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The Usual Punishment For Extreme Carelessness

 Two tugboats push the naval submarine the USS Alexandria into a pier
The USS Alexandria, the submarine on which Kristian Saucier served.
Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Timothy Walter, courtesy the U.S. Navy.

When you are entrusted with national secrets because of your job and you treat that material extremely carelessly, you end up in jail. Usually.

You spend time in jail if, for example, your name is Kristian Saucier. A federal judge in Bridgeport, Connecticut, recently sentenced Saucier – a petty officer first class in the U.S. Navy – to a year in jail followed by six months of home confinement for taking pictures in classified areas of a naval submarine.

Prosecutors sought more than six years’ imprisonment for the 29-year-old officer, and the Navy suggested seven and a half. Saucier’s defense lawyer, Derrick Hogan of Tully Rinckey PLLC, invoked the example of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in arguing against any jail time at all. “In our case, Mr. Saucier possessed six (6) photographs classified as ‘confidential/restricted,’ far less than Clinton’s 110 emails,” Hogan wrote in a filing.

The Clinton comparison certainly seemed relevant at the time. The judge sentenced Saucier in August, only a few weeks after FBI Director James Comey declared that there was no basis for prosecuting Clinton. This despite the fact she was “extremely careless” in handling national security information, notably though not exclusively by directing all her official email traffic through a private server in the basement of her suburban New York home. Comey cited the former cabinet officer’s apparent lack of ill intent in keeping her email off the government’s official systems, in handling message content that was classified at the level of confidential, top secret and, in a few instances, even higher levels, and in retaining that data in her personal custody for years after she left her government job, right up to the point she launched her presidential campaign last year.

Saucier did make a few mistakes that Clinton did not. One was failing to marry a former president. Another was neglecting to obtain the current president’s endorsement for the highest office in the land during the time he was under investigation. A third was in not having the sitting attorney general, who oversees such prosecutions and is nominally the FBI director’s boss, hold a private meeting on an airport tarmac with his spouse as the investigation was reaching its conclusion. All told, Saucier left himself woefully unprepared to deal with his legal troubles. Then again, most people not named Clinton would find themselves in the same boat, so to speak, even if they never set foot on a nuclear-powered submarine.

All of which is how Saucier found himself charged with one count of retaining national defense information without authorization and another count of obstruction of justice. He eventually pleaded guilty to the classified information charge; the obstruction charge was dismissed. However, according to Politico, Saucier did admit to destroying a laptop, memory card and camera after investigators confronted him. Even though the obstruction charge was dropped, defense attorney Greg Rinckey said in an interview that he believed the admission contributed to the judge’s sentencing decision.

Saucier’s photos were not part of a plot to compromise national security. No one claimed that he tried to convey any information to our government’s foreign or domestic adversaries. But naval officers are supposed to know that parts of their workplace are classified – the material in the photos was reportedly held at the “confidential” level. While Saucier did not act maliciously, his decision to take and keep the photographs was, at best, careless. Such sloppy treatment warrants punishment. Usually.

There are some familiar elements in his story. The FBI revealed, in a document dump on the eve of the Labor Day holiday weekend, that Clinton told investigators she did not know that the “(C)” markings in many of her emails indicated that they contained confidential information. The bureau also reported that an employee of a firm that handled Clinton’s private server deleted a folder of archived correspondence after congressional investigators issued a demand for the material. Clinton’s subordinates used software to make deleted files unrecoverable (the software’s name, BleachBit, does not refer to getting your white laundry whiter), and some mobile devices were destroyed with hammers.

If all this sounds like the sort of stuff that gets people put behind bars, it is. Usually.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business."

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