The president of the United States is the quintessential keeper of the nation’s top secrets. He or she must have constant access to the most sensitive and classified information gathered by the country’s intelligence resources in order to carry out the primary duty of any president: To protect the nation.
But what if the government determines that the new president is untrustworthy and, therefore, unsuitable to safeguard the nation’s most closely guarded secrets? What if the commander-in-chief has a proven record of being “extremely careless” in mishandling classified information? And lied about it repeatedly? Would the government be justified in revoking or denying the president’s access to any and all classified data?
If this were to happen, the president would be unable to function. Critical decisions on national security could not be made without access to vital information. In short, American lives would be placed in jeopardy.
So, is this is a reasonable or remote scenario if Hillary Clinton is elected president? Let’s consider the evidence.
A Litany of False Statements
According to the FBI Director, Clinton made several false statements to the American people:
1. Clinton insisted during her first news conference in March of 2015, “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material”. That statement was brazenly untrue. Clinton sent numerous classified emails on her unauthorized and unsecured servers.
2. Clinton then changed her story stating, “I did not send or receive anything that was classified at the time”, claiming the classification was made retroactively. That statement was also completely untrue. 110 emails contained classified information at the time they were sent or received.
3. Clinton changed her story yet again claiming, “I never sent or received any email that was marked classified”. Another untrue statement. Many of her emails were, indeed, marked classified. Comey also pointed out that such markings are irrelevant since the content, not the marking, makes them classified.
In describing Clinton as “extremely careless”, Comey concluded that no reasonable person in her position would have done what she did. “None of these emails should have been on any kind of unclassified system.”
Importantly, the FBI Director then declared that a person who engages in this activity is “often subject to security or administrative sanctions.” What sanctions would those be? Historically, an offending person’s security clearance would be revoked. He or she would be denied access to classified information.
Revoking Security Clearance
Terminating Clinton’s security clearance would certainly be justified under the law. The Washington landscape is littered with officials who have lost their security access for violations much less serious than what was described by Comey in his news conference. You do not have to be charged or convicted of a crime to lose your clearance. Careless conduct and a conspicuous lack of veracity are ample grounds for revocation or denial.
Who decides? Normally, it is the department or agency that hires or employs the suspect person. Clinton is no longer employed by the State Department, but she reportedly maintains a top-secret security clearance. Upon review of the FBI’s findings, State could decide to revoke Clinton’s clearance. With John Kerry at the helm, that’s doubtful.
The basis for revocation or denial is laid out in Executive Order 12968 which, ironically, was signed by President Bill Clinton. It states:
"Access to classified information shall be granted only to employees whose personal and professional history affirmatively indicates…strength of character, trustworthiness, honesty, reliability, discretion, and sound judgment…and willingness to abide by regulations governing the use, handling, and protection of classified information.”
Director Comey’s description of Clinton’s mishandling of classified information seems to fit the above definition like a glove –especially the words “honest” and “sound judgment.” And Clinton demonstrated no “willingness to abide by regulations governing classified information.” None whatsoever.
But would the existing Presidential Order apply to a newly elected president? Probably not. After all, a President Clinton could simply tear up her husband’s order the moment she is sworn into office. Poof! Problem solved.
On Thursday, Senators introduced a bill to revoke Clinton’s security clearance. Even if it were to pass both Houses of Congress, President Obama would surely veto it. He can hardly campaign with Clinton one day, and disqualify her the next. Overriding the veto would stand no chance at all.
Finally, House Speaker Paul Ryan has sent a letter to the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, asking that he terminate Clinton’s classified access. Appointed by the president, Clapper directs and oversees all of the national intelligence agencies. However, were he to end Clinton’s classified security clearance, Mr. Clapper might find himself promptly jobless. He serves at the pleasure of the president. And Mr. Obama happens to be Mrs. Clinton’s “new best friend” on the campaign trail.
Hence, the likelihood of Hillary Clinton ever losing access to the nation’s top secrets appears well beyond remote.
But that doesn’t make it right. Or fair. Or just.