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Groton sailor using 'Clinton defense' in case of photos taken on sub

The lawyer for a former Groton sailor who is facing a prison sentence for illegal photos he took while serving on a nuclear submarine, is arguing that his client should receive a lesser sentence given the outcome of similar cases, such as the investigation into Hillary Clinton's handling of classified information.

Petty Officer First Class Kristian Saucier, 29, of Arlington, Vt., pleaded guilty in May to one count of unauthorized retention of national defense information, a felony charge. He is scheduled to be sentenced Friday in federal court in Bridgeport.

"It will be unjust and unfair for Mr. Saucier to receive any sentence other than probation for a crime those more powerful than him will likely avoid," Saucier's lawyer Derrick Hogan wrote in a sentencing memo filed on Aug. 12.

Saucier took a plea deal that lists sentencing guidelines for the case as 63 to 78 months in prison. But the judge in the case, Judge Stefan R. Underhill, has the power to impose on Saucier whatever sentence that Underhill deems fit.

Saucier was a machinist's mate aboard the USS Alexandria from September 2007 to March 2012, and used his cellphone camera to take pictures of classified spaces, instruments and equipment on at least three occasions in 2009, according to the government.

The Navy confirmed that the USS Alexandria was in Groton during each of the dates the pictures were taken in 2009.

The Alexandria's homeport changed in November 2015 from the Naval Submarine Base in Groton to Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, Calif.

Saucier had a secret clearance at the time that the prosecution alleges he took a number of photos inside the Alexandria's engine room.

Six photos are classified as "confidential/restricted," the lowest of the three classification levels, which pertains to information that could cause damage to national security.

The "secret" classification pertains to information that could cause "serious damage" to national security and "top secret" to information that could cause "exceptionally grave damage."

In the Aug. 12 memo, Hogan argues that Clinton "has come under scrutiny for engaging in acts similar to Mr. Saucier." He continues that according to FBI Director James Comey there were 110 emails and 52 email chains that were deemed classified on Clinton's personal servers.

"Of those emails, 8 of these chains contained 'top secret" information, 36 contained 'secret information,' and 8 contained 'confidential' information. Additionally, 2,000 emails were later deemed confidential," the memo says.

Comey did not recommend criminal charges be brought against Clinton, but did say she was "extremely careless" for using a private email address and server.

Saucier admitted that he knew he was not authorized to take the photos, but did so, his lawyer argued in the Aug. 12 memo, out of a "misguided desire" to show his family and future children what he did while in the Navy.

He also admitted to destroying a laptop computer, a personal camera and the camera's memory card

"Mr. Saucier did not share these photos with any other person nor did he intend to distribute them to any person, country or agency that could use them to the injury of the United States," Hogan argued.

Hogan also pointed out that two other sailors serving aboard the Alexandria took photos "in the same location of the submarine as Saucier."

Both of the cases were handled through a disciplinary hearing known as Captain's Mast, and resulted in one of the sailors' rank being reduced from petty officer second class to petty officer third class and his pay being docked $560, and the other sailor being docked $280 of pay per month for two months.

Several people have written letters on Saucier's behalf, including former Alexandria crew members.

His division officer from 2008-09, Stephen N. Gaetke, a former Navy lieutenant, wrote that Saucier was "the kind of worker you never had to worry about."

"I cannot begin to put into words the mental isolation, unrelenting work hours, and sacrifices submariners make as part of their proud service to their country. Kris was dedicated to that commitment and unrelenting in his patriotism. ... His judgment was certainly flawed, but his character and patriotism remain uncompromised and refulgent," Gaetke said.

Saucier is being processed for administrative separation from the Navy, according to Hogan, his lawyer, who said he will "likely" receive an other-than-honorable discharge. The discharge could mean he'll lose benefits he would have otherwise been entitled to such as education and health care benefits.

j.bergman@theday.com

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