The Hillary Clinton Email Saga Has One More Ticking Time Bomb

The Hillary Clinton email scandal could yet derail her campaign, which of late has looked virtually unstoppable.

Since her strong performance in the Oct. 13 Democratic presidential debate, fate has smiled on the Clinton campaign.

Hillary Clinton emailTwo rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination have dropped out, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee. Vice President Joe Biden, who potentially represented a more credible threat, announced he would not run.

This week, she easily deflected aggressive questioning from Republican members of the House committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi tragedy.

And Clinton has reversed a months-long slide in the polls. Since the debate, her numbers in the Real Clear Politics average have risen from 42% to 47.8%. She'll pick up more support now with Biden decisively out of the picture.

And yet the Hillary Clinton email scandal continues to stalk the campaign. It's the last real obstacle between her and the Democratic nomination for president - and in all probability, the White House.

What Makes the Clinton Email Scandal Unique

Clinton and her supporters have insisted that she did nothing wrong regarding her use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.

And if it were just another GOP Congressional committee conducting an investigation, Clinton would have nothing to worry about.

But Republicans aren't the ones looking into possible Hillary Clinton email wrongdoing. It's the non-partisan Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The progress of the FBI probe, which launched in early August, is unknown. But we do know the agency won't give Clinton a pass because of her status.

"If you know my folks, you know they don't give a rip about politics," FBI Director James Comey said in a meeting with reporters Oct. 1. "And my job as director of the FBI is to ensure that we remain those things I said we are: competent, honest and independent - and that we do our work well."

The wild card, of course, is whether the FBI investigation of the Hillary Clinton email activities will result in any charges. That's what her campaign fears most. Even if she could successfully fend off any punishment, it's very doubtful any presidential candidacy - including hers - could survive an indictment.

Here's why the FBI investigation into the Hillary Clinton emails could end up being the kryptonite that destroys her quest for the presidency...

Charges in the Hillary Clinton Email Probe a Real Possibility

The Inspector General for the U.S. Intelligence Community expressed concern to the Justice Department in July that classified information that may have been stored on Clinton's private server could have been "compromised." That triggered the FBI investigation.

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who served as Associate Attorney General in the Justice Department during the Reagan Administration, believes Clinton potentially violated 15 federal statutes.

Some violations, such as her failure to ensure that all of her business emails were transferred into the State Department system, aren't particularly serious.

It's the violations regarding how Clinton handled classified information that could bring an indictment.

Possible violations include:

  • Having classified information in an unauthorized location
  • Transmitting classified information to unauthorized parties (as Clinton did with friend and personal advisor Sidney Blumenthal)
  • Transmitting classified information over an unsecured, unclassified system

Clinton has said that no emails on the private server were "marked classified," which appears to be true as far as it goes. But as the State Department has released batches of the Hillary Clinton emails, it has retroactively marked hundreds of them classified.

Many of those probably fall into a grey area, a judgment call on whether the information needed to be classified. In those borderline cases, it's unlikely the FBI would push for any charges.

But the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency determined that at least two were Top Secret - the highest level of classification.

In addition, at least six emails that Clinton both received and sent herself contained information pertaining to foreign governments, which intelligence experts refer to as "born classified."

In cases like that, how the emails were marked won't matter. Anything rising to the level of Top Secret is obviously classified material. Any high-ranking official, and especially a secretary of state, would know instinctively it was classified and be expected to treat it accordingly.

Just one mishandled classified email would be enough for the FBI to recommend charges against Clinton.

A decisive factor may be if evidence surfaces that any of the Hillary Clinton emails fell into foreign hands. Last month, we learned that foreign governments such as Russia, China, South Korea, and Germany targeted the Hillary Clinton emails in cyberattacks.

The Hillary Clinton Email Server Was Not Secure

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No one knows if any of the cyberattacks succeeded. But Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency who divulged large amounts of classified information, told Al-Jazeera last month that the idea her server was secure is "completely ridiculous."

Snowden suggested that Clinton's actions could easily be interpreted as violations of federal laws.

"If an ordinary worker at the State Department or the CIA ... were sending details about the security of embassies, which is alleged to be in her email, meetings with private government officials, foreign government officials and the statements that were made to them in confidence over unclassified email systems, they would not only lose their jobs and lose their clearance, they would very likely face prosecution for it," he said.

At that point, it would be up to the Justice Department to file the charges. One would think that President Obama's Justice Department would bend over backwards to protect the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. But the relationship between President Obama and Hillary Clinton has always been tense, so there's no guarantee he'd try to protect her.

On the other hand, it's easy to picture FBI employees, unhappy that their work has been ignored, leaking their findings to the media. That would have just about the same devastating impact as an indictment on Clinton's campaign.

It's certainly possible that the FBI investigation will clear Clinton. But until we hear from it, the Hillary Clinton emails will remain a ticking time bomb under her campaign.

The Bottom Line: Hillary Clinton is as close to a shoo-in for president as anyone could be at this point, but for one thing. The Hillary Clinton email scandal, which is in the hands of the non-partisan FBI, could very well bring an indictment that would crush her campaign. Until the FBI finishes its investigation, Clinton's path to the White House will have a dark cloud over it.

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About the Author

David Zeiler, Associate Editor for Money Morning at Money Map Press, has been a journalist for more than 35 years, including 18 spent at The Baltimore Sun. He has worked as a writer, editor, and page designer at different times in his career. He's interviewed a number of well-known personalities - ranging from punk rock icon Joey Ramone to Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak.

Over the course of his journalistic career, Dave has covered many diverse subjects. Since arriving at Money Morning in 2011, he has focused primarily on technology. He's an expert on both Apple and cryptocurrencies. He started writing about Apple for The Sun in the mid-1990s, and had an Apple blog on The Sun's web site from 2007-2009. Dave's been writing about Bitcoin since 2011 - long before most people had even heard of it. He even mined it for a short time.

Dave has a BA in English and Mass Communications from Loyola University Maryland.

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