Clinton-Cartwright Comparisons Don’t Hold Up

Clinton is getting no special treatment by the standards of her high-powered peers.

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My latest for War on The Rocks, co-authored by national security lawyer Butch Bracknell, is titled “Clinton-Cartwright Comparisons Don’t Hold Up.”

It’s somewhat complicated and difficult to excerpt.  Here’s the lede:

In the third and, thankfully, final presidential debate of the 2016 cycle, Republican nominee Donald Trump doubled down on his contention that his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, “should never have been allowed to run for the presidency based on what she did with e-mails and so many other things.” He had some new ammunition: a former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired Marine General James “Hoss” Cartwright, had just been criminally charged in relation to leaking classified information. While there are surface similarities, however, the cases are quite different.

And here’s the close:

The disparity between the treatment of senior leadership and those for whom they are supposed to set the example is uncomfortable. Partly, it’s a function of political connections; generals and cabinet officers are more likely than privates and ordinary bureaucrats to have friends in high places. Partly, it’s the fact that those who have risen to high rank typically have several decades of “wasta” to balance against poor decisions. This apparent say-do gap, while unfortunate, is probably inevitable.

Regardless, Clinton is getting no special treatment by the standards of her high-powered peers. Like Petraeus and Cartwright, she failed to safeguard the nation’s secrets to the appropriate standard. None of the three were charged for these failures. Unlike them, she did not get caught lying to the Justice Department. Thus, once again, the old Washington truism has borne out: It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.

There’s a lot in between. Read it at the source.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Law and the Courts, National Security, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    Regardless, Clinton is getting no special treatment by the standards of her high-powered peers.

    *bangs head on desk*

  2. Bob@Youngstown says:

    Trump and his supporters just don’t accept that Cartwright was charged with and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
    But why should they bother with facts?

  3. Laura Koerber says:

    I don’t think the hearings ever had anything to do with national security. Heck, I’m stating the obvious: the Republicans in Congress are haters, many of whom seem to believe their own rhetoric. They hate Hillary because she’s a Democrat and they need to believe she is guilty of something to justify their hate. Thus, hearings. And there will be more. I fully expect her to be impeached.

    So while I appreciate Butch Bracknell’s effort to think in a rational and informed way about the latest hate to come out of the mouth of a Republican politician (and That’s what Trump is, at least for now), nothing he says will matter to Trump or any other Republican politician or anyone on Faux or anyone writing for pseudo-respectable righwing sources like National Review. None of them care about fact or reason or fairness or intellectual honesty any more than they care about national security.

    Serpents! There’s no pleasing them!

  4. al-Ameda says:

    from the Washington Post:

    SOUTH JORDAN, Utah — Jason Chaffetz, the Utah congressman wrapping up his first term atop the powerful House Oversight Committee, unendorsed Donald Trump weeks ago. That freed him up to prepare for something else: spending years, come January, probing the record of a President Hillary Clinton.

    “It’s a target-rich environment,” the Republican said in an interview in Salt Lake City’s suburbs. “Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good.”

    Well, get ready for 8 more years of this toxic bulls***.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    @al-Ameda: Obama chose to not investigate W. Bush and Co. for self confessed war crimes. He had many reasons for this, some good, some not so good. One was to avoid setting a precedent that would justify politically motivate investigations of opponents. But both-sides-do-it.

  6. gVOR08 says:

    Unlike them, she did not get caught lying to the Justice Department. Thus, once again, the old Washington truism has borne out: It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.

    Petraeus wasn’t convicted of lying to the FBI. Per WIKI:

    Petraeus pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified materials. He was given a two-year probationary period and a fine of $100,000.

    Presumably a plea bargain justified by his status and service.

    Somehow I do think handing clearly classified documents containing names of intelligence sources to your squeeze is a little different than finding a handful of dubiously classified and trivial items in 30,000 emails.

  7. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I’m not understanding your reaction.

    @Laura Koerber: Persuading Trump was not our intention in writing the piece.

    @gVOR08: He wasn’t ultimately charged with lying but the potential for that charge gave DOJ leverage in the plea deal. Yes, as the piece notes, all three cases—indeed, all the cases mentioned—differ in various respects. But it’s the lying that got P4 and C4 charged and the lack of it that spared Clinton.

  8. JKB says:

    Granted, the Rule of Law, has long been compromised in practice in the US. And not just at the highest political levels. The highest bureaucrat levels enjoy the near certitude of prosecutorial “discretion” as well.

    Environmental laws, petroleum discharge laws, etc. are all for the little people, the private sector. They are from the government and have bureaucratic goals to meet despite the deficiencies of budget. Why it costs money to high a licensed transporter to move hazardous materials from the government lab through that residential neighborhood in accordance with federal law. Of course, if you aren’t high enough up, or out of favor, that can bit the government employee in the ass, but only rarely.

    But then that is the problem, not the solution.

    As for Hillary’s blatant compromise national security information and putting men (and women) in enemy territory in danger, it is true, the “distinguished holders of important offices” seldom do jail time, but they are often removed from access. Sadly, many Americans seem to stand ready to expose all our secrets to a known compromiser and to put more men and women in the field in jeopardy by giving Hillary, and her national security secret compromising staff, an office that requires access.

    I remember seeing a moving on Pearl Harbor once where before the attack the generals and admirals at the War Department took the White House off the distribution of decoded Japanese messages because they had found earlier ones in White House waste baskets. Will such believers in American national security act in this modern age to protect America as those in the past or has Obama so compromised the flag corps few will seek to protect American and the troops in the field?

  9. dxq says:

    god you’re dumb.

  10. MBunge says:

    Unlike them, she did not get caught lying to the Justice Department.

    Yes, if you believe that the Justice Department honestly believed her story that she thought the designation (c) on documents indicated alphabetization and not (c) for classified.

    And I’m pretty sure Stormy is head-banging over the ” standards of her high-powered peers” as opposed to…you know…THE STANDARDS THAT SHOULD APPLY TO EVERYONE.

    As lucky as we may be to avoid President Trump, we’re not going to be lucky for much longer if our elites have moved from simple denial of corruption to open embrace of corruption as just the way things are and should be.

    Mike

  11. James Joyner says:

    @MBunge: As we explain in the piece, cabinet secretaries and generals are treated differently for obvious reasons: they’re better connected but also they have decades of good works to balance against their bad deeds. But, yeah, the optics of that are awful.

  12. Mikey says:

    @MBunge: I work with classified documents every workday, and have for about 20 years, and if I saw a (C) without any other classification markings, and received on an unclassified system, I might think it was a superfluous alphabetization marking too.

    If it were an (S) or (TS), that would raise a flag that there might be a classified spillage, but a (C) not so much.

    What’s important to remember is the receiver has a set of expectations and they won’t expect to receive classified on a low-side system. It might just go by without much notice because they would not expect to have gotten anything classified by that method.

  13. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Well, get ready for 8 more years of this toxic bulls***.

    This is why I wanted Hillary to run for Grandma instead. Even so, she’s still the best the only realistic choice available. I don’t know where or how we go down from here, but just like the WWE during the “Attitude Era,” we will find a way. I’m just glad I’m old.

  14. gVOR08 says:

    @James Joyner:
    Below is Kevin Drum’s summary of classified information in Hillary’s emails.

    Drum asks if this is complete and correct and if there’s something he doesn’t understand. Is there anything?

    If so, what is the basis for a prosecutable charge against her?

    I don’t want to make a big point about this, but I want to write it down in order to get comments. Here is my understanding of the results of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails:

    3 were marked classified. Two of these were classified in error. The third was classified correctly but was marked improperly (and was pretty trivial anyway).
    110 contained information that wasn’t marked classified, but which Hillary and her aides “should have known” was sensitive. That’s according to FBI Director James Comey. Based on previous reporting, virtually all of these probably related to the drone program in Pakistan, which was classified but had been extensively reported in the press.
    About 2,000 emails were retroactively classified as part of the FOIA process.

    Is this correct? Or is there some part of this that I continue not to understand?

  15. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08: Honestly, I don’t think the problem was ever that she intentionally received or transmitted classified emails on her private server but that using the private server, per se, as her sole email address ensured that she would receive and disseminate classified emails on that unsecure channel. That would get ordinary governnment workers in deep trouble, but not land them in jail. It wasn’t going to get a Secretary of State into all that much trouble simply because people in high positions almost never get into that kind of trouble.

  16. gVOR08 says:

    @James Joyner:

    Honestly, I don’t think the problem was ever that she intentionally received or transmitted classified emails on her private server

    So there is no criminal intent, as would be required for a criminal prosecution.

    From everything I read, many State Department employees, including her two immediate predecessors, used personal gmail and Yahoo accounts in the same way Hillary used her personal account. The only difference is she had a private server. A distinction without a difference. Have any of those “ordinary government workers” gotten in “deep trouble”?

    There seems to be no allegation that any harm was done by anything Hillary did with her email beyond violating a bureaucratic regulation everyone else was violating.

    So, “Where’s the beef?”

  17. Mikey says:

    @gVOR08:

    So, “Where’s the beef?”

    Republican fundraising, of course.

  18. al-Ameda says:

    @James Joyner:

    It wasn’t going to get a Secretary of State into all that much trouble simply because people in high positions almost never get into that kind of trouble.

    Colin Powell, No.
    Hillary Clinton? Yes

  19. An Interested Party says:

    As lucky as we may be to avoid President Trump, we’re not going to be lucky for much longer if our elites have moved from simple denial of corruption to open embrace of corruption as just the way things are and should be.

    Oh please, you act as if corruption is somehow something new…after the fiasco of the 2000 presidential election with the Supreme Court and their “limited to present circumstances” bullshit as well as a presidential administration practicing torture, a private email server seems almost tame by comparison…

  20. stonetools says:

    @James Joyner:

    Honestly, I don’t think the problem was ever that she intentionally received or transmitted classified emails on her private server but that using the private server, per se, as her sole email address ensured that she would receive and disseminate classified emails on that unsecure channel.

    Not like the secure government servers which are never hacked .Oh, wait..

  21. James Joyner says:

    @al-Ameda: I’ve covered this before. Powell occasionally used his personal email in an era when DoS email was exceedingly primitive. He ordered all manner of changes to fix the system. And he was very scrupulous about using his government machine for classified email. Clinton used her personal server for everything. Apples. Oranges.

    @gVOR08: The evasion and the actual spillage legitimately spawned criminal inquiry. She almost certainly committed technical crimes, although not crimes for which we charge senior folks. Even junior folks likely wouldn’t have gone to jail for this. And she, presumably, was smart enough to not lie to investigators.

    @stonetools: Locks can be picked. You’re still expected to lock up your valuables.

  22. Mikey says:

    @James Joyner: James, there’s literally zero evidence Clinton used her private server to intentionally move classified information. None. Of what she received that was marked classified, only one actually was and that wasn’t properly marked. The remainder were classified post facto.

    I don’t have a lot of experience with State. I have done some contract work for them but mostly with telephony. But even on telephony they were, in my experience, very scrupulous about keeping classified and unclassified separate, and trust me when I say that’s actually more difficult than e-mail (most people think a lot longer before they hit “send” than before they pick up the phone). There’s no reason to believe Clinton was firing off classified e-mails willy-nilly just because she had the server under her own control rather than the government’s.

  23. Matt says:

    @James Joyner: Well out of all the emails she received only one was classified (albeit improperly marked and easily missed). Two emails were classified till she placed phone calls and contained nothing considered secret. Seems to me there was no problem with using her personal email server (which was administrated by those in the DOD).

    The emails that were classified afterwards just shows how ridiculous the classification system has gotten (and abused). You don’t drop the speed limit on a stretch of road and then write tickets to everyone who drove on the road at the speed limit prior to the drop…

  24. SKI says:

    @James Joyner:

    Clinton used her personal server for everything. Apples. Oranges.

    This is factually untrue, James. She used the secure email account (the one you have to use from a secure location) for classified emails. This isn’t in dispute (though it gets completely ignored by everyone).

    She used her personal server for both unclassified work emails and personal emails. That was, appropriately, the problem but it was not for “everything”.

  25. JKB says:

    Ruh roh. Word out today is they’ve found more pertinent emails and the FBI is re-opening the investigation. If we go by Jame’s theory, that means that Hillary may have lied to the FBI since that, according to James, is the only crime we hold high government officials account for.

  26. Mikey says:

    @JKB:

    There’s no allegation Clinton or the campaign withheld anything from the FBI or Clinton lied to the FBI. In fact, these “new” e-mails did not come from her private server at all, and were not sent by her.

    We don’t know what the “unrelated investigation” is that’s referred to by Comey, but there’s some talk it has to do with Anthony Weiner’s sexting case. Since Weiner’s now-estranged wife is Clinton’s aide, it wouldn’t be surprising that he e-mailed Clinton from time to time, would it? Of course not. It seems reasonable to assume the FBI found a few e-mails on his seized mobile devices.

    So go take a cold shower or something.

  27. SKI says:

    @JKB:

    Yeah, don’t hold your breath that this actually is anything: https://www.lawfareblog.com/memo-press-what-comeys-letter-does-and-doesnt-mean