Nearly every day, fresh revelations emerge concerning the national security material purloined from the White House by former President Donald Trump, and the negligent treatment of that classified information by him and his aides. So far, we have seen no adequate public reckoning of why he took those papers, what he meant to do with them, how some went missing or even exactly how many documents he brought to his Florida estate.
Yet amid growing evidence of the former president’s reckless and potentially criminal misconduct, he and his defenders keep pointing to “her emails.” They insist that because the Justice Department declined prosecution of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after a long and thorough probe of how she handled allegedly classified information, there should be no investigation, let alone indictment, of Trump.
But while we don’t yet know the extent or nature of Trump’s abuse of classified documents, we can determine how many were found by investigators, after exhaustive searches, among Clinton’s thousands of State Department emails.
The accurate answer is zero — although few if any news outlets have informed the public of that startling fact. And it is a fact that the Trump administration itself confirmed three years ago.
In recent news stories that reference her emails, former FBI Director James Comey is sometimes quoted saying that of the 33,000 Clinton emails examined by bureau investigators, three had classification markings. That’s less than one-hundredth of 1 percent, and not worth comparing to Trump’s malfeasance anyway, but it’s still an exaggeration, apparently meant to bolster Comey’s absurd claim that other Clinton emails were “classified” although not marked as such.
Those three State Department documents were “call sheets,” innocuous memos reminding Clinton to make scheduled phone calls. During her FBI interview, investigators showed her one of those memos, reminding her to place a condolence call to the president of Malawi. Not exactly a top-secret matter and, as Comey himself later admitted, any classification marking on that sheet had been wrongly applied.
In short, the three supposedly classified documents attributed to her emails were barely even confidential, let alone secret or subject to the sanctions of the Espionage Act.
Still, the hunting of Hillary never ends and — amid ongoing threats to her by Trump — inevitably resumed during his presidency. Her emails, and those of her State Department subordinates, became the target of not one but two departmental probes that picked up where her exoneration by the Justice Department left off.
The first round, which began under Rex Tillerson, Trump’s first secretary of state, opened with a claim of 41 “security incidents” attributed to Clinton — and concluded, after months of argument and appeals by her attorneys at Williams & Connolly, that none of those alleged incidents was valid but that she shouldn’t have used a private email server. In that respect her conduct was no different from her Republican predecessor, the late Colin Powell, or many officials in the Bush White House, including Karl Rove.
The second State Department review commenced with more fanfare in 2019 under Tillerson’s ambitious and unscrupulous successor Mike Pompeo (who, it is worth noting, soon came under official scrutiny himself for gross and self-serving misuse of State Department resources). By then, the hypocrisy behind Republican indignation over “her emails” had been highlighted by massive, repeated security breaches in the Trump White House, where numerous officials unlawfully used private email accounts and normal protective protocols were routinely flouted.
No doubt Pompeo, a veteran of the House select committee on Benghazi, hoped to find something, anything to arraign Clinton. But again, in the end, there was zero, zilch, nada. Although the second review began with a July 31, 2019, notice from State officials that they “suspected” Clinton might be responsible for 12 classified “spillages,” they concluded nine weeks later that she did not “bear any individual culpability” for those incidents.
Despite all the hysterical accusations that persist to this day, Hillary Clinton was innocent of jeopardizing national security. It now appears frighteningly obvious that Donald Trump is not.
Joe Conason is a nationally syndicated columnist.