Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign stop at Florida International University in Miami. (Gaston De Cardenas/Associated Press)

The Clinton e-mail scandal reached a new level of seriousness when the intelligence community inspector general found classified information from five intelligence agencies in e-mails housed on Clinton’s private server. It is against the law to remove classified information from government facilities and retain it after you have left office and have no official reason to possess it.

Just ask Sandy Berger.

In 2003, Bill Clinton’s former national security adviser was caught removing five classified documents from a secure reading room at the National Archives, as he prepared to testify before the 9/11 commission.

A Justice Department investigation ensued and in 2005 Berger reached a plea agreement in which he was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material instead of a felony. He was sentenced to two years of probation and 100 hours of community service and was stripped of his security clearance for three years. Prosecutors and defense lawyers agreed on a $10,000 fine, but the judge raised it to $50,000. In 2007, in order to shut down a disbarment investigation by the District of Columbia bar, he relinquished his license to practice law.

That was for unlawfully removing and retaining just five classified documents.

Clinton has apparently been caught removing at least five e-mails containing what we now know to be classified information and retaining them on her personal server in her home in Chappaqua, N.Y., after she left office. And in the weeks ahead, that number will probably grow to the hundreds, if not thousands.

The inspector general reviewed only a small sample of 40 e-mails Clinton turned over to the State Department. Yet in that tiny sample, he found that five e-mails contained classified information. Five classified e-mails in a sample of just 40 is a rate of one out of eight e-mails that contained classified information. Clinton has handed over some 30,000 official e-mails to the State Department that she had been keeping on her private server. That means there could be some 3,750 classified e-mails that she removed and retained.

Already, the number of documents is growing. More classified information was found in a second batch of e-mails made public Friday, which included 37 messages with 64 separate redactions blacking out classified information.

Worse still, Clinton’s apparent violation of the law is ongoing. Her lawyer, David Kendall, reportedly has a thumb drive containing all her official e-mails, including hundreds if not thousands containing classified information. That means that to this day, she apparently continues to unlawfully possess unsecured classified documents and has taken no action to return that thumb drive to the federal government, much less the server on which they were originally unlawfully stored.

Clinton claims that she “did not send nor receive anything that was classified at the time.” But the inspector general found classified intelligence from five separate intelligence agencies — the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — in Clinton’s e-mails. Taking intelligence from classified documents and putting it in unclassified e-mails does not make the information unclassified. Indeed, that is arguably an additional offense. There is a separate classified e-mail system — called the SIPRNet — for classified communications. Clinton was required by law to use that system for any e-mails containing classified information.

If Sandy Berger had to pay a fine, serve two years of probation, do 100 hours of community service and give up his security clearance and law license, all for removing and retaining just five classified documents, what should Clinton’s punishment be for reportedly removing and retaining hundreds or even thousands of classified documents?

This is not a mere technicality. The recent revelation that Chinese hackers broke into the Office of Personnel Management and stole information on 22 million Americans has highlighted the need for increased vigilance in protect the nation’s secrets. Clinton’s decision to brazenly remove classified information and store it on a private server put sensitive intelligence within easy reach of America’s adversaries. If China can hack the Office of Personnel Management, it could easily hack into the private computer network she ran from her Chappaqua home.

The e-mail scandal is already having an impact on her presidential aspirations. A new Quinnipiac University poll finds Americans now say Clinton is not honest or trustworthy by a margin of 57 to 37 percent. And that was before Americans learned that her claims that there was no classified information in her e-mails was untrue. In the weeks and months ahead, more and more evidence will almost certainly emerge showing that her claims were untrue.

As it does, Clinton will be lucky if the only price she pays is in the polls. She could very well face criminal penalties. If that happens, her presidential ambitions will be over.

Because it’s hard to serve as commander in chief if you’ve been stripped of your security clearance.

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