The Obama administration has a history of dealing harshly with those who mishandle classified information — unless the offender resides in the White House inner circle.
The FBI is conducting a security investigation of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s at-home private email server for holding classified material while she was secretary of state. A new poll shows the majority of Americans want a criminal probe, and some conservatives are calling for one.
This administration has investigated and prosecuted more security leakers and people who mishandled secrets than any other in history. It has sent six persons to prison.
But when it came to retired Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who was said to be President Obama’s favorite general, the White House refused to cooperate with a special prosecutor. The prosecutor had named Mr. Cartwright as the target of his investigation of leaked secrets about a covert program to foil Iran’s nuclear program.
The Washington Post reported the White House cited national security as the reason for not turning over records. NBC News reports Mr. Cartwright was a target, generally meaning the FBI had gathered enough evidence for an indictment. Mr. Cartwright’s attorney said his client did nothing wrong.
Then there is the case of retired Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, one of the great figures in the war on terror who advises the Obama White House on national security. As CIA director and part of Mr. Obama’s closest national security advisers, he mishandled classified documents.
He received what some lawyers for other defendants complain was a slap on the wrist in a plea deal that allowed him to avoid prison.
Then there were the leaks from the Obama administration about the May 2011 SEAL Team 6 raid that killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign frequently pointed to the mission as a reason to re-elect him.
Then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was so appalled by the amount of information on tactics and techniques secrets pouring into the public from the White House that he strongly urged Obama aides to shut up.
The Defense Department inspector general conducted an investigation into White House support for the 2012 bin Laden hunt movie, “Zero Dark Thirty.” It found that the White House created talking points on the intelligence leading up to the mission to be shared with the moviemakers, according to a draft copy obtained by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO).
The IG also found that then-CIA Director Leon E. Panetta disclosed classified information at an awards ceremony at CIA headquarters attended by moviemakers who were not authorized to hear classified information. Mr. Panetta disclosed the ground commander’s name, which was protected. He also discussed material that was “TOP SECRET//SI//REL,” the draft report said.
SI refers to “special intelligence,” or communications intercepts. REL means it can be shared with certain countries listed.
The IG’s final version, released publicly in June 2013, scrubbed any mention of the Panetta slip.
Mr. Panetta told The Associated Press he did not know that the moviemakers had attended the ceremony.
The IG launched the investigation at the urging of a Republican lawmaker.
Nine prosecutions, six convictions
Former CIA analyst John Kiriakou spent two years in prison for leaking the identify of a CIA operative to the news media. Last year, he wrote in the Los Angeles Times that Mr. Panetta’s disclosures “should result in a criminal espionage charge.”
“The president and the attorney general have used the Espionage Act against more people than all other administrations combined, but not against real traitors and spies,” he wrote from prison. “The law has been applied selectively, often against whistle-blowers and others who expose illegal, corrupt government actions.”
Mr. Kiriakou was released from prison in February.
There are no public reports of any Obama administration officials being punished for providing raid details that so alarmed Mr. Gates.
In contrast, the Obama Justice Department has prosecuted at least nine persons for leaking or mishandling classified information: one Army soldier, two National Security Agency personnel, two FBI employees, one State Department contractor, two former CIA officers and Mr. Petraeus.
Unlike Mr. Petraeus, the other eight were relatively low-ranking employees, and six were sentenced to prison terms.
The Obama administration also has placed government whistleblowers under investigation on claims they made unauthorized disclosures. The whistleblowers see these probes as a blatant attempt to silence them.
Some conservatives have begun to call for a special prosecutor to investigate Mrs. Clinton, the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Tom Fitton, president of the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, which has filed a series of Freedom of Information lawsuits against the State Department and other agencies, has called for an independent prosecution outside the Justice Department.
Last week, after news broke that Mrs. Clinton was turning over her private server to the FBI, Rep. Daniel E. Issa, California Republican, made a similar call.
“If any other American had shown the same disregard for securing classified information that Hillary Clinton showed, the United States government would move quickly and decisively to hold them responsible,” Mr. Issa said. “Months after we learned about Clinton’s secret email server, the FBI and DOJ have finally mustered the motivation necessary to take it into their custody. The only reasonable path forward is a criminal investigation.”
House Speaker John A. Boehner reacted to the server transfer by suggesting, but not outright calling for, a criminal probe.
“It’s about time,” said Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “Secretary Clinton’s previous statements that she possessed no classified information were patently untrue. Her mishandling of classified information must be fully investigated.”
On the campaign trail, Mrs. Clinton belittles the email scandal as just politics. She joked in Iowa about a new social media app, Snapchat, that erases messages automatically. It was perhaps a reference to the fact that she personally reviewed the emails and decided which ones to provide to State and which ones to wipe clean from her server.
“You may have seen I recently launched a Snapchat account,” she told a crowd of supporters. “I love it. Those messages disappear all by themselves.”
‘Apples and oranges’
The State Department has mounted a vigorous defense in public and behind the scenes against the intelligence community inspector general. State has refused, for example, to provide copies of Mrs. Clinton’s 30,000 emails turned over to State.
The IG said last week that some of the emails stored on her server held the nation’s most guarded secrets — known as top secret sensitive compartmented. A State spokesman said the department disagrees.
“Do you see parallels with the Petraeus case?” a reporter asked deputy State Department spokesman Mark C. Toner at a press briefing.
“I do not,” Mr. Toner said. “It’s apples and oranges in my view.”
Mr. Petraeus pleaded guilty in April to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information. He received two years probation and a $100,000 fine.
Mr. Petraeus also lied to FBI agents when questioned about materials he handed over to his former mistress. She was working on a biography of the four-star general who had commanded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When they searched his home, they found books containing top secret information in a drawer in his study.
A former intelligence officer told The Washington Times that Mrs. Clinton’s lapses are more serious since she held top secret and other classified information in an unsecured server that could be hacked by enemies.
Mr. Toner acknowledged that “anything sent in an unclassified setting is vulnerable.” Mr. Petraeus was represented by David E. Kendall of the powerhouse law firm of Williams & Connolly. Mr. Kendall also is representing Mrs. Clinton.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has vigorously investigated whistleblowers by accusing them of mishandling classified data.
Such is the case of Lt. Col. Jason Amerine, a Green Beret war hero who went to Congress to expose what he believed was a dysfunctional hostage rescue policy. The Army removed him from his Pentagon office and put him under criminal investigation.
Whistleblower Kirk Wiebe, a retired 32-year NSA employee, saw FBI agents raid his home and confiscate his computer devices. He filed suit to get them back. Federal prosecutors alleged he held top secret information on his hard drive, a charge Mr. Wiebe denied. He has not been prosecuted.