thousands of government emails does not amount to a couple thoughtless mistakes but a series of choices made over several years.
Moreover, it wasn’t just Clinton’s job to know what was classified – it was her job to decide what was classified. It’s safe to say she would know a classified document when she saw it. And the guidelines for classification at the State Department are pretty straightforward.
Furthermore, the FBI investigation suggests Clinton may have lied to Congress and did lie to the American people. She claimed there was one device. She used multiple. She claimed she returned all work-related emails to the State Department. Thousands were not. She claimed there were no emails marked “classified” on her server, but Comey said the FBI found multiple so-marked. We will never know how far-reaching the damage is because her legal team deleted thousands of unrecoverable emails.
The FBI’s recommendation against criminal charges is puzzling, and I have asked Comey to release all his findings. He has said his decision was “not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person...would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions.” There is no legal requirement to give candidates intelligence briefings, so it’s reasonable for her to lose this privilege.
As the presumptive Democratic nominee, Clinton is set to begin receiving classified intelligence briefings immediately following the Democratic National Convention this month. Clapper has refused my request to suspend these briefings, but the American people need to know what accountability Clinton will face – and what safeguards will be put in place to protect this information. If she is elected, those briefings can resume, allowing her more than two months to be fully briefed before she is sworn in as president. Until that time, given Clinton’s record of extraordinary lack of discretion and judgment, the risk is just too great.
Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, is speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.