Since the FBI raided the home of former President Donald Trump earlier this week, his defenders have been quick to compare the situation to the investigation that engulfed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for its management of government communications. But while Trump also faces an investigation for his handling of correspondence and official documents, the cases differ significantly.
A comparison of the two investigations based on publicly available information suggests that it was the responses of Trump and Clinton themselves that dictated the steps of the investigation and their strength. Any criticism that Clinton was treated more leniently than Trump stems from a cursory examination of their cases. On the contrary, Clinton suffered more mistreatment due to violations of Justice Department protocols and the politicization of her case than Trump.
On the contrary, Clinton suffered more mistreatment due to violations of Justice Department protocols and the politicization of her case than Trump.
In Clinton’s case, the FBI investigated her use of a private email server for official government communications while she was secretary of state. The federal law at issue provided for up to five years in prison for the unauthorized removal of classified material and for the retention of that material in an unauthorized location. In the end, the government failed to establish that Clinton acted criminally.
The investigation currently confusing the former president involves three criminal statutes listed in the search warrant. The first provides for a sentence of up to three years for the intentional removal of certain objects from any public office. The second provides for a penalty of up to 10 years for the unauthorized possession of objects, including documents that the possessor has reason to believe could harm the United States, if the possessor refuses to hand over the objects to an agent of the United States entitled to possession thereof. when requested. The final law listed in the search warrant provides for a sentence of up to 20 years for concealing or destroying documents for the purpose of obstructing an investigation. Trump has denied any wrongdoing and it’s unclear whether Trump is at the center of the investigation.
Although Trump’s case has more legal dimensions and potentially stiffer sentences, the two investigations have much in common. Both involved unauthorized manipulation of documents or objects away from officially authorized locations for such materials. In Clinton’s case, the emails were on a personal server. The concern was the possibility of a hacker obtaining classified information that could harm the United States.
As for Trump, based on the limited information currently available, the concerns could be similar to those that prompted the Clinton investigation, namely the existence of classified information that could be released to the detriment of the United States. But the Mar-a-Lago search warrant also occurred in the context of other grand jury investigations surrounding Trump.
The Justice Department has convened a grand jury to review the events surrounding the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. Another wonders if Trump or his associates interfered with the presidential vote in Georgia in 2020. Therefore, there was potentially the danger that relevant evidence would be hidden and be or be destroyed.
Although we seem to be far from the conclusion of the Trump investigation, we know that the Clinton investigation was long and thorough. In addition to the FBI’s criminal investigation, the State Department’s Office of Inspector General issued a report on its handling of classified documents, and numerous congressional committees launched their own (largely partisan) investigations. The FBI found no evidence of criminal actions in Clinton’s use of a private email server, and a Justice Department Inspector General’s report on the FBI and its own investigation of Clinton confirmed the conclusion that there were no criminal offences.
Despite the findings, the Clinton process suffered from overriding Justice Department directives, which resulted in it wielding substantial political influence. As such, the Clinton investigation hurt the former secretary of state even if it ultimately exonerated her.
During the Clinton investigation, then-FBI Director James Comey provided updates on the progress of the investigation in violation of Justice Department policy. Additionally, Comey went so far as to hold a press conference in which he both exonerated Clinton and criticized her professionalism in an arena that did not allow her to respond. He said the investigation did not prove any criminal offenses because Clinton did not act with the criminal intent necessary to convict her of a crime, but he accused her of being ‘grossly negligent’ in the processing of e-mails. Additionally, Comey inserted himself into the 2016 election when he then announced within two weeks of the 2016 presidential vote that the FBI was reviewing more of his emails — an announcement that may have played a role. major role in determining the outcome of this election.
In contrast, there are no such signs of Justice Department aberrations or politicization regarding Trump. The investigation appears to have been scrupulous in adhering to Department of Justice regulations and protocols thus far. Media reported that National Archives officials initially contacted the former president about documents believed to be in his possession. When a non-investigative contact from the National Archives did not result in the production of documents belonging to the United States, the agency referred the matter to the Department of Justice.
The department itself first tried to obtain the material through informal contacts with representatives of the former president. When that failed, the department served a subpoena for the items, presumably on Trump or the custodian of the Mar-a-Lago archives. This apparently led to long discussions, but not to the production of documents for the National Archives. Eventually, the FBI executed a search warrant to seize the items.
In stark contrast to Comey, who spoke out about his investigation, its findings, and the actions of the former secretary of state, Attorney General Merrick Garland broke none of these conventions during his brief appearance before the media. Thursday to discuss research at Mar-a -Lago. Garland merely announced that the department would seek to unseal the search warrant and inventory left at the scene of the search, but did not reveal any information about the investigation.
There are, of course, limits to what can be compared between a completed investigation and one that is still ongoing. But we can already see a major difference between the two: the response of the contractors involved. According to what is publicly known, Clinton and his representatives cooperated with the investigation and the investigators. Therefore, there was no need to issue a subpoena or execute a search warrant.
In contrast, the response from Trump and his representatives appears to have been to delay: First, they apparently stiffed the National Archives. Then they initially seemed to do the same with the Department of Justice. Finally, they did not respond to a subpoena from the Department of Justice.
And there could be more revelations to come. The public does not know the full scope of the investigation, particularly whether it is limited to documents held in the National Archives or whether it involves other matters. This naturally means that the full extent of Trump’s response has yet to be appreciated.
But we know investigators executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago because the Trump camp failed to respond to less intrusive investigative efforts. It was a more aggressive legal action than Clinton faced, as she cooperated more fully than he did. Any further comparison of their cases must keep this crucial context in mind.
Ultimately, survey comparisons attempting to show that Clinton received more lenient treatment than Trump as evidence that law enforcement has a vendetta against the former president are misleading. All investigations possess dynamism as investigators follow leads and react to events as they occur. In each of these investigations, the investigative actions followed the precepts of the investigations.