US House speaker formally asks that Clinton be denied classified data

US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a event in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on July 6, 2016.
US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a event in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on July 6, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – The top elected US Republican formally asked the country’s intelligence chief not to give Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton any classified information during the election campaign, according to a letter released on Thursday (July 7).

House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said in the letter to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that denying Clinton classified briefings during her run for the presidency would be an appropriate sanction for her improper handling of classified emails while secretary of state.

Presidential candidates normally get access to classified information once they are formally nominated.

The issue of Clinton’s use of private email servers during her tenure as secretary of state has cast a cloud over her presidential campaign for the Nov 8 election, raised questions among voters about her trustworthiness and given her Republican presidential rival, Donald Trump, an avenue of attack.

The letter landed just before FBI Director James Comey came under questioning at a House hearing about his decision not to recommend criminal charges against Clinton.

Comey had rebuked her on Tuesday for “extremely careless”handling of classified information while using private email servers for business while secretary of state during President Barack Obama’s first term. “I think there is a legitimate concern that there is a double standard, if your name isn’t Clinton or you are not part of the powerful elite that Lady Justice will act differently,”Representative Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said to Comey.

A Democratic member of the committee, Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, defended Comey’s actions by saying, “I firmly believe your decision was based on conviction, not convenience.” Comey said his FBI team had conducted its investigation “in an apolitical and professional way.” 

The hearing took place as Trump made the rounds on Capitol Hill trying to rally more Republican lawmakers behind his campaign.

Comey’s testimony before the House Oversight Committee marked the first time he has taken questions publicly since his announcement this week that the FBI was not recommending charges against Clinton. 

US Attorney General Loretta Lynch has accepted the FBI recommendation and will appear at a separate hearing next Tuesday.

“EXTREMELY CARELESS”

Comey said on Tuesday that 110 classified emails passed through Clinton’s servers, which were not kept on a secure government server. He rebuked the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee for “extremely careless” handling of classified information but said no reasonable prosecutor would charge her or her staff criminally.

The Clinton campaign said it was pleased at the FBI’s announcement and called the Republican-led call for Comey’s hearing a “taxpayer-funded sham of an inquiry” intended to hurt Clinton politically.

Comey, a Republican who was appointed by Democratic President Barack Obama and also served in the administration of former Republican President George W. Bush, has built a reputation as a straight shooter who does not bend to pressure from either party.

He has differed sharply with the Obama administration, most recently over gun control and whether high-profile police brutality cases had inhibited law enforcement from stopping crime.

Questions about the propriety of Clinton’s use of unauthorised email servers in her Chappaqua, New York, home during her time as secretary of state from January 2009 until February 2013 have raised questions about her judgment from all sides of the political spectrum.

Despite clinching the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton can expect a further onslaught of attacks from Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who has accused her of playing by a different set of rules from the American public. 

“Hillary Clinton can’t keep her emails safe, and you know what, folks, she sure as hell can’t keep our country safe,”Trump told a recent rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, charging that the investigation was “rigged” in Clinton’s favour.

Comey left the door open for other actions in the case, including downgrading security clearances for anyone who mishandles classified information as Clinton and her staff did.