Get ready for a heapin’ helping of moral equivalence. After looking into the e-mail practices of Hillary Clinton’s predecessors at the State Department, Inspector General Steve Linick reported this week that Colin Powell and aides to Condoleezza Rice also received classified information over private e-mail. Linick urged State to have the information deleted as soon as possible:
In a letter to Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy dated Feb. 3, State Department Inspector General Steve Linick said that the State Department has determined that 12 emails examined from State’s archives contained national security information now classified “Secret” or “Confidential.” The letter was read to NBC News.
Two of the messages were sent to Powell’s personal account, and 10 were sent to personal accounts of Rice’s senior aides, the letter said.
See, Hillary’s defenders will claim, this was done all the time! It’s no big deal! Reuters reports that the IG’s findings were made public by the “top Dem on oversight panel,” almost certainly to help feed this narrative. But it’s flat-out wrong, and in fact this isn’t even entirely analogous to the secret-server scandal.
First, the fact that others have violated a law does not make other violations hunky-dory. Even these instances would be actionable, as rare as they obviously were for Powell and for Rice’s senior aides. This excuse sounds much like what parents of teenagers hear when catching their progeny in some level of rule-breaking. Everybody does it!
More specifically, NBC’s report contains a critical distinction, emphasis mine:
None of the messages were marked classified when originally sent, and none were determined to include information from the intelligence community, Linick said in the document.
The Secretary of State has significant authority to declassify information that originates within the State Department. The office does not have plenary authority, as some communications — such as those relating to foreign diplomatic exchanges — are classified by presidential executive order. However, even that information over which SecStates have that authority has to be specifically declassified, not just propagated in the open under the assumption that its status has changed.
Secretaries of State and their aides have no authority to change classification on information originating in other agencies, however. Executive orders stretching back at least to the Bill Clinton administration make that clear, as well as the formal process available to challenge classifications. Unless the originating agency declassifies the material or the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office and/or White House does so over the originating agency’s objections, the information stays classified. And anyone accessing it is bound by federal statute to handle it in the proper manner, or face criminal penalties for unauthorized retention and exposure. And the information in Hillary’s case was classified by intelligence agencies, not the State Department.
Let’s compare the situations of the three Secretaries of State. All three served four years; Powell and Rice to a lesser extent served at a time when State’s e-mail systems were in flux. Yet the IG can only find two instances of spillage involving Powell’s private e-mail account, and none involving Rice (all ten involved her aides). Hillary didn’t bother getting an official State Department account, but instead hid her communications from Congress and the courts for more than five years to thwart legitimate, constitutional oversight on State. The system she owned and kept at her house was used to retain and transmit classified information on more than one thousand, three hundred occasions. And most importantly, the information that got exposed in this system was intelligence data derived from other agencies, some of which was classified at the highest levels and put sources, methods, and agents at risk.
This story is nothing more than an attempt to misdirect Americans from the egregiously corrupt and likely criminal activities of Hillary Clinton in her efforts to cover up her activities at State.