Clinton, Comey, and the Law

Jacob Gershman wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal Law Blog,

[FBI Director] Comey also referenced a more obscure provision of the Espionage Act that has little to do with intent or state of mind, but rather makes it a crime to disclose classified information through “gross negligence.”

That provision of the Espionage Act, the primary law governing the handling of classified information, could require at least proof that the offender knew the classified information disclosed could harm the United States or benefit a foreign power if it got into the wrong hands.

But the crime of “gross negligence” in the Espionage Act doesn’t appear to require proof of any intentional mishandling of documents….

But what behavior would rise to the level of gross negligence that is a felony under the Espionage Act?

Perhaps the setup, maintenance, and use of an unsecured email on which State Department official business was, by design, conducted.

Perhaps the receipt and relay of emails containing Top Secret Special Access information without sequestering those emails and pointing out the failures to State’s security facility.

Perhaps the receipt and relay of emails with classification markings in them without sequestering those emails and….

Perhaps receipt and relay of 1,000+ emails originating as classified because of their content without sequestering….

Those sorts of behaviors also would seem to aggregate to the guilty knowledge that is intent.  Yet Comey said of some of the cases the FBI had previously prosecuted that they involved

…some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice.

And then he said

We do not see those things here.

Unfortunately, Admiral Nelson-like, Comey put his spyglass to his bad eye, albeit with a far different purpose.  And chose not even to recommend a gross negligence prosecution, apparently because his bad eye didn’t reveal any of that to him, either.

His decision to not see is made manifest with his own words in that same statement:

This is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions.

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