After FBI report, Clinton aides could
find it harder to get security clearances
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[July 07, 2016]
By Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Allen
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The FBI's harsh
criticism of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email system as U.S.
secretary of state could make it difficult for some of her closest aides
to keep or renew government security clearances, but it would not affect
Clinton herself if she is elected president, experts said.
Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey said on
Tuesday an FBI investigation had found evidence that Clinton, now
the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, and her aides
"were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly
classified information" at the State Department.
Comey said he would not recommend that the Justice Department bring
criminal charges - a recommendation accepted by Attorney General
Loretta Lynch on Wednesday - but the FBI director noted that people
found to have been similarly careless often face consequences in the
form of "security or administrative sanctions."
Most administrative sanctions, anything from a reprimand to a
dismissal, can't be imposed on Clinton and three of her closest
aides Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan and Huma Abedin as they have
already left government, experts of the government's classified
information regime said.
But legal experts said that if Clinton aides were found to have
treated classified material with extreme carelessness that could
give the government reason to consider denying them a security
clearance in the future or suspending or revoking one they may
"If the system is fair and equitable, then they should all have
difficulty maintaining or obtaining a security clearance in the
future," said Mark Zaid, a Washington D.C.-based attorney who
specializes in national security matters.
Steven Aftergood, a Federation of American Scientists expert on
national security and classification policy, noted, however, that
Comey had highlighted what he called a problematic security culture
at the State Department. "So it might be hard to penalize
individuals for this episode if their entire agency embraced similar
practices," Aftergood said.
A Justice Department spokesperson declined to elaborate on Comey's
statement, which did not name any of the aides. The Clinton campaign
did not respond to questions about the security clearances of
Clinton, Mills, Sullivan and Abedin, nor did lawyers for the three
Abedin, who has been a personal aide to Clinton for about 20 years,
and Sullivan, Clinton's policy director at the State Department,
sent information the government now says is classified to Clinton's
unauthorized private email account, according to email records
released by the State Department.
It remains unclear if they sent any of the 110 emails that Comey
said contained information that was classified at the time they were
written. The only author of such emails he identified was Clinton
A small number of other department colleagues sent information the
government has since marked as classified to Clinton's account less
frequently, the records show. The government forbids handling
classified government secrets outside secured channels it controls.
Clinton has said she did not knowingly send or receive classified
information through her private email server.
Both Abedin and Sullivan now hold senior roles in Clinton's
presidential campaign and are widely expected to join a Clinton
administration if she is elected on Nov. 8.
[to top of second column]
Cheryl D. Mills, former Chief of Staff, U.S. Department of State,
listens during a commitment workshop titled "Haiti: Lessons for the
Future" on the second day of the Clinton Global Initiative 2012
(CGI) in New York in this file photo dated September 24, 2012.
Mills, who also passed along information the government now deems
classified, has continued to work as a lawyer for Clinton but has no
formal role in the campaign. It unclear if she will seek a role in a
Some presidential appointments require Senate confirmation, and
lawmakers could use any past criticism of an aide’s handling of
government secrets as a reason to block their appointment to a
Senate-confirmed job, said William J. Leonard, a former director of
the federal government's Information Security Oversight Office.
The State Department declined to discuss individual cases and said
that as a matter of policy it does not publicly disclose who has a
security clearance. But it said it can apply security sanctions,
such as putting a black mark on a person's permanent personnel file
that would come up in future background checks, even against former
For those former officials who maintain an active security
clearance, they could lose it.
"Department policy is to maintain files on personnel who are found
to have mishandled information to guide current and potential future
decisions about employment and security clearances," John Kirby, a
department spokesman, said in a statement.
Without knowing precisely what the FBI found about the actions of
specific Clinton aides, it is impossible to say what effect there
may be on their current or future security clearances.
Paul Ryan, the House Speaker and the most senior elected Republican
official, said on Wednesday that Clinton should be denied the
security clearance required to receive the customary intelligence
briefing that government officials give to presidential nominees
before the election.
Presidents and other elected national officeholders are not required
to have background checks to receive government secrets, according
to experts and the Central Intelligence Agency.
"It would roil our system of representative democracy if a security
official could say that the president ... can't have a security
clearance," said McAdoo Gordon, an attorney with extensive
experience in security clearance matters.
(Reporting By Jonathan Allen and Arshad Mohammed, editing by David
Rohde and Ross Colvin)
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