Hillary Clinton appears to have escaped punishment for what FBI director James Comey described as her “extremely careless” handling of classified information over an unauthorized private email server during her time as secretary of state. Clinton’s aides might not be so lucky.
Pressure is mounting on the State Department to revoke security clearances for a number of Hillary Clinton closest aides who were also implicated in her careless handling of classified information. Longtime advisers Jake Sullivan, Huma Abedin, and Cheryl Mills in particular have come under scrutiny, given their role in sending “top secret” information over Clinton’s unsecured email server. If Hillary is elected, all three would be in line for top posts at the White House.
However, if any of these aides suffer non-legal consequences as a result of their handling of classified information, such as being stripped of their security clearance, giving them key roles in the White House could create a political headache for Clinton.
State Department spokesman John Kirby has said that former official could still face “administration sanctions” in connection with an ongoing review into the department’s handling of classified material. Such sanctions could make it difficult for individuals to obtain a security clearance in the future.
FBI Director Comey told members of Congress last week that individuals who mishandle classified information may be subject to severe administrative consequences. A number of national security attorneys told The Hill that individuals found to have mishandled classified material would struggle to obtain future access to restricted information.
The State Department does not typically release information as to which individuals hold security clearances, so it is not known whether Abedin, Mills, Sullivan, or even Hillary Clinton still hold active clearances to access sensitive information.
Clinton, if elected president, would be automatically exempt from any potential sanctions regarding her access to classified information. Even if her aides are slapped with administrative sanctions, Clinton would still, as president, be able to bring them into her administration and grant them access to classified information, but doing so would likely cause a political firestorm.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has already called for Clinton to be denied clearance to receive the national security briefings typically given to presidential nominees. A group of Republican senators sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging the State Department to revoke clearances for Clinton, Abedin, Mills, and Sullivan. Last week, Sen. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.) introduced a bill that would deny security clearance to “any officer or employee of the federal government who has exercised extreme carelessness in the handling of classified information.”
Of the Clinton aides involved, Sullivan is perhaps the most controversial given the role he played in orchestrating and selling the Iran nuclear deal, which is already being violated, according to Germany’s intelligence agency. Sullivan has also criticized GOP nominee Donald Trump as danger to national security, even while he was being investigated for mishandling sensitive national security information.