If the Obama administration is famous for anything among Washington’s media it is their willingness to go to the ends of the earth to hunt down the sources and recipients of leaks even of unclassified materials. According to the New York Times, “Under Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the Justice Department prosecuted more people for having unauthorized discussions with reporters than all prior administrations combined.”
However, when it comes to America’s new royalty – high-level government and military officials who fail to provide basic protection of classified material – not so much. In that area the administration has come close to expanding the principle of sovereign immunity, "rex non potest peccare," [the king can do no wrong], to every important person in the government’s hierarchy. They just call it prosecutorial discretion which means that there are two sets of laws, one for the ordinary people and one for America's new royalty.
This administration is hardly the first to adopt this attitude although they appear to be setting records in that area too. In 2005, during the G.W. Bush administration, former Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger was caught “illegally taking classified documents out of the National Archives by stuffing them in his pants.” He was fined, given community service and probation. Had he not been a member of the new royalty he would have certainly faced serious jail time.
The classification "Top Secret" is defined as information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security and there are also many programs whose information is so sensitive it is compartmentalized into special categories.
The duty and methods of protecting classified material are clearly spelled out in the law and implementing regulations and most of them are just common sense. Many millions of Americans have access to Top Secret and compartmented information daily and the vast majority of them are very conscientious about their responsibilities. Violations, for the most part, involve isolated carelessness such as failing to return a document to the safe drawer in a controlled area. Even these are treated seriously by most agencies with harsh, and sometimes as career-ending, punishments.
The difference between those typical single-event violations and Petraeus sharing classified information with his mistress or Clinton choosing to use a private rather than a government sever for classified materials is the difference between jaywalking and driving under the influence; those two cases being the latter, both were reckless disregard of the rules.
Petraeus made a conscious decision to try and impress by sharing secrets. Clinton made a conscious decision to hide some of her communications from the government archives and then opted for the convenience of having highly classified information on the same private system. They should both be seriously punished for putting themselves before their duty to protect the nation's secrets; they won't. Petraeus has already received his slap on the wrist and Clinton is likely to get a finger-wagging letter.
In the latest flap President Obama said he was not influencing the investigation, but that he was sure that former Secretary Clinton had not jeopardized national security. That statement alone influences the ongoing investigation. No one has accused Hillary Clinton of being a spy, but non-spies are harshly punished for carelessness in handling classified information all the time – IF they are not government royalty.
Versions of the quotation, “With great power comes great responsibility” have been variously attributed to the bible, Voltaire, Spider-man, Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt, and many others. No matter who you credit, we have to abide by that concept by eliminating the idea of new royalty if we want to restore the public’s faith in government.