March 20, 2008

The big story over night was that three State Department contractors took an inappropriate peek at Barack Obama’s passport file. Officials apologized, fired the contractors in question, and announced that an investigation would be forthcoming.

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But this afternoon we learned that the State Department’s problem is an even bigger mess.

Just hours after firing two contract employees and disciplining a third for inappropriately examining the passport file of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton that her passport file was also breached in 2007.

NBC News also learned Friday that Sen. John McCain, the Republican candidate for president, had his file breached — this time by one of the same individuals who had examined Obama’s records.

If one is inclined to believe the innocuous explanation — a handful of contractors were motivated by “imprudent curiosity” — the news about Clinton and McCain doesn’t change anything. Some staffers wondered about several high-profile figures, so they took a peek. It need not have been related to the campaign at all.

If one is inclined to believe a more sinister explanation, today’s news doesn’t help. That State Department staffers sought out confidential information about the major presidential candidates starts to look more like opposition research, and less like innocent prying. Given the Bush administration’s history of politicizing non-partisan government agencies, including the State Department, there’s no reason to extend the benefit of the doubt.

John Amato: And Condi certainly never seems to get much info does she? "Not to my knowledge."

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