On Monday, in response to a request I made last week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that he would not refrain from providing classified information to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton for the duration of the presidential campaign. That’s a dangerous call. Here’s why he should reconsider:
One thing is clear from the FBI’s investigation of Clinton: She recklessly mishandled classified information. Clinton set up not one but multiple unauthorized servers from which she sent and received tens of thousands of sensitive government emails, including more than 100 that contained classified information at the time they were sent. These emails went completely unprotected.
The consequences for the safety of our nation are grave. Clinton’s actions may have allowed our enemies to access intelligence vital to our national security. The FBI found that hostile actors could very well have gained access to classified information sent and received by Clinton, her staff and their contacts. In fact, the FBI confirmed that hostile actors did indeed gain access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Clinton was in regular contact from her unauthorized account. According to FBI Director James B. Comey, a standard Gmail account would have been more secure than what she used.
The FBI’s recommendation not to pursue charges against Clinton is based on the belief that she did not intend to endanger our national security. Instead, Comey called her and her staff “extremely careless.” However, her actions do not seem careless at all. In fact, Clinton’s actions seem quite careful — careful to place her own interests before our national security. Setting up multiple unauthorized email servers is quite an undertaking. Ask any IT expert. Transmitting tens of thousands of government emails does not amount to one or two thoughtless mistakes but a calculated series of choices made over the course of several years.
Moreover, it wasn’t just Clinton’s job to know what was classified — it was her job to decide what was classified. As secretary of state, Clinton was granted original classification authority, which gave her power to determine what is top-secret material. It’s safe to say that she would know a classified document when she saw it. And more than that, the guidelines for classification at the State Department are pretty straightforward. For example, the guidelines say “information provided to the United States Government by a foreign government or governments ... with the expectation that the information ... [is] to be held in confidence” may be classified.
Furthermore, the FBI investigation suggests that Clinton may have lied to Congress and did lie to the American people about what she did. She claimed that there was only one device. She used multiple. She claimed all work-related emails were returned to the State Department. Thousands were not returned. She claimed that there were no emails marked “classified” on her server, but Comey said the FBI found multiple emails marked “classified.” We will never know how far-reaching the damage is because her legal team deleted many more thousands that can never be recovered.
Given all this, the FBI’s recommendation against criminal charges is puzzling, and I have asked Comey to release all of his findings. He himself has said that his decision was “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.” There is no legal requirement to provide candidates with intelligence briefings, so it seems reasonable for her to lose this privilege.
As the presumptive Democratic nominee, Clinton is set to begin receiving classified intelligence briefings immediately following the Democratic National Convention this month. Clapper has refused my request to suspend these briefings, but the American people need to know what accountability Clinton will face — and what safeguards will be put in place to protect this information. It’s no small matter to hand over classified information to a person as reckless with our national security as Clinton, absent the voting public’s explicit permission in November.
If she is elected, those briefings can resume, allowing her more than two months to be fully briefed before she is sworn in as president. Until that time, given Clinton’s record of extraordinary lack of discretion and judgment, the risk is just too great.
Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, is speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. This column was first published in The Washington Post.