For decades now the Clintons have operated in a world where the rules, regulations and laws that apply to all other Americans didn't apply to them and have been able to get away with it. They managed to dodge or rise above every scandal as if it didn't exist. They were simply invented by Republicans or hostile press to annoy them unfairly. When Hillary Clinton's email scandal erupted in March it appeared this would simply be business as usual and it would all go away in short order. At the time her explanations and excuses for use of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State were lame at best and obviously false and fraudulent. It didn't seem to matter, other than to a few Republican Senators and Fox News.
Her initial claim that there was no classified data on the server was simply absurd, which was widely recognized. If nothing else, the leaks of State Department cables by Edward Snowden show that virtually all such communications are classified at some level, and the Department itself states that even the Secretary's calendar is a classified document.
The current charges, brought by the Inspectors General of two key departments -- not evil Republicans and press -- bring the problem to an entirely different level and if appropriately prosecuted could likely involve serious criminal charges. Here the critical issue is that her private server contained at least some Top Secret/SCI (Sensitive Compartmented Information) in direct violation of federal statutes and Intelligence Community regulations. It is useful to consider exactly what these laws are and what is likely to have happened.
Top Secret/SCI is the most highly classified and sensitive type of information within the U.S. government. It affects intelligence sources and methods, and often the lives of intelligence operatives. Personal access to this type of classified information as well as the transmission and storage are governed by strict directives set forth by the Intelligence community, and not subject to the personal whim of the Secretary of State or her assistants. It must be stored on approved government SCI systems, and transmitted on special secure communications systems. These laws and regulations apply to everybody -- including Hillary Clinton and her staff.
Exactly how this Top Secret/SCI information wound up on Hillary's private server is a critical question and one likely to lead to the downfall of some assistants and possibly Hillary herself. It is not simply a matter of some person, presumably within the State Department with the proper security clearance and access to this SCI data, "stripping off" the classification markings and sending the material to Hillary. The systems involved here were designed to prevent this, or at least make it difficult to do.
Top Secret/SCI data is only stored on computers within special facilities, known as "SCIFs," and transmitted on secure, encrypted networks designed for this purpose that cannot be hacked by the Chinese, Russians and others. Moving this data from these systems to an unclassified email system requires real -- and illegal -- effort. Without question whoever did this to assist Hillary didn't simply make a mistake and forward an email or a "sanitized" classified document. A conscious and substantial effort was involved by somebody who knowingly violated several sections of the federal criminal code and is open to prosecution for doing so. Certainly the classified emails already identified by the two Inspectors General came from somebody and it should be easy enough to trace who, apart from the fact that the server Hillary finally turned over to the FBI was wiped clean -- to nobody's surprise.
What the Justice Department intends to do about all of this remains the open question. In the normal Clinton world, this would all simply be ignored and go away, destined to the historic dustbin with Whitewater, Travelgate and any of the other Clinton scandals. For once, however, it may be too much for the Clinton magic to overcome. It's already in the hands of the FBI, and there appears to be some pressure from the CIA that this one not be swept under the rug.
Quite possibly the key to Hillary's undoing will be whoever at the State Department or other government agency did the illegal transfer of the Top Secret/SCI data to begin with. When faced with charges and serious time in federal prison one likely scenario is that they will plead out with more information as to what was going on, and that this was no simple mistake or inadvertent error. How complicit Hillary was in all of this remains to be seen.
For now Hillary is still sticking to the absurd story that she was unaware that there was any classified data on her server; that the tens of thousands of emails she sent and received during her tenure as Secretary of State were all unclassified; and now that she was unaware that she was reading Top Secret/SCI data, which clearly came from intelligence sources, was not classified at the time. It was highly classified -- with or without the markings -- and she knew it. After decades in government with access to such data this excuse is truly laughable.
Now the intelligence community isn't laughing and an increasing number of the press, other than Fox News, are starting to see that the problem is quite a bit more serious than the Clinton campaign would have you believe. Whether or not the Justice Department will finally do an honest job where a Clinton is involved remains to be seen.