July 6, 2016
"Simply put: Lying matters. Public trust matters. Integrity matters. And woe to us as a nation if we decide to pretend this isn’t so."
U.S. Senator Ben Sasse spoke on the Senate floor today about the FBI's systematic account of Secretary Clinton's mishandling of classified information, the danger of a two-tiered system of justice, and the erosion of public trust in civic life.
Senator Sasse's remarks, as prepared for delivery, are found below:
Mr. President: Yesterday, James Comey, the FBI Director, announced that his agency will not recommend that the Department of Justice bring criminal federal charges against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding her use of a set of off-the-books, undisclosed, unsecured email servers not only for her personal correspondence but also for her official duties, including highly sensitive material related to foreign intelligence and terrorist-targeting.
Director Comey’s rationale for systematically and devastatingly recounting Secretary Clinton’s many violations of the law and yet recommending against a prosecution is being hotly debated both outside and inside the FBI, as it should be.
I rise in this body today, as a matter of oversight, to speak to a slightly different matter than the prosecutorial decision. The debate about why the crimes are not being prosecuted in this case should not blind us to a broader, debasing problem in our civic life today.
Simply put: Lying matters. Public trust matters. Integrity matters. And woe to us as a nation if we decide to pretend that this isn’t so.
This issue isn’t about political points or about presidential politics. It is about whether the people can trust their representatives, those who are supposed to be serving them in government for a time.
I am going to read a series of direct quotes from Secretary Clinton regarding this investigation and then I will read a series of direct quotes from Director Comey’s statement yesterday, as well as from the State Department’s official Inspector General report on this issue.
I will not provide a running commentary. I will, instead, simply recount the words and assertions of Secretary Clinton and hold them up to the light of what the FBI and the State Department investigations have found. Sadly, that will be damning enough.
When the story broke about the Secretary’s use of a personal email account and server, she called a press conference at the United Nations on March 10, 2015 and emphatically, without qualification, declared: “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material.” Period, full stop.
Yesterday, Director Comey: Not true. “110 e-mails in 52 e-mail chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight of those chains contained information that was Top Secret at the time they were sent; 36 chains contained Secret information…”
Later, Mrs. Clinton attempted to adjust her defense: “...I did not send nor receive information that was marked classified at the time that it was sent or received.”
Yesterday, Director Comey directly addressed and directly dismissed this defense, noting that – while only a “small number of the e-mails containing classified information bore markings indicating the presence of classified information” – “even if information is not marked ‘classified’ in an e-mail, participants who know – or should know – that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it.”
Throughout this controversy, Secretary Clinton has maintained: “I fully complied with every rule I was governed by.”
The Inspector General of her own State Department concluded exactly the opposite: “... Sending emails from a personal account to other employees at their Department Accounts is not an appropriate method of preserving any such emails that would constitute a federal record. Therefore, Secretary Clinton should have preserved any federal records she created and received on her personal account by printing and filing those records with the related files in the office of the Secretary. At a minimum, Secretary Clinton should have surrendered all emails dealing with Department business before leaving government service and, because she did not do so, she did not comply with the Department’s policies that were implemented in accordance with the Federal Records Act” statute.
Now, regarding those subsequently “surrendered emails,” Mrs. Clinton has said: “... After I left office, the State Department asked former secretaries of state for our assistance in providing copies of work-related emails from our personal accounts. I responded right away and providedALL my emails that could possibly be work-related ..”
Yesterday Director Comey explicitly rejected this claim, noting not only that several thousandemails were missing, but also that some of the emails she withheld were in fact also classified.
Director Comey: “The FBI also discovered several thousand work-related e-mails that were not in the group of 30,000 that were returned by Secretary Clinton to State in 2014 … With respect to the thousands of emails we found that were not among those produced to State, agencies have concluded that three of those were classified at the time they were sent or received, one at the Secret level…”
Mr. President, lest it is confused, here is Director Comey’s summary of the situation: “ … Any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.”
Mr. President, we could go on. There’s more – about the foreign adversaries that we know were and are trying to hack sensitive U.S. government classified material. What I’ve presented here are not opinions. They’re not political talking points or spin.
All I’ve done is recount some of the specific defenses, claims, and excuses Secretary Clinton has offered regarding her use of a set of unsecured, off-the-books email servers, and then contrasted those claims with how the FBI and the State Department have proved those claims to be clearly and knowingly false.
If any of Secretary Clinton’s defenders in this body would like to come to the floor to dispute the FBI’s assertions, I would welcome that discussion.
Mr. President, these are serious matters that deserve our serious attention. As elected officials, we have been entrusted for a time with the security and with the trust of the people.
Quite apart from the specific question of whether Secretary Clinton is going to be convicted of a crime, we must grapple with the reality that the public trust, the rule of law, and the security of our Nation have been injured by her actions.
In the coming months, the next time a career military or intelligence officer leaks an important secret – a legally defined classified matter related to the security of our nation and our nation’s spies who are putting their lives at risk to defend our freedoms – one of two very bad things is going to happen next:
Either that individual will not be held accountable, because yesterday the decision was made to set a new, lower standard about our nation’s security secrets. We will thereby become weaker.
Or, the decision will be made to hold that person accountable – either by prosecution or by firing. In that moment, the individual and his or her peers will rightly ask: “But why is the standard different for me than for a politically powerful person?”
This question is about the rise of a two-tiered system of justice – one for the common man and one for the political elite.
This is about the rise of a two-tiered system of justice - one for the common man & one for the political elite. https://t.co/QcWP4jjvuY— Senator Ben Sasse (@SenSasse) July 6, 2016
If we allow such a two-tiered system to solidify, we fail in our duties – both to safeguard the nation, and to enable the people to believe in representative government and in equality before the law.
This stuff matters. Lying matters. The dumbing down and the debasing of expectations about the truthfulness of public speech matter. Honor matters.
And woe to us as a nation if we decide to forget this obvious truth of republican government.
Thank you, Mr. President.