17 Oct “Clinton Defense”: Did It Help a Guilty Naval Officer Get a More Lenient Sentence?
After pleading guilty to taking and sharing photos of classified information, naval officer Kristian Saucier may have received a more lenient sentence by evoking a “Clinton defense” strategy.
In 2009, Saucier took pictures inside his nuclear submarine’s engine room—a classified area. He was court marshaled and pleaded guilty to taking and sharing the pictures with an ex-girlfriend. During his sentencing, he equated his crime with that of Mrs. Hillary Clinton, who was not prosecuted for violating legitimate US secrets on an unprotected server in her role as the Secretary of State.
In so doing, he asked for probation in lieu of prison—and he almost got it!
Initially facing 10 years in prison, Saucier was ultimately sentenced to 1 year in prison, 6 months of home arrest upon release, a fine, and community service.
The “Clinton Defense” Tactic
In the case of the United States v. Kristian Saucier, the defense attorneys used the “Clinton defense”—a well-timed strategy—to support the case for lenient sentencing.
The government reacted strongly to this correlation; a large brief was submitted stating that these cases are incomparable, specifically because of the classification of the content involved.
Regarding Clinton’s emails, the government stated that none of the information on the server was marked classified at the time it was unprotected.
On the other hand, the brief pointed out that sailors are trained early on that the engine compartment of a nuclear sub and information related to the nuclear reactor is classified. As a result, Saucier would have known the consequences of his actions, especially because the photos were clear enough to reveal classified details about the submarine, such as its maximum speed. Therefore, the brief contends that the photos are, in fact, more sensitive than the information found in Clinton’s email account.
The Navy responded by saying that the photos are classified “confidential”—the lowest tier of protection. This means that this type of information can cause some damage to national security, but not serious damage.
What Influenced the Ruling?
Kristian Saucier argued that other members of the Navy had taken selfies in a nuclear sub and received lesser punishments, such as fines and reduction in rank.
However, it appears that the biggest source of influence was this very public connection to Hillary Clinton’s previous mistake and lack of consequences. His defense attorneys believe that the association may have helped Saucier avoid additional time behind bars.
Judge Stefan Underhill said that the sailor’s actions were “beyond stupid.” He equated this situation to getting pulled over for speeding amongst a highway of other reckless drivers. In other words, in a world of speeding drivers, Saucier was also speeding. Addressing the defense, Judge Underhill said that “selective enforcement [discretional power to choose whether or how to punish a person who has violated the law] is not a good argument,” and doesn’t mitigate the fact that Saucier’s actions were wrong.
Despite this, however, the Judge decided on a lenient sentence which indicates that he may have been persuaded by the Clinton argument, although he publicly denied its impact on his decision.
Perhaps the key take-away from Judge Underhill is a foreboding reminder to all service persons—it is critical to “understand the consequences of playing fast and loose with important information.”
Do you think the Judge’s sentence was fair? If you have questions or concerns about this case, you better call Saul at (212) 363-7701!