The claim made by a Romanian hacker that he was able to breach Hillary Clinton's server could mean the difference between a felony or misdemeanor charge for the former secretary of state, according to a former official at the Justice Department.
"The fact that Guccifer apparently hacked into her computer is a valuable piece of evidence for the FBI to use," said Joseph DiGenova, who served under President Reagan as a U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. "It wouldn't be crime, but it would be evidence used to prove that classified information was improperly maintained."
"If in fact they're able to show that it was compromised, and compromised by a foreign government, that will add to the gravity of any charge, and of course push them towards perhaps charging a felony rather than a misdemeanor," DiGenova said.
Many others have said that the likelihood of charges being brought against Clinton by the Obama administration is very small, although some Republicans say a GOP victory in November would allow a new administration to reconsider the matter.
Fox News reported on Wednesday that Marcel Lehel Lazar, the hacker known as "Guccifer," said it was "easy" for him to hack into Clinton's server. He added that it appeared he was not the only one. "As far as I remember... there were… up to 10, like, IPs from other parts of the world," he said.
Clinton is facing allegations that her use of a private server to process classified information violated statutes including the Federal Records Act and Espionage Act. DiGenova said that while improper handling was one issue, the likelihood of charges being brought would increase if that information had been exposed to hackers.
"It would demonstrate that any classified information that was on the server was subject to compromise, so it would be a piece of evidence used in building a case [that Clinton] violated the various statutes that prohibit storing or maintaining classified information in an improper location," DiGenova said.
He added that the charges brought could also be affected by a so-called "damage assessment" in which the intelligence community was probably still engaged, something that is required whenever classified information has been exposed. In Clinton's case, it would involve approximately 30,000 emails that she handed over to the State Department, as well as an estimated 30,000 more that she attempted to delete but that the FBI later recovered. It could also be affected by any new information obtained from Guccifer.
Details about the assessments are classified, but DiGenova suggested it was safe to make some assumptions. "It's very costly and time consuming," he said. "Given the fact that for four years classified information was maintained and sent through an insecure server, that process is still underway."