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  1. Opinion

LeMieux: Criminal investigation needed of Clinton emails

Hillary Clinton is in trouble, and so is her campaign for president.

While much of the political world has been fixated on the media sensation known as "The Donald," the dominoes have been falling in Hillary's world. Her email problems have progressed from the arena of politics to the need for a criminal investigation. It started last October when the State Department asked Clinton to return public records she kept on her private email server. In response, the former secretary of state did two things: She turned over 30,000 paper copies of emails and, amazingly, ordered the deletion from her server of all emails she claimed were personal.

Concerns over how Clinton handled potentially sensitive emails and how the State Department was screening and releasing those documents to the public drew the attention of the inspector general of the State Department who, in turn, consulted the inspector general of the intelligence services. That resulted in a referral to the Justice Department for investigation. Recently, the FBI requested from Clinton's lawyers a thumb-drive copy of the emails she had turned over, and soon thereafter, sought and physically obtained Clinton's private server.

Clinton and her handlers have sought to narrow this controversy to a "bureaucratic dispute over what qualifies as classified," but it has become far more. As former Attorney General Michael Mukasey opined this week, Clinton may have subjected herself to criminal prosecution by keeping classified information at an unauthorized location, destroying that information or, still worse, destroying that information with the intent of impeding an investigation.

All are offenses potentially punishable by jail time. We need look no further than David Petraeus, former Army general and chief of U.S. Central Command and director of the CIA, to see a once highly admired public figure who fell from grace for keeping confidential information at home. It was a crime he was prosecuted for, and pleaded guilty to.

Having documents outside a confidential setting is a serious problem. During my time in the U.S. Senate, standard protocol for members of Congress and their designated staff was to review secret information in windowless rooms with smartphones left outside. Documents not kept in a protected setting can fall into the hands of our enemies, and our chief diplomat is an obvious target of foreign espionage. Far worse, however, would be the intentional destruction of these documents.

Why would a public official of Clinton's stature, one who aspires to be our first woman president, delete four years of email correspondence that future historians would use to chronicle her life? How can a woman of Clinton's intellect and experience be so negligent as to accede to the destruction of documents?

The answer is she wasn't negligent. She did it on purpose. Time will tell that Clinton made the calculated decision that destruction was better than disclosure.

This week, veteran Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, who became famous for breaking the Watergate scandal, commented on MSNBC's Morning Joe that Clinton's handling of her email reminded him of Richard Nixon's secret tape controversy: "So, if things have been erased here, there's a way to go back to these emails or who received them from Hillary Clinton. So, you've got a massive amount of data (that) in a way reminds me of the Nixon tapes: thousands of hours of secretly recorded conversations that Nixon thought were exclusively his."

Deleted emails may be recoverable or obtained from another source. If those emails, for example, incriminate Clinton as to her responsibility in the tragic death of four Americans at our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, she will share another thing in common with Nixon. She will be driven from public life.

In politics, it is rarely the wrong that ends a career. It's the coverup.

George LeMieux is chairman of the board of the Gunster law firm and served as a Republican U.S. senator, governor's chief of staff and deputy attorney general. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.