State Dept. deems 22 Clinton emails ‘top secret’
Washington – — The private email server Hillary Clinton used while secretary of State re-emerged as a liability for her presidential run, as the State Department acknowledged Friday that 22 messages stored on the server contain top secret information.
Clinton has long denied any of the messages that went through the unprotected server in her home contained highly sensitive material. The State Department said none of the messages were marked top secret at the time they were sent — although it is looking into whether they should have been.
The administration refused to discuss the contents of the messages, which it acknowledged hours before the latest batch of about 1,000 pages of Clinton emails were disclosed publicly Friday evening. The messages marked top secret are being excluded from the disclosure.
The Associated Press learned seven email chains were being withheld in full from the Friday release because they contain information deemed to be “top secret.” The 37 pages include messages recently described by a key intelligence official as concerning so-called “special access programs” — a highly restricted subset of classified material that could point to confidential sources or clandestine programs like drone strikes or government eavesdropping.
“The documents are being upgraded at the request of the intelligence community because they contain a category of top secret information,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told the Associated Press, describing the decision to withhold documents in full as “not unusual.” That means they won’t be published online with the rest of the documents, even with blacked-out boxes.
Department officials wouldn’t describe the substance of the emails, or say if Clinton sent any herself.
Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, has insisted she never sent or received information on her personal email account that was classified at the time. No emails released so far were stamped “CLASSIFIED” or “TOP SECRET,” but reviewers previously had designated more than 1,000 messages at lower classification levels for public release. Friday’s will be the first at the top secret level.
Even if Clinton only read, and didn’t write or forward the secret messages, she still would have been required to report classification slippages that she recognized. But without classification markings, that may have been difficult, especially if the information was in the public domain.
“We firmly oppose the complete blocking of the release of these emails,” Clinton campaign spokesman Brain Fallon said in a statement. “Since first providing her emails to the State Department more than one year ago, Hillary Clinton has urged that they be made available to the public. We feel no differently today.”
Fallon accused the “loudest and leakiest participants” in a process of bureaucratic infighting for withholding the exchanges. The documents, he said, originated in the State Department’s unclassified system long before they ever reached Clinton, and “in at least one case, the emails appear to involve information from a published news article.”
“This appears to be overclassification run amok,” Fallon said.
Kirby said the State Department was focused, as part of the Freedom of Information Act review of Clinton’s emails, on “whether they need to be classified today.” Questions about their past classification, he said, “are being, and will be, handled separately by the State Department.”
The latest iteration of Clinton’s email troubles comes as an unwelcome distraction to her campaign, just three days before the first votes are cast in the race for the Democratic nomination. Polls show Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are in close to a dead heat in Iowa, which will hold its caucuses Monday.
The emails have been a Clinton campaign issue since 10 months ago, when the AP discovered her exclusive use while in office of a homebrew email server in the basement of her family’s New York home. Doing so wasn’t expressly forbidden. Clinton first called the decision a matter of convenience, then a mistake.
Last March, Clinton and the State Department said no business conducted in the emails included top-secret matters. Both said her account was never hacked or compromised.
Associated Press contributed.