National Security

Turmoil mounts surrounding Clinton emails

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Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign on Wednesday sought to dismiss criticism that her decision to give the FBI her private email server suggested any admission of wrongdoing.

The vigorous pushback came as the server’s handover dominated the news cycle and the State Department’s inspector general vowed to “follow the facts wherever they lead.”

{mosads}Polls suggest that the fallout from Clinton’s email practices could be a vulnerability for her position as front-runner, amid new surveys suggesting weaknesses in the general election — and even in the New Hampshire primary, where Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) surpassed her in one poll. 

In an email to supporters, campaign Director of Communications Jennifer Palmieri blasted the GOP criticism as “nonsense” and “misinformation,” but spent more than 700 words aiming to debunk them. 

“Look, this kind of nonsense comes with the territory of running for president,” Palmieri wrote in an email to supporters. “We know it, Hillary knows it, and we expect it to continue from now until Election Day.”

The entreaty came hot on the heels of revelations that two emails that passed through the personal email service that Clinton used while in office contained top-secret information and should have been closely guarded.

Those two messages were pulled out of a pool of just 40 emails reviewed by the Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community. All told, there may be hundreds of classified emails among the roughly 30,000 work-related emails that Clinton has handed over to the State Department, according to the inspector general.

Details of the emails’ classification status were first reported by McClatchy. 

The State Department backed the Clinton campaign’s comments, all but denying the inspector general’s claims that the material should have been highly classified.  

“We’re working with the director of national intelligence to resolve whether, in fact, this material is actually classified,” spokesman Mark Toner said on Wednesday. “But in the meantime, we’re taking steps clearly to ensure that the information is protected and stored properly.”

A Department of Justice (DOJ) spokesman declined to comment to The Hill.

According to GOP critics, Clinton’s decision is a sign that she violated secrecy laws by failing to secure classified information. 

“After months of false assurances from Secretary Clinton, we now know that she recklessly maintained a private server containing classified documents, some of which were classified at the highest level,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said in a statement. “The only remaining question is whether she will be held accountable for her actions.”

In part, whether or not Clinton broke the law depends on whether she herself sent emails containing classified information, recognized information in her inbox that she knew to be classified or should have realized that information sent to her was obtained from a classified source. 

Actually sending classified information on an unclassified system would likely be considered a violation of secrecy laws, said Bradley Moss, a lawyer who is representing Gawker in a lawsuit to obtain emails from Clinton’s aide. Merely having classified information appear in her inbox and failing to recognize it as such probably would be a trickier proposition, he added.

“The $64,0000 question is will there be enough for DOJ to want to touch this political football,” he said. “And only time will tell on that.”

The State Department claims that the contested emails containing classified information were not sent by Clinton.

Instead, they were “circulated” by lower-level employees in 2009 and 2011, and “ultimately some were forwarded to Secretary Clinton,” spokesman John Kirby said. “They were not marked as classified.”

As to the determination of whether or not the emails contained classified material: “Some of it’s art and some of it’s science,” Toner said on Wednesday.

“It’s common for information previously considered unclassified to be upgraded to classified before being publicly released,” Palmieri said in her note to supporters. “Some emails that weren’t secret at the time she sent or received them might be secret now.

“And sometimes government agencies disagree about what should be classified,” she added, “so it isn’t surprising that another agency might want to conduct its own review, even though the State Department has repeatedly confirmed that Hillary’s emails contained no classified information at the time she sent or received them.”

Peter van Buren — a 24-year veteran of the State Department who claims to have suffered retaliation after writing an incriminating book about the department’s forays into Iraq — laughed off the department’s defense. 

“The idea of somehow saying this is a long email chain that they forwarded around like cat gifs or something, there’s simply no validity to that,” he said.

“Someone had to make an effort to take that information,” he added. “This isn’t something that’s done by accident — separate machines in separate rooms with very obvious markings.”

According to the Intelligence Community’s Inspector General, the pair of emails in Clinton’s trove contained information classified as “top secret” — an upper level of secrecy — and should not be shared, even with foreign intelligence allies. Additional tags indicate that the questionable material was obtained from electronic surveillance and from satellites.

While the emails very likely were not stamped with “TOP SECRET” at the top, it should have been clear that even roundabout references to sensitive material were not allowed, van Buren added.

“There’s no question that you’re going to understand that is not unclassified information,” he said. “Whether it’s marked or unmarked is absolutely foolish.”

The simmering tension won’t reach a peak until at least late October, when Clinton has agreed to testify before an open hearing of the House committee investigating the 2012 attack on an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

By handing over her server and cooperating with the FBI, Clinton is likely to be seen as a “cooperating witness for a potentially larger criminal investigation beyond Ms. Clinton herself,” said Dan Epstein, the executive director of Cause of Action, a conservative watchdog group.

Notably, federal watchdogs’ suggestions last month that the Justice Department should open an inquiry into mishandling of information at the State Department did not specifically name Clinton as the potential target.

Instead, an investigation may try to take on the larger risk factors at the State Department, speculated Epstein.

“They’re looking for a scalp where they can say someone acted intentionally to access classified information or may have access to classified information that may have been intentional,” he said.




Tags 2016 Democratic primary Bernie Sanders Hillary Clinton
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