The FBI’s case against a BlackBerry-obsessed Hillary Clinton could be strengthened following a bombshell report she ignored State Department and spy community warnings her outdated phone and private email server posed national security risks, former federal prosecutors and officials told the Herald.
“We have to remember this is not an isolated incident. This is four years of defiance of federal law,” said Joseph E. diGenova, a former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. “The warnings that they received about not using BlackBerries were repeated and clear. And they ignored them. By doing so, they again established a gross negligence as well as an intent to ignore the law.”
Clinton and her staff — dogged since the start of her presidential campaign about questions surrounding the security and vulnerability of her email use while U.S. secretary of state — were considered BlackBerry “addicts,” according to a trove of emails and documents detailed in a Washington Post story that showed an apparent pattern of Clinton skirting warnings.
The FBI — with 147 agents assigned to the case — is said to be moving swiftly with the July Democratic convention in Philadelphia looming. Clinton and her aides are in line to be questioned next, according to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) who suggested yesterday she “change her tone” as the probe tightens.
In an ironic twist, Clinton tweeted out yesterday to followers to link to her campaign via text using a photo of her glued to her BlackBerry — the same image often shown to illustrate her dependence on the outdated device.
The Post story noted that Clinton wielded her BlackBerry even as State Department officials searched for ways to officially accommodate it — and reportedly as her personal server in her New York home lacked encryption protection. Intelligence and NSA members were also pushing her to drop the old phone, the Post said.
“What stood out for me was, the reason why the secretary decided to have her server was she was so enamored with her BlackBerry. Personal convenience is not a very good reason,” said Nathan Sales, a former official at Homeland Security and the Department of Justice who now teaches law at Syracuse University.
“When you’re trying to figure out if someone is exercising due caution, one of the things you look at is, did they have any warnings? Did you know that the actions you’re taking is putting you or others at risk?” he said. “And when someone warns you of that, it’s very hard to see how that is not negligent.”
Sales and other legal experts noted it’s difficult to say whether Clinton, or her State Department staff, could ultimately face charges under a federal espionage statute. A lesser charge would be failure to safeguard state secrets, similar to the count former CIA Director David Petraeus pleaded guilty to.
Ronald Sievert, a former federal prosecutor and University of Texas adjunct law professor, noted that the law’s language addresses the mishandling of so-called national defense information — not whether something was classified at the time — which in Clinton’s case makes it a “clear violation,” he said.
“Look, if you send out an email and say, ‘Do not do this because people may be accessing our stuff’ — and then you keep doing it yourself — then that’s pretty negligent,” said Sievert, who said the decision in Clinton’s case should be left to a jury. “Juries make decisions all the time on whether someone’s acts were grossly negligent. It’s very common. … To me, this is gross negligence.”
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