“Ignorance of the law is no excuse” is much more than a trite saying. It’s a legal principle called Mens rae which evaluates the mental status of a defendant relative to a criminal act. Premeditated murder, for instance, generally carries a longer, stricter sentence than a crime of passion because the former implies a stronger intent.
Though state of mind may be used by a prosecutor to try and obtain a conviction for a more serious felony, Mens rae is almost never a viable legal excuse for innocence.
For instance, when gun owners who carry their registered weapons across state lines, ignorance of different laws in adjoining states usually does not prevent the offender from being charged with a crime. Nor does, upon recognizing their mistake, an individual’s candor and cooperation with law enforcement officials.
Yet, this is exactly the rationale Hillary Clinton is falling back on in her vehement denial of having viewed classified material on her private server during her tenure as Secretary of State.
Following the revelation, surely the inevitable result of blatant flouting the accountability-oriented Federal Records Act, by an auditor that information which should have been marked “top secret” was found on her server, Clinton has continued to deny culpability.
First she stated the sensitive information which has been found on her server was not classified at the time she viewed it. Now speculation is that a “trusted member of her inner circle” removed the security classification when forwarding her the email.
No doubt this will somehow become another plot by the “vast right wing conspiracy.” The Clintons are rivaled only by Chief Justice John Roberts in their ability to twist plain language into something enigmatic, the murkiness of which amazingly always gives the benefit of the doubt to their innocence.
Even assuming that the line between secret and non-secret information could be demarcated by an email heading, shouldn’t Clinton’s status as head of the agency make her ultimately responsible for her employees negligence? Doesn’t this speak to a culture of laxity within Clinton’s State Department? A pattern emerges between this incident and the same hands-off leadership which lead to a lack of security in Benghazi.
If George Bush was responsible for intelligence oversights and missteps in the wake of 9/11, why isn’t Hillary Clinton responsible for the employees not knowing the proper classification procedures? Of course, it couldn’t be that Clinton’s belief that she was insulated from the finer points of transparency law trickled down the bureaucratic chain.
Clinton’s finger-pointing is an obviously specious defense. Only a stunning level of ineptness- one which cannot be reached by mere lack of effort- could explain her inability to recognize classified material, even supposing some hapless staffer carelessly erased “top secret” from the documents.
But it’s still likely to exonerate her. The media has already complied with a shift in language regarding the focus of the criminal investigation, at the behest of the wronged and outraged Clinton campaign. It’s the “personal email account” the FBI is investigating, not Clinton. Apparently corporations aren’t people, but online profiles are.
A Mens rae case, where ignorance is a plausible legal rationale for innocence, is already being built. After months of stonewalling, Clinton has graciously turned over a thumb drive and her server- professionally wiped- to the FBI and DOJ respectively.
Of course, any other citizen would have been awakened by a dawn raid, but America has come to apply a medieval standard of rule of law. There’s absolute application between citizens of the same class, but Clinton- a feudal baron- is above all that and is treated more graciously. Hence her ability to change the narrative and talk about personal emails about yoga.
Any other American would already have been charged and incarcerated. And a Mens rae defense of ignorance of the classification of materials would certainly not be a viable legal defense.