Mishandling classified information leads to prison (if your name isn't Clinton) (Update)

With the release this week of the Inspector General’s report on Hillary Clinton’s private email server we learned that a lot of the things she has said over the past year were not true. But we still have to wait for the FBI to decide whether Clinton’s behavior rises to the level of a crime. With that in mind, it’s instructive to consider how the federal government responds to cases of mishandling classified information for people other than Hillary Clinton. Today Politico has an important story on the fate of Petty Officer First Class Kristian Saucier. Saucier pleaded guilty Friday to taking cell phone pictures of the engine room of his submarine:

Last July, Saucier was indicted on one felony count of unlawful retention of national defense information and another felony count of obstruction of justice. He pleaded guilty Friday to the classified information charge, which is part of the Espionage Act, a prosecution spokesman confirmed. No charge of espionage was filed and no public suggestion has been made that he ever planned to disclose the photos to anyone outside the Navy.

Politico reports Saucier faces up to 10 years but will likely get a sentence of 5-6 years in prison for keeping cell phone pics which he never disclosed, or planned to disclose, to anyone.

The comparison to Clinton’s email server is obvious. In neither case was there any intent to damage national security; nevertheless, there was mishandling of information which could potentially have harmed national security if it had fallen in to the wrong hands. Unlike Clinton’s private server, which we know was targeting for hacking on multiple occasions, there is no evidence anyone was aware of Petty Officer Saucier’s cell phone pics or ever tried to get access to them. Saucier’s former co-worker tells Politico his friend is getting very different treatment than the likely Democratic nominee.

“I just don’t think it’s fair,” said Gene Pitcher, a retired Navy sailor who served with Saucier aboard the Alexandria. “In reality, what she did is so much worse than what Kris did. … I think it’s just a blatant double standard.”

Could it be that the difference in treatment by the feds is because the in Saucier’s photos is simply more highly classified than the information on Clinton’s email server? Nope. In fact, it’s just the opposite:

The Navy says the photos are classified “confidential,” which is the lowest tier of protection for classified information and is designated for information that could cause some damage to national security but not “serious” or “exceptionally grave” damage.

Intelligence agencies claim that Clinton’s account contained 65 messages with information considered “Secret” and 22 classified at the “Top Secret” level. Some messages contained data under an even more restrictive “special access program” designation.

Finally, it’s worth noting that some people have been on top of this story for a while. From Politico:

“The DOJ is willing to prosecute a former sailor to the full extent of the law for violating the law on classified material, in a situation where there was no purposeful unsecured transmission of classified material,” conservative blogger Ed Morrissey wrote last year. “Will they pursue Hillary Clinton and her team, at the other end of the power spectrum from the rank-and-file, for deliberate unsecured transmission of improperly marked classified nat-sec intelligence? Will they pursue the same kind of obstruction of justice charges for Hillary’s wiping of her server as they are for Saucier’s destruction of his laptop?”

As of this moment it seems Saucier is going to prison for the next four years while Hillary has a decent shot of going to the White House. What is wrong with this picture?

Update: I contacted Kristian Saucier’s attorney, Derrick Hogan, today and asked him a couple questions about the case. Given the severity of the penalty Saucier is now facing (guidelines say 5-6 years), I asked Hogan if it is accurate that there was essentially no foul here, i.e. none of the photos ever went beyond his client. Mr. Hogan confirmed, “There is no evidence Mr. Saucier distributed the photos in question.” Secondly I asked if he had any comments about his client’s plea today. Mr. Hogan replied, “Today, Mr. Saucier accepted responsibility for his actions. This is something he did as a kid in 2009. He is ready to put this behind him and move on to be a productive member of society.”

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