By Julian Hattem - 01/29/16 03:03 PM EST
The Obama administration will entirely withhold 22 emails from Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonWhat does Bill think of Hillary's Chris Wallace interview? Trump tops Clinton on speech ratings GOP senator’s camp to woo Clinton fans MORE’s private server because they have been classified as “top secret,” the State Department said on Friday.
The existence of multiple top secret emails in the Democratic presidential front-runner's inbox will only increase public scrutiny on the former secretary of State's unusual email arrangement, mere days before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation nominating contest on Monday.
The 37 pages of emails are the first time the Obama administration has confirmed that messages within Clinton's server while she was at State merit one of the highest levels of classification. Although the State Department has previously classified more than 1,300 of Clinton’s emails upon release, the vast majority of those were at lower classification levels.
“These emails will be denied in full, meaning they will not be produced online on our FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] website,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement shared with The Hill. “In response to a FOIA request, it is not unusual to deny or withhold a document in full.”
Kirby said that the State Department would not explain the contents of the top secret emails.
Clinton’s presidential campaign quickly dismissed the news, which spokesman Brian Fallon called “overclassification run amok.”
"We firmly oppose the complete blocking of the release of these emails," Fallon said in a statement.
Separately, the State Department said on Friday that it would be similarly withholding 18 emails sent between Clinton and President Obama, “to protect the president’s ability to receive unvarnished advice and counsel.”
The emails, made up from eight email chains, “have not been determined to be classified,” Kirby told reporters on Friday. “They are entirely separate and distinct from the emails that were upgraded.”
The White House had asked for the emails to be kept secret in October.
It remains unclear whether Clinton herself sent the top secret emails. Many of the emails that were previously classified upon release were sent to the former first lady by her top aides.
Watchdog and intelligence agencies have previously concluded that at least two of the emails on Clinton’s machine were classified as top secret. But the State Department has fought back, and insisted that no final determination had been made.
Friday’s determination was made “at the request” of intelligence agencies, Kirby said.
The 22 documents given the high level of classification on Friday include those two documents, the department said, as well as emails that contain information on a “need-to-know” basis.
The State Department and Clinton’s presidential campaign have previously claimed that none of the information from her machine was classified at the time it was sent. Instead, they insist that the classification was retroactive.
The 37 pages of top secret documents were “not marked classified at the time they were sent,” Kirby said on Friday.
But that does not mean the emails are not classified, Kirby confirmed.
“Is it possible that something is classified at the time it was sent and not marked so? ... That is certainly possible,” he said.
News of the top secret emails is likely to roil the presidential race, where Republicans have been especially eager to accuse the Democratic front-runner of violating the law and jeopardizing U.S. secrets.
“If this isn’t disqualifying I don’t know what is,” Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement on Friday evening.
The RNC pointed out that Clinton had signed a nondisclosure agreement promising to protect “marked or unmarked classified information.”
Clinton’s private server is currently being investigated by the FBI for evidence that she or her aides mishandled classified information. After Friday’s revelations from the State Department, Republicans were even more eager for the Justice Department to press charges.
“Democrats will have to decide whether they really want to nominate a candidate who could face severe legal repercussions in the muddle of the campaign and who has so brazenly violated the public trust with her reckless disregard for our national security,” Priebus said.
The State Department announced the heightened classification level on Friday before the release of roughly 1,000 pages of Clinton’s emails.
Friday was supposed to be the deadline for the department to release all 55,000 pages of Clintons’ work-related emails. However, the government has said that it needs an extra month to comply with that court-ordered limit, due to an internal oversight and the snowstorm that battered the East Coast last week and effectively shut down the government.
The new deadline for the final release of Clinton’s emails — Feb. 29 — will be after the first four primary states have voted.
At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest denied that there was any effort to delay the release for political reasons.
“I can tell you with full confidence that there has been no political interference in this process,” Earnest told reporters.
Kirby on Friday said that the State Department’s request of a deadline extension was not due to the top secret documents.
The State Department would not rule out the possibility that additional emails could be classified at a top secret level.
— Jordan Fabian contributed
— This story was last updated at 4:15 p.m.