With U.S. intelligence officials scrambling to contain damage from potentially hundreds of spy agency secrets in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s private emails, questions are mounting over why the Justice Department has not yet opened a criminal investigation against the Democratic presidential front-runner for mishandling a mountain of classified information.

While some secrecy experts believe Mrs. Clinton will be able to build a strong case that material on her server was not classified at the time it was moving through her emails, others assert that what the former secretary of state did was far more egregious than the mishandling of information that saw former CIA Director David H. Petraeus sentenced to two years probation and a $100,000 fine.

“I don’t see how the Justice Department would be able to avoid at least investigating this,” said Kevin Carroll, a former CIA officer and secrecy lawyer in Washington. “What Petraeus did was really small in comparison, because there was no exposure of any information to any foreign intelligence services.”

Mr. Petraeus pleaded guilty to improperly handling hard-copy binders of classified military files and sharing them with his mistress and biographer.

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