Hillary Clinton Put Herself Above the Law

hillary-clinton-biopics-cancelled-ftrIn August 2011, Hurricane Irene was threatening to disrupt communications on the eastern seaboard, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s personal Blackberry was malfunctioning.

State Department official Stephen D. Mull emailed Clinton aide Huma Abedin to offer a back-up. The government Blackberry would have “an operating State Department email account,” he wrote, and would “mask her identity,” but “would also be subject to FOIA requests.”

Abedin wrote back that it “doesn’t make a whole lot of sense” for Clinton to have a State Department Blackberry.

Mull’s email is startling. He was alerting Clinton’s staff that messages sent on a State Department-issued Blackberry would be public records under the Freedom of Information Act, as required by law. Her private server, he implicitly acknowledged, was invisible to public records searches.

“It just boggles the mind that the State Department allowed this circumstance to arise in the first place,” said U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who recently held a hearing in Washington on a Freedom of Information Act request brought by the government watchdog group Judicial Watch. “It’s just very, very, very troubling,” he said.

The Freedom of Information Act was signed into law in 1966 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and it was expanded and strengthened in 1974 following the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.

The public has the right to request access to records from any federal agency. The government is required to disclose information requested under the FOIA except for nine specific exemptions, which include personal privacy and national security, but not “running for president.”

Judge Sullivan may allow Judicial Watch to take testimony from Mrs. Clinton’s aides, State Department officials and perhaps the former secretary of state herself, starting in April.

Clinton also may be interviewed by the FBI, which is separately investigating whether anyone committed a crime by mishandling classified material. The State Department says 22 emails on Clinton’s private server contained “top secret” information. Another 65 have been classified “secret” and 2,028 more are “confidential.”

Now there are reports that the Justice Department has granted immunity from prosecution to the former State Department employee and campaign staffer who set up the private server at Clinton’s home in 2009. Bryan Pagliano invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent when called before Congress last September. He will have to answer questions from the FBI.

This is not nothing.

At a minimum, this is a secretary of state who put herself above the law — a law that was signed by a Democratic president — and who handled sensitive information in a manner that ought to disqualify her from ever receiving a security clearance.

It is bizarre that the Clinton presidential campaign is rolling along as if none of this is happening. Hillary Clinton could become the next president of the United States, assuming she makes it to the November election and has still not been charged with a crime.

But the nation’s ethical standard for president of the United States should be higher than “has still not been charged with a crime.”

We need transparency laws like the Freedom of Information Act so the public can hold the government accountable for its actions. When officials can operate in complete secrecy, there is no check on their actions or their ethics.

Using a private email server to evade the Freedom of Information Act is like taking the license plates off a car to evade a ticket from a red-light camera system.

Sooner or later, it’s going to end in a horrible wreck.

Susan Shelley is a San Fernando Valley author, a former television associate producer and twice a Republican candidate for the California Assembly.

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