- President Donald Trump again criticised Hillary Clinton and her top aide over their handling of classified information.
- The president also appeared to invoke a 2016 case of a US sailor jailed for photographing classified areas on a nuclear-powered attack submarine.
- Conservative commentators have held up the two situations as an example of selective treatment, but it’s far from clear the two cases are comparable.
President Donald Trump early on Tuesday launched another broadside against his opponent in the 2016 election, tweeting about Hillary Clinton and her top aide, Huma Abedin, over their handling of classified information.
“Crooked Hillary Clinton’s top aid, Huma Abedin, has been accused of disregarding basic security protocols,” Trump tweeted. “She put Classified Passwords into the hands of foreign agents. Remember sailors pictures on submarine? Jail! Deep State Justice Dept must finally act? Also on Comey & others.”
Trump’s reference to “sailors pictures on submarine” is most likely about the case of Kristian Saucier, who was a machinist’s mate aboard the Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarine USS Alexandria from September 2007 to March 2012.
In July 2015, Saucier was charged with taking photos of classified spaces, instruments, and equipment inside the USS Alexandria on at least three occasions in 2009.
Court papers also said Saucier attempted to destroy his laptop, camera, and camera memory card after he was interviewed by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in July 2012.
The investigation began in March 2012, when Saucier’s mobile phone, with pictures of the submarine still on it, was found at a waste-transfer station in Connecticut.
Saucier pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorised possession and retention of national defence information in May 2016. Three months later, he was sentenced to a year in jail, three years of supervised release, six months of home confinement, and 100 hours of community service. He was also given an “other than honorable” discharge from the Navy.
Saucier becomes a conservative talking point
Tuesday’s tweet is not the first time Trump or his surrogates have invoked Saucier’s case to highlight the perception that Clinton received special treatment.
Vice President Mike Pence argued during an October 2016 debate with Tim Kaine, Clinton’s running mate, that a service member who handled classified information the way Clinton did would “absolutely” face court-martial, though The Washington Post found it was far from clear that would happen.
In a campaign speech, Trump referred to Saucier – a 22-year-old sailor at the time the photos were taken – as “the kid who wanted some pictures of the submarine.”
“That’s an old submarine,” Trump said. “They have got plenty of pictures, if the enemy wants them, they have got plenty of them. He wanted to take a couple of pictures. They put him in jail for a year.”
Saucier’s lawyer also compared the six photos his client took of the sub’s classified propulsion system to the 110 classified emails the FBI determined were on the private email server that Clinton used while she was secretary of state.
“It will be unjust and unfair for Mr. Saucier to receive any sentence other than probation for a crime those more powerful than him will likely avoid,” the lawyer wrote in an August 2016 sentencing memorandum.
But the judge in the case appeared to dismiss the comparison, as well as the argument that Saucier was being treated differently.
“Selective enforcement is really not a good argument,” US District Judge Stefan Underhill said during Saucier’s sentencing, adding, “Those arguments don’t really carry much water.”
Saucier was not court-martialed, and the FBI did not present evidence that he attempted to disseminate the photos he took. Espionage was not mentioned as part of his plea agreement.
Even Saucier’s lawyers acknowledged that his actions were distinct from Clinton’s email usage. Clinton said she did not knowingly send or receive classified emails. Saucier, however, admitted he knew that taking the photos was illegal – his lawyers said he did it “out of the misguided desire” to show his family what he did while he was in the Navy.
Intelligence agencies have said Clinton’s account contained 65 messages with information considered “secret” and 22 classified as “top secret.” Some messages contained data under an even more restrictive “special access program” designation. (Clinton disputed those designations, saying they were the result of overclassification.)
Saucier was released from prison and placed under house arrest at the end of the summer. During an appearance on Fox Business Network in late September, Saucier said he thought “punishment isn’t doled out evenly” and hoped Trump would “make right by it.”
“I served my debt to society,” he said. “I did my year, and that’s why I waited to speak out about it.”
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