The State Department on Tuesday took issue with FBI Director James Comey’s criticism of its ability to protect classified information.
The “security culture” at the State Department, Comey said earlier in the day, “was generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information found elsewhere in the government.”
The FBI uncovered the department’s shortcomings while examining former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHeller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 MORE’s exclusive use of a private email server during her tenure there, Comey said in remarks announcing that the bureau would not recommend pursuing federal charges related to Clinton’s behavior.
In particular, the FBI head said, the State Department has particular trouble using unclassified email systems to discuss sensitive matters.
State Department spokesman John Kirby quickly pushed back.
“We don't share that assessment of our institution,” John Kirby told reporters in Washington.
“We don't share the broad assessment made of our institution that there's a lax culture here when it comes to protecting classified information,” he added. “We take it very, very seriously.”
Kirby’s comments were rare for the public challenge they posed to another branch of the Obama administration, and the FBI in particular.
The spokesman felt comfortable rebuking the nation's top law enforcement official, he said, because Comey acknowledged that the State Department’s security culture was not the target of the FBI’s investigation.
“As the director said himself, that wasn't part of their investigations or the findings and recommendations that they made inside that investigation,” Kirby said.
Yet the FBI’s criticism about the State Department is not the first. Earlier this year, the department’s inspector general criticized multiple figures — and Clinton in particular — for poor email practices that could jeopardize national security.
While declining to recommend charges against Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Comey on Tuesday suggested that other officials could face administrative penalties for their roles in her unconventional email arrangement.
“Those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions,” Comey said.
Kirby declined to comment about whether the State Department would hand down penalties for any current officials, noting that the FBI’s decision not to recommend charges does not amount to the Justice Department fully closing its case on Clinton.
However, Attorney General Loretta Lynch has said that she will accept the recommendations given to her, so the delay seems largely pro forma.