State Department spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday that anyone in the military who mishandles classified information would be held accountable for their actions.
Kirby appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to discuss the "quid pro quo" controversy currently embroiling the State Department over accusations that a senior official sought to declassify one of Hillary Clinton’s private server emails in exchange for a favor to the FBI.
Republican strategist Steve Schmidt asked Kirby, a retired Navy rear admiral, what would happen to a sailor who mishandled classified information, inferring that Hillary Clinton did just that with her email practices.
"I was wondering if you might be able to illuminate for us what would the consequence be for a U.S. Navy E-6 petty officer if they handled classified information as loosely as the secretary of state did, and is there any conceivable possibility should they avoid court martial they would have maintained their security clearance?" Schmidt asked.
Kirby said he did not want to compare the hypothetical scenario to Clinton’s situation. He noted, however, that he had to obey strict guidelines in the Navy and at the State Department, adding that there is retraining on the matter.
Co-host Mika Brzezinski then referred back to Clinton’s private server.
"That involves not having your own server, right?" Brzezinski asked.
"Well, again, I think this has been talked about before, Mika. She’s admitted it," Kirby said.
"No, it really hasn’t," Brzezinski said. "It makes no sense. It really makes no sense."
Schmidt then asked his question again of what would happen if a common sailor had handled classified material in a similar manner.
"So admiral, what you’re saying is there would be no consequences for a U.S. Navy E-6 petty officer who handled classified information descriptively like the FBI director handled it, and I’m not talking about the decision to prosecute. It’s an apples and oranges thing. I’m talking about what the FBI director said about the handling of classified information," Schmidt said.
"I'm just curious, from a standard perspective, that would a Navy E-6 midlevel enlisted person in the Navy, would there be any consequences for handling information like that, as a former United States Navy admiral, who I think can illuminate this for our viewers?" Schmidt then asked.
"Well, I’m sorry I didn’t answer the question quite the way I should have the first time," Kirby said. "The short answer is, of course, yes. In the Navy and all the military services, the improper handling of classified information is something we take very seriously and people are held to account for that."
"It’s the same here at the State Department. People are still held to account for the proper handling of classified information," Kirby continued. "We take this very seriously. I’m not going to get into what the FBI determined or didn’t determine in her case, but yes, whether, you said E-6, first class petty officer, whether it’s a chief petty officer, whether it’s a lieutenant, whether it’s an admiral like I was, if you mishandle classified information and it comes to light, you will be held to account, as you should be."