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How Hillary Clinton’s Email Case Compares to Similar FBI Probes

Speaker Ryan: Comey's decision raises more questions 3:09

The Hillary Clinton email scandal has drawn comparisons to a number of other investigations into the mishandling of government secrets.

Did Clinton get off easy? Or was she treated similarly to people suspected of similar transgressions?

There are no clear answers. But a close examination of the prior cases provide helpful context.

Related: Attorney General Lynch Says Hillary Clinton Won't Be Charged Over Email Server

And some of these cases may come up Thursday, when FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Oversight Committee.

Here's a look at a few of them:

Former CIA Director and Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus

Image: David Petraeus
CIA Director David Petraeus speaks to members of a Senate Intelligence hearing on "World Wide Threats" on Capitol Hill in Washington on January 31, 2012. KEVIN LAMARQUE / Reuters file

Year: 2012

Issue: Distribution of classified material and statements to investigators.

Laws: Unauthorized removal and retention of classified material. Fraud and false statements or entries generally.

Outcome: Plead guilty to one count of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material. Sentenced to two years of probation and a $40,000 fine.

Comparison: Petraeus plead guilty to deliberately providing classified information to an unauthorized individual, for private, non-governmental reasons, and to misleading FBI investigators about the conduct. The FBI did not find that Clinton or officials deliberately provided classified information to unauthorized individuals, or misled investigators.

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales

Image: Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales gestures during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing
Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales gestures during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on January 6, 2005 in Washington. EVAN VUCCI / AP

Year: 2005

Issue: Took home "top secret" notes on Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping program. Carried documents in briefcase before putting more than a dozen highly classified documents in a safe outside his Justice Department office.

Law: Potential statute: unauthorized removal and retention of classified material.

Outcome: Justice Department prosecutors declined to prosecute.

Comparison: Gonzales removed and retained classified information in his home and in his office safe, two locations that were not authorized. The FBI also found classified information improperly stored in the Clinton case. In both cases, the argument against prosecuting focused partly on the lack of intent to violate laws regarding classified information.

Former Navy reservist Bryan Nishimura

Year: 2007-2008

Issue: Distribution of classified material.

Law: Unauthorized removal and retention of classified material.

Outcome: Plead guilty to unauthorized removal of classified materials. Sentenced to two years probation and a $7,500 fine.

Comparison: Nishimura downloaded and stored classified materials on personal electronic devices, transported the material from his base in Afghanistan to the United States and destroyed a large amount of the material in his home. The FBI investigation did not find evidence that Nishimura intended to distribute the classified information externally. The FBI did not find intent to distribute classified information in the Clinton case, nor intent to mishandle classified information. The FBI also found the storage of classified materials on personal electronic devices in the Clinton case. It did not find improper destruction of such material.

Former FBI agent John O'Neill

Year: 2001

Issue: O'Neill mistakenly left a briefcase with classified national security documents in a hotel; it was stolen. The briefcase was quickly recovered by authorities, who determined the classified materials were not taken.

Law: Potential statute: unauthorized removal and retention of classified material.

Outcome: Justice Department prosecutors declined to prosecute.

Comparison: O'Neill acted in a manner that resulted in the placement of classified information in an unauthorized location. The FBI also found classified information improperly stored in the Clinton case. The arguments against prosecution include an attention on the lack of intent to violate laws regarding classified information.

Former Navy contractor James Hitselberger

Year: 2012

Issue: Removal, altering and leaking classified information.

Law: Unauthorized retention of national defense information. Unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents.

Outcome: Plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of taking classified documents without authority. Sentenced to time he had already served, two months in jail, and house arrest.

Comparison: Hitselberger deliberately removed physical classified documents, slightly altered them, and leaked them to Stanford University. He went to Europe after losing his job with Navy. The FBI did not find such deliberate leaking or altering in the Clinton case, nor a lack of cooperation with the investigation.

Former State Department contractor Stephen Jin-Woo Kim

Image: Stephen Kim
Stephen Kim, a former State Department expert on North Korea, leaves federal court in Washington on April 2, 2014. Cliff Owen / AP

Year: 2010

Issue: Leaking classified information to a reporter and statements to investigators.

Law: Unauthorized disclosure of national defense information to individuals not authorized to receive it and making a false statement.

Outcome: Plead guilty to sharing classified information from intelligence report. Sentenced to 13 months in prison.

Comparison: Conviction is for leaking classified information, and charge was for misleading investigators. The FBI did not find deliberate leaking in the Clinton case, nor a lack of cooperation with the investigation.

Former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger

Image: FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR BERGER TESTIFIES AT  9/11 HEARING
Former Clinton administration National Security Advisor Sandy Berger testifies on Capitol Hill on March 24, 2004. KEVIN LAMARQUE / REUTERS

Year: 2003

Issue: Berger acknowledged he left the National Archives on two occasions with copies of document about the government's anti-terror efforts, and notes that he wrote about the documents.

Law: Unauthorized removal and retention of classified material.

Outcome: In 2005, Berger pleaded guilty to illegally removing the documents. He was sentenced to probation and given a $50,000 fine. He had to complete 100 hours of community service.

Comparison: Berger deliberately removed classified physical documents and stored them in his private office. The targeted removal of such documents, on their own, is different than the FBI's finding that Clinton's email server exposed a wide variety of email, including some classified material, to potential exposure.

Former NSA and CIA employee Edward Snowden

Image: Edward Snowden speaks during an interview in Hong Kong
Edward Snowden speaks during an interview in Hong Kong in 2013. The Guardian via Getty Images

Year: 2013

Issue: Distribution of classified material and statements to investigators.

Law: Theft of government property and unauthorized communication of national defense information. Willful communication of classified intelligence information to an unauthorized person.

Outcome: Case pending.

Comparison: Snowden admitted to deliberately leaking classified information for private objectives, and fled the country as a fugitive. The FBI did not find such deliberate leaking in the Clinton case, nor a lack of cooperation with the investigation.

Former CIA officer John Kiriakou

Image: John Kiriakou
Former CIA officer John Kiriakou leaves U.S. District Courthouse in Alexandria,Virginia on October 23, 2012. Cliff Owen / AP file

Year: 2012

Issue: Leaking classified information to a reporter, including information he asserted was whistleblowing regarding allegedly illegal acts such as waterboarding.

Law: Intentionally disclosing information about the identity of covert agents learned as result of having access to classified information. Two counts of illegally disclosing national defense information to individuals not authorized to receive it. Knowingly and willfully falsifying, concealing, or covering up a material fact during a federal matter.

Outcome: Convicted on some charges. Sentenced to 30 months in prison.

Comparison: Kiriakou was convicted of leaking classified information, including information about the identities of U.S. officials, and for misleading the CIA. He was acquitted on espionage charges. The FBI did not find such deliberate leaking in the Clinton case, nor a lack of cooperation with the investigation.

FBI Director to Testify Thursday 11:23