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Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign has faltered over her use of a private e-mail server and account for professional and personal matters while Secretary of State.
Last December, Clinton turned over to the State Department more than 30,000 e-mails she sent and received during her tenure as secretary, and a judge has ordered the department to release the e-mails on a rolling basis, completing the process by January. Clinton has said that she did not send or receive any information marked classified, and that what she did was allowed by the State Department.
But the Washington Post recently reported that while she was secretary of state, Clinton wrote and sent at least six e-mails using her private server that contained what government officials now say is classified information. And the FBI is investigating whether Clinton’s e-mail setup may have compromised national security information, though officials have said that she is not the target of the inquiry.
Improperly disclosing classified information has steep penalties. A look back at similar cases illustrates the possible legal liabilities at issue for Clinton.
General David Petraeus, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, shared classified documents with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, with whom he had an extramarital affair. He agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information in exchange for a prosecutor’s recommendation he serve no jail time, and was later sentenced to two years of probation and a $100,000 fine.
John Deutch, another former director of the CIA, was discovered with large amounts of classified material on unclassified computers in his home. Deutch had already resigned his post, had his security clearance stripped, and was considering a deal with the Justice Department in which he would plead guilty to a misdemeanor when he was pardoned by then-President Bill Clinton.
A number of federal statutes deal with the handling of confidential government information. 18 U.S.C. § 793 provides that anyone entrusted with national defense information who, through gross negligence, permits it to be delivered to an unauthorized person or to be lost, stolen, or destroyed shall be fined or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.
Similarly, 18 U.S.C. § 798 provides that anyone who knowingly and willfully communicates to an unauthorized person classified information obtained through communications intelligence of foreign governments shall be fined or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both. And 18 U.S.C. § 1924 makes it a crime for an officer of the United States to knowingly remove classified information without authority and with the intent to retain such documents at an unauthorized location. The punishment for this crime is a fine or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.
Clinton has said that she does not know whether the e-mail server she turned over to the FBI was wiped, but admits that 31,000 personal e-mails were not turned over to the State Department. Destruction of records associated with a public office is prohibited under federal law. Specifically, 18 U.S. Code § 2071 provides that anyone who willfully and unlawfully destroys any record deposited with any officer in any public office shall be fined or imprisoned not more than three years, or both, and shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States.
While it’s not clear what, if anything, may result from the current investigation surrounding Clinton’s e-mail server, it seems that the controversy isn’t likely to end soon, despite her recent apology. Clinton is scheduled to testify before the House Select Committee on Benghazi on October 22nd, and members of the Committee will be asking her about Libya, Benghazi, and of course, her emails.
This piece is cross-posted at the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley.