The Washington Post Fact Checkers are once again coming to the aid of Hillary Clinton with a new column criticizing the popular comparison of former General David Petraeus’s mishandling of classified information to Mrs. Clinton’s abuse of classified information on her private email server. The Post politicizes the comparison from the beginning by using quotes from Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz (TX), both controversial figures in their own right.
But many more people than these two politicians have compared the Petraeus case to Mrs. Clinton’s mismanagement of classified information. “His [Petraeus’s] offense involved conduct narrower in scope than Mrs. Clinton’s systematic transmission and storage of classified information on her private system,” argues National Review’s Andy McCarthy, former Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York who successfully prosecuted the Blind Sheikh for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Former federal prosecutor, Joe DiGenova, says that Clinton’s actions amount to “the negligent handling of classified information, which is prohibited by statute, and this is a gross example of it, and it dwarfs the information in the Petraeus case.” A similar case was made by Sidney Powell, also a former federal prosecutor, and yet again the case was made by former U.S. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey.
Every news article from a major newspaper should be assumed to have been fact-checked. But The Washington Post has a specific Fact Checker column, usually written by Glenn Kessler. Another contributor to the Fact Checker column is Michelle Ye Hee Lee, who wrote this particular column, which is anything but factually correct. Her blatant attempt to exonerate Mrs. Clinton transforms the fact-check article into little more than an opinion piece, while overlooking key facts.
“This is a key difference between the two cases,” writes Lee. “In the Petraeus case, there was no question as to whether the information he provided [Paula] Broadwell was classified. Further, a recording of Petraeus’s interview with Broadwell showed he knowingly provided classified information.”
In contrast, she argues, Clinton’s “emails were not marked ‘classified’ at the time they were sent. But officials found ‘top secret’ information in her emails because of a process called ‘retroactive classification.’”
Mrs. Clinton signed a non-disclosure agreement, Standard Form 312, that renders the question of how the material was marked at the time irrelevant. Even the former Clinton staffer, supporter and Clinton Foundation donor George Stephanopoulos felt obliged to ask Mrs. Clinton on his ABC News show, “This Week:” “You know, you’ve said many times that the emails were not marked classified. …But the non-disclosure agreement you signed as secretary of state said that that really is not that relevant.”
Classified or sensitive information need not be marked classified to be recognized as such. As we have reported, some information can be born classified, such as information gleaned from off-the-record conversations with members of foreign governments. The New York Times reported this January that the 22 emails that will not be released to the public contain information regarding Special Access Programs (SAP), which are “among the government’s most closely guarded secrets.”
Lee assigned two Pinocchios to the comparison of Petraeus and Clinton, meaning that the accusations that they are looking at—in this case, those of Trump and Cruz—contain “significant omissions and/or exaggerations.” Lee also said that in the end, it is a matter of “opinion” whether one case is worse than the other. She also opined that “Former prosecutors …explained just how difficult it is to bring the charge when the information is not ‘classified at birth,’ meaning the document was marked classified when it was created.”
But some of the information was, by its very nature, classified at birth even if the markings did not happen to be on the emails that Mrs. Clinton sent or received. On February 24, Reuters reported that the Clinton emails “closely matched top secret documents,” although their full version was not passed through.
“Two sources said some of the top secret material was related to the CIA’s campaign of drone strikes against Islamist militants in the Middle East and South Asia,” reports Mark Hosenball for Reuters. “One source said the reports identified some information in messages on Clinton’s server that came from human sources, such as confidential CIA informants, and some from technical systems, such as spy satellites or electronic eavesdropping.”
It was Mrs. Clinton’s professional obligation and responsibility as secretary of state to know that classified material regarding informants, drones, or other sensitive information was being sent through her unsecured personal server.
Mrs. Clinton’s actions are both a violation of the law and result from profoundly poor judgment. For example, in 2011 she instructed an aide, Jake Sullivan, to send information that could not be sent via secure fax as “nonpaper w no identifying heading and send nonsecure.” Lee dismisses that by saying, “a congressional official said the indications are the material ultimately was transmitted appropriately.” She doesn’t say who that official was.
Then there is the matter of Mrs. Clinton’s deleted emails. Sidney Blumenthal’s decision to turn over additional emails to the House Select Committee on Benghazi, emails which Mrs. Clinton did not initially provide to the State Department, make it clear that she has not provided the U.S. government with all of the necessary documents. How many more secrets has she simply deleted along with her “personal” emails?
Mrs. Clinton’s track record continues to be corrupt and full of lies, yet The Washington Post is trying once again to clear her name.
As I stated in a recent column on the slow pace of the investigations a) into her emails and mishandling of classified materials by the FBI; and b) into her role in the Obama administration’s Benghazi scandals, America deserves to know the findings of these two investigations before we get too far down the road of nominating candidates for the presidential race. And Mrs. Clinton deserves having the cloud over her lifted if neither investigation can find her guilty of any wrongdoing. The clock is ticking.
Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.