The first director of the Department of Homeland Security has criticized Hillary Clinton’s judgment for using a private email account, and her own server, to communicate as secretary of state.

Former director of homeland security Tom Ridge, speaking at CyberFest 2015 conference in San Diego. Photo by Ken Stone

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who advised President George W. Bush and led the agency in the wake of 9/11, told an Internet security conference Thursday in San Diego that “I think this person’s credibility has really been impaired,” referring to the Democratic presidential front-runner.

Howard Schmidt, Ridge’s partner in a cyber-security firm, suggested Clinton engaged in a cover-up. But he also hit White House staff for using Gmail accounts to communicate with Arab Spring figures.

Ridge, a Republican who has endorsed Jeb Bush for president, said Clinton’s explanation for having a nongovernmental email account doesn’t wash, including the idea that others did the same.

“Just because everybody jumps off the Midway into the ocean, doesn’t mean you have to jump out, too,” he told about 300 people attending the CyberFest meeting at the Broadway Pier — adjacent to the historic aircraft carrier.

Howard Schmidt was President Obama’s cyber-security adviser until late May 2012. Photo by Ken Stone

Ridge was joined on stage by Schmidt, his partner in the private Ridge-Schmidt Cyber security firm. Schmidt was cyber-security coordinator in the Obama administration until May 2012.

Replying to an audience member’s question about Hillary Clinton’s email issue, Schmidt began: “I’m trying to think of a nice way to put it.”

Then without using Clinton’s name, he said: “People do things to cover up, to keep people from seeing the things they’re doing. They do it deliberately.”

But in his own office, Schmidt said: “I’m sitting there and saying: You don’t do that. You don’t do that.”

He called on the federal government to use existing technology to create a secure email server and tell staff “you don’t (use) anything else.”

San Diego Councilwoman Sherri Lightner presented a awards to a Ramona High school team that won a cyber-security challenge. Photo by Ken Stone

“The military understands this 100 percent,” Schmidt said. “But trying to get the rest of the government to do it is just absolutely insane.”

He said he wasn’t surprised by what he called the use of private accounts in government.

‘[Clinton] is getting the attention, but there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of government employees that do the same thing. … I’m not surprised. I’m not sure there’s going to be a solution for it in the next four years.”

In a brief interview after his half-hour stage appearance, Ridge told Times of San Diego that Clinton had “absolutely no reason to have a private server.”

“Convenience notwithstanding, you are the secretary of state, so it’s a question of judgment,” he said, “and I’m going to let the FBI take the investigation where it goes.”

He called FBI Director James Comey, appointed by President Obama in 2013, a “true public servant” and “helluva patriot” and “I frankly think if they find a transgression … that’s a violation of criminal statute, they will act accordingly.”

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