Update: Ryan said through spokesman Doug Andres: "We have no way to know what was said, but protecting our nation's secrets is paramount. The speaker hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration."
In July 2016, few in Washington were more incredulous that the FBI decided not to charge Hillary Clinton with a crime for sending and receiving classified information on her private email server than House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).
Ryan issued one of the Republicans' irate statements:
“No one should be above the law. But based upon the director's own statement, it appears damage is being done to the rule of law. Declining to prosecute Secretary Clinton for recklessly mishandling and transmitting national security information will set a terrible precedent. The findings of this investigation also make clear that Secretary Clinton misled the American people when she was confronted with her criminal actions.”
And then he held a news conference, where he asked the Obama administration to stop giving Clinton, who was the Democrats' newly minted presidential nominee, classified briefings. “Individuals who are 'extremely careless,' close quote,” Ryan said, using the term then-FBI director James B. Comey used to describe Clinton's email practices, “should be denied further access to information.” (That proposal never got anywhere). (Ryan's office reached out to underscore that he thought Clinton should be able to receive classified briefings if she became president, since you can't deny presidents classified information.)
The message was clear: Ryan thought the FBI should have charged Clinton for a crime for sending and receiving classified information on a private email server she used exclusively as secretary of state.
Ryan piped up again about this 11 days before the election, when Comey told Congress his team had found new emails related to Clinton that they were looking into. The FBI did not describe it as a reopening of an investigation, but Ryan sure did:
BREAKING NEWS → The FBI is reopening its investigation into Secretary Hillary Clinton.
My full statement ⇩ pic.twitter.com/LHfyg46dWk
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) October 28, 2016
We're spending so much time parsing Ryan's words about a candidate in an election that is now over because suddenly, it's not Clinton who is on the receiving end of criticism about the way she handled classified information. It's President Trump.
The Washington Post's ace national security team reported Monday that while in an Oval Office meeting last week with top Russian officials, Trump told them highly classified information about the Islamic State. The information he told to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister is so secret it's not even relayed to some U.S. allies, let alone a country that most intelligence officials think meddled in the U.S. election.
“It is all kind of shocking,” a former senior U.S. official who is close to current administration officials told The Post's Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe. “Trump seems to be very reckless and doesn’t grasp the gravity of the things he’s dealing with, especially when it comes to intelligence and national security. And it’s all clouded because of this problem he has with Russia.”
Reckless. That's exactly the word Ryan used in another statement, issued in September, after the FBI released its report of its interview with Clinton. The FBI's investigation demonstrates, Ryan said, “Hillary Clinton’s reckless and downright dangerous handling of classified information during her tenure as secretary of state.”
It's also the exact word that at least one former intelligence official used to describe the fact Trump shared information so secret it requires a code word just to talk about it among U.S. officials.
The Fix's Aaron Blake rounded up their comments to Miller and Jaffe:
- “Trump seems to be very reckless, and doesn’t grasp the gravity of the things he’s dealing with, especially when it comes to intelligence and national security.” — a former senior U.S. official close to current administration officials
- “Russia could identify our sources or techniques.” — a senior U.S. official
- “I don’t think that it would be that hard [for Russian spy services] to figure this out.” — a former intelligence official who worked on Russia-related issues
- “He seems to get in the room or on the phone and just goes with it — and that has big downsides. Does he understand what’s classified and what’s not? That’s what worries me.” — a former U.S. official
Perhaps “reckless” is in the eye of the beholder. As president, Trump has the authority to declassify government secrets, while anyone else in government (like secretaries of state) does not.
In his initial statement about Trump's comments to Russian officials, Ryan made no attempt to provide cover for the president.
But it's going to take a lot more explaining from Ryan — and all the other Republicans who bashed Clinton, including Trump — why this situation is somehow less careless and less reckless and less dangerous than the one they lambasted Democrats for just a few months ago.