Trump allies cite Clinton email probe to attack classified records case. There are big differences

WASHINGTON (AP) — As former President Donald Trump prepares for a capital appearance Tuesday on charges related to the hoarding of top-secret documents, Republican allies are amplifying, without evidence, claims that he is the target of a political pursuit.

To make their case, Trump supporters cite the Justice Department’s 2016 decision not to press charges against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, his Democratic challenger in the presidential race that year. for its handling of classified information. His supporters also cite a separate investigation into classified documents relating to President Joe Biden to allege a two-tier justice system that punishes Trump, the undisputed top frontrunner for the GOP White House nomination in 2024, for conduct that Democrats have committed.

“Is there a different standard for a Democratic Secretary of State compared to a former Republican President?” “I think there has to be a standard of justice in this country,” said Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a top Trump rival.

But these arguments overlook many factual and legal differences – primarily related to intent, state of mind, and deliberate acts of obstruction – that limit the value of such comparisons.

A look at the Clinton, Biden and Trump investigations and what separates them:


Clinton relied on a private email system for convenience when she was the Obama administration’s top diplomat. That decision came back to haunt her when, in 2015, the intelligence agencies’ internal watchdog alerted the FBI to the potential presence of hundreds of emails containing classified information.

FBI investigators would ultimately conclude that Clinton had sent and received emails containing classified information about this unclassified system, including classified information at the top secret level.

Of the approximately 30,000 emails passed on by Clinton representatives, according to the FBI, 110 emails in 52 email chains were found to contain classified information, some at the top secret level.

After a roughly year-long investigation, the FBI closed the investigation in July 2016, concluding that Clinton had no intention of breaking the law. The bureau reopened the investigation months later, 11 days before the presidential election, after uncovering a new batch of emails. After reviewing these communications, the FBI again chose not to recommend charges.


The indictment filed by Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith alleges that when Trump left the White House after his term ended in January 2021, he took hundreds of classified documents with him. at his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago — then repeatedly hampered efforts. by the government he once oversaw to retrieve the records.

The documents Trump kept, prosecutors say, related to U.S. nuclear programs, weapons and defense capabilities of the U.S. and foreign countries, and potential vulnerabilities to attack — information that, if exposed, could compromise the security of military and human sources.

Beyond simply hoarding documents — in places including a bathroom, ballroom, shower and his bedroom — the Justice Department says Trump showed highly sensitive documents to visitors who, without permission, security, hampered the FBI by, among other things, directing a personal assistant who was tasked alongside him with moving boxes around Mar-a-Lago to conceal them from investigators.

Although Trump and his allies claimed he could do with the documents as he pleased under the Presidential Records Act, the indictment ignores that argument and does not make a single reference to that law. .

In total, the indictment includes 37 counts against Trump, most under an espionage law relating to the willful withholding of national defense information.


Many, but two important differences lie in the will and the obstruction.

In an otherwise harshly critical assessment in which he condemned Clinton’s email practices as “grossly negligent”, then-FBI Director James Comey announced that investigators had found no clear evidence that Clinton or its associates intended to violate laws governing classified information.

As a result, he said, “no reasonable prosecutor” would move forward with a case. The relevant Espionage Act cases brought by the Justice Department over the past century, Comey said, all involved factors including efforts to obstruct justice, deliberate mishandling of classified information. documents and the exposure of large amounts of records None of these factors existed in the Clinton investigation, he said.

This stands in direct contrast to the allegations against Trump, who prosecutors say was involved in packing boxes to get to Mar-a-Lago and then actively took steps to conceal the classified documents from investigators.

The indictment accuses him, for example, of suggesting that a lawyer hide documents required by a subpoena from the Department of Justice or of falsely claiming that all the requested records had been turned over, even if There were over 100 left.

The indictment repeatedly cites Trump’s own words against him to prove he understood what he was doing and what the law did and did not allow him to do. He describes a July 2021 meeting at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, in which he showed a Pentagon “attack plan” to people without security clearance to view the material and proclaimed that “as president, I could have declassified it”. ”

“Now I can’t, you know, but it’s still a secret,” he said in the indictment.

This conversation, captured by audio recording, is likely to be a powerful piece of evidence as it undermines Trump’s oft-repeated claims that he had declassified documents he brought with him to Mar-a. -The girlfriend.


The White House revealed in January that, two months earlier, a lawyer for Biden had located what he said was a “small number” of classified documents from his time as vice president during a search of Biden’s offices. Biden’s former institute in Washington. The documents were handed over to the Ministry of Justice.

Biden’s attorneys then located an additional batch of classified documents at Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, and the FBI found even more during a voluntary search of the property.

The revelations were a humiliating setback to Biden’s efforts to draw a clear contrast between his handling of sensitive information and that of Trump. Even so, as with Clinton, there are significant differences in subject matter.

Although Attorney General Merrick Garland in January appointed a second special counsel to investigate the Biden documents, no charges have been brought and, so far at least, no evidence has emerged to suggest anyone intentionally moved classified documents or attempted to obstruct the investigation.

While the FBI obtained a search warrant last August to retrieve additional classified documents, each of Biden’s searches were conducted voluntarily with the consent of his team.

The Justice Department, meanwhile, told Trump Vice President Mike Pence earlier this month that he would not press charges after the discovery of classified documents in his Indiana home. This case also did not involve any allegations of deliberate withholding or obstruction.


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