The Cable

Paul Ryan: Clinton Shouldn’t Get Classified Briefings

In the wake of the FBI's and DOJ’s decision to not bring criminal charges against Clinton, the highest-elected Republican says the Democrat can’t be trusted with the nation’s secrets.

RyanEmail

House Speaker Paul Ryan is weighing in heavily on the reignited controversy surrounding Hillary Clinton’s private email setup as secretary of state, days before each party formally selects its presidential nominee.

Ahead of FBI Director James Comey’s appearance before a House panel Thursday morning for an hours-long grilling on his investigation, Ryan sent out a photograph of himself at a desk, apparently writing one of two letters he sent to Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

In the letter to Clapper, Ryan requested that Clinton not receive the traditional classified briefings after the Democratic Party officially hands her the presidential nomination, as expected at the party’s convention in Philadelphia at the end of the month.

Ryan argued that such a move — which would severely hamstring the Clinton campaign’s argument that it is presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump who fails to pass the commander-in-chief test — is “necessary to reassure the public that our nation’s secrets are secure.”

Comey gave a scathing critique of Clinton’s security practices on Tuesday, saying the Democrat and her aides were “extremely careless” in their handling of sensitive information, but concluding they did not act criminally. Attorney General Loretta Lynch concurred, announcing on Wednesday that the Justice Department had declined to bring charges.

But Ryan also requested in a separate letter that the FBI chief release all of the unclassified findings of his investigation, saying, “The American public deserves to know.”

In his Thursday testimony before the House Oversight Committee, Comey defended his recommendation not to press charges. But the hearing quickly devolved into a partisan spectacle.

Republican lawmakers attacked the FBI boss’s credibility and used the bureau’s investigation to go after the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chairman of the oversight committee, pressed Comey on whether Clinton had lied under oath while testifying before Congress. Comey told Chaffetz that the FBI had not examined the issue, as such an investigation requires a referral from Congress. Chaffetz, unaware that such a referral was necessary, promised that it would be forthcoming.

In 2012, Clinton told Congress that “there was nothing marked classified on my emails, either sent or received.” But on Thursday, Comey said that some information on her email server was marked with a “(C).” That symbol denotes confidential, the government’s lowest classification level. Emails that included that mark did not, however, contain the standard header that usually accompanies classified information, Comey said, who added that it was unclear whether Clinton had understood what the “(C)” denoted.

The forthcoming FBI probe on that issue — and whether Clinton’s statement represented a lie under oath — will likely be the next front in the former secretary of state’s email saga.

Under questioning from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Comey drew an interesting distinction between the Clinton camp’s mishandling of classified information and the prosecution of former Gen. David Petraeus, who fell from grace while leading the CIA when it emerged that he had shared top-secret notebooks with his lover and biographer, Paula Broadwell.

Unlike Clinton, Petraeus had acted with clear intent to share information that he knew was classified at the time he shared it, Comey said. Petraeus moreover lied to investigators looking into the matter.

Comey argued that Petraeus’s clear demonstration of intent to share classified information and subsequent obstruction of justice made his case a “perfect” example of one that should be prosecuted.

Still, it’s unlikely that Republican sympathy for the former general and CIA director, or the Bush-appointed FBI director’s testimony, will dampen GOP efforts to take further steps to sanction Clinton and reinforce perceptions that she is untrustworthy.

There’s also been plenty of concern, particularly in the intelligence community, about the GOP’s own pick receiving classified briefings, given his extemporaneous speaking style.

Asked in a later press briefing whether he’s comfortable with Trump handling sensitive intelligence, Ryan said, “I am.” He and reportedly hundreds of House members, along with Senate Republicans, met with Trump on Thursday morning in Washington in another attempt to show party unity just before the Republican convention in Cleveland.

Ryan expressed frustration when pressed on Trump’s social media pugnacity and admiring comments on former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, asking a reporter, “You think I’m going to comment on every Tweet?”

With the ambiguity characteristic of his responses to questions about the bloviating New York businessman, Ryan said the get-together with Trump was “a great meeting.”

Photo credit: WIN McNAMEE/ Staff

Molly O’Toole is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, covering immigration, refugees, and national security. She was FP’s sole 2016 presidential campaign reporter, on the trail from New Hampshire to Nevada. Previously, she covered the politics of national security for Atlantic Media’s Defense One, where she reported from Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Before that, she was a news editor at the Huffington Post. Molly has also reported on national and international politics for Reuters, the Nation, The Associated Press, and Newsweek International, among others, from Washington, New York, Mexico City, and London. She received her dual master’s degree in journalism and international relations from New York University and her bachelor’s from Cornell University and in 2016 was a grant recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation. She will always be a Californian. @mollymotoole

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace, its conflicts, and controversies. @eliasgroll

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