The FBI’s harsh criticism of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email system as US 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 (FBI) 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 currently have.
“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 DC-based attorney who specialises 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 aides.