The Providence Journal (R.I.), Aug. 6, 2015

Last month, The New York Times incorrectly reported that two inspectors general in the Department of Justice were seeking a criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s bizarre use of a private email server while she served as secretary of state.

In truth, the inspectors general were not seeking a criminal investigation, but a “security referral,” and Mrs. Clinton was not the personal target of the inquiry. The DOJ was looking at whether government information had been handled “improperly” through her email systems. Mrs. Clinton’s most fervent defenders seized on the Times’ sloppy reporting to argue that the email hullabaloo is much ado about nothing.

But that isn’t true. Indeed, there remain worrying questions about Mrs. Clinton’s decision to apparently shirk government guidelines and “go rogue” when it came to her email.

The first involves the matter of classified material. One of the reasons that public employees working with sensitive material are expected to use their government email is that – one hopes – the government has systems in place to prevent the theft of secret information; systems that would be unavailable to a person using a private email account. Mrs. Clinton, for her part, has assiduously denied ever sending or receiving such material on her private email account.

However, according to the two inspectors general, a review of a mere 40 emails out of a tranche of 30,000 that Secretary Clinton has turned over turned up four that included material deemed “secret.” The McClatchy News Service reported that those emails contained information from five separate intelligence agencies.

Granted, 40 is a small sample, but that is an astonishingly high rate of 10 percent containing secret material. Indeed, as a statement from an inspector general noted, there are “potentially hundreds” (thousands?) of classified emails on Clinton’s private server. And of course, even one email containing classified data is one too many – and represents a direct contradiction of Mrs. Clinton’s public statements. The chances seem high indeed that sophisticated hacking operations by enemies of the United States in China, North Korea, Iran or Russia, may have accessed secret U.S. government data through Mrs. Clinton’s server.

And then there’s the matter of the emails that Mrs. Clinton chose to permanently delete – nearly 32,000 of them. Mrs. Clinton said that these were “private, personal emails.” But the American people should not be put in a position where they have to simply trust a public official who evades accountability – particularly one who has demonstrated a propensity for being less than 100 percent forthright. And while Mrs. Clinton is publicly releasing her remaining, non-deleted emails in fits and starts, some gaps remain. No emails from May and June 2012 have been released, for example, a period that coincides with rising violence in Libya that ultimately culminated in the Benghazi terrorist attack.

It appears to us that a criminal inquiry may, in fact, be in order. David Petraeus, the former Central Intelligence Agency director and general, after all, was convicted of a misdemeanor for far less; he merely kept secret data in a drawer in his Virginia home. Mrs. Clinton’s misuse of her email has put something far more serious than her presidential campaign at risk; it also may have jeopardized our national security.