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State Dept. re-opens Clinton email probe: Who's the target now?

The State Department's investigation, which could discipline current employees, comes after Justice Department's decision not to seek criminal charges against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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    Then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton checks her phone after her address to the UN Security Council in March 2012. The State Department said Thursday that it is re-opening its investigation into Mrs. Clinton's use of a private email server after the conclusion of a Justice Department investigation.
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The State Department is reopening its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of State, just days after the Justice Department announced their decision not to seek criminal charges against Mrs. Clinton.

The State Department announcement came on Thursday, as lawmakers also grilled FBI Director James Comey about his decision not to bring charges against Clinton. During the four-hour hearing, he argued that the investigative team “didn’t give a hoot about politics” and had found no criminal intent to break the law in Clinton’s use of the server.

The new investigation will focus on whether current employees involved in handling Clinton’s emails should face disciplinary actions. Department employees face sanctions ranging from a reprimand to losing their security clearance, CNN reports.

In May, the department’s Inspector General released a scathing report that said the State Department “did not – and would not – approve [Clinton’s] exclusive reliance on a personal e-mail account to conduct Department business.”

One lawyer whose practice focuses on security clearance recently wrote an Op-Ed saying he hopes the controversy will bring reforms in how clearances are granted, which he calls a “who you are and who you know” issue.

“Current security clearance policy factors in the importance of an individual in deciding whether to revoke a security clearance. Basically, lower-profile individuals get treated differently than those at the top of the political food chain facing the same concerns,” wrote John Berry, a Virginia lawyer, in the Washington Post on Thursday. “Perhaps this is human nature, but it is wrong and should be fixed,” he added

Mr. Berry, who identifies himself as a “political centrist who tends to like Clinton as a candidate,” wrote that “Clinton’s use of a personal server for classified government email, without appropriate approvals and security, would normally be treated as a serious security violation.”

The State Department has no authority to discipline former employees, but it could add information about any security violations to the person’s file, State Department spokesman John Kirby told the Wall Street Journal earlier this week.

The strictest sanction, revoking an employee's security clearance, could also affect someone's ability to seek future work with sensitive material, he added.

A number of prominent Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, argue the handling of the private email server, which Mr. Comey had called “careless,” should bar Clinton and her staff from receiving classified intelligence briefings.

The hearing also reflected a partisan divide in Congress more than a comprehensive investigation, The Christian Science Monitor’s Francine Kiefer reported. That’s problematic because it can obscure the real issues at hand, some observers told the Monitor.

“When oversight gets political, Democrats and Republicans obsess about the food fight du jour and overlook real problems in the administration of government,” John Pitney, a congressional expert at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., told Ms. Kiefer.

On Thursday, the State Department said transparency was an overarching goal in investigating Clinton’s use of a private server.

"We will aim to be as expeditious as possible, but we will not put artificial deadlines on the process," Mr. Kirby, the department spokesman, said in a statement. "Our goal will be to be as transparent as possible about our results, while complying with our various legal obligations."

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