Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Report: Info in Hillary Clinton's emails was 'born classified'


This report from Reuters  about Hillary Clinton's continuing email saga qualifies as a bombshell:

"While the (State) department is now stamping a few dozen of (Clinton's) publicly released emails as 'Classified,' it stresses this is not evidence of rule-breaking. Those stamps are new, it says, and do not mean the information was classified when Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner in the 2016 presidential election, first sent or received it.

"But the details included in those 'Classified' stamps — which include a string of dates, letters and numbers describing the nature of the classification — appear to undermine this account, a Reuters examination of the emails and the relevant regulations has found.

"The new stamps indicate that some of Clinton's emails from her time as the nation's most senior diplomat are filled with a type of information the U.S. government and the department's own regulations automatically deems classified from the get-go — regardless of whether it is already marked that way or not.

"In the small fraction of emails made public so far, Reuters has found at least 30 email threads from 2009, representing scores of individual emails, that include what the State Department's own 'Classified' stamps now identify as so-called 'foreign government information.' The U.S. government defines this as any information, written or spoken, provided in confidence to U.S. officials by their foreign counterparts."

Let me repeat that: "at least 30 email threads from 2009, representing scores of individual emails" with "foreign government information." This completely undermines the (evolving, as I detail below) Clinton narrative that she had no way of knowing some information would later be deemed or marked classified. As the Reuters report continues:

"'It's born classified,' said J. William Leonard, a former director of the U.S. government's Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO). Leonard was director of ISOO, part of the White House's National Archives and Records Administration, from 2002 until 2008, and worked for both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

"'If a foreign minister just told the secretary of state something in confidence, by U.S. rules that is classified at the moment it's in U.S. channels and U.S. possession,' he said in a telephone interview (with Reuters), adding that for the State Department to say otherwise was 'blowing smoke.'"

Clinton could try pleading ignorance bordering on incompetence on this -- indeed, there's a sign that's something her campaign is willing to give a shot -- but that doesn't really speak well of someone running for president on her credentials, does it?

I referred to Clinton's evolving spin on this story over the past few months. It's worth reviewing (emphasis added throughout):

  • "I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material." -- Clinton's statement at a press conference, March 10
  • "(A)ny released emails deemed classified by the administration have been done so after the fact, and not at the time they were transmitted." -- Clinton campaign statement, July 24
  • "I did not send classified material. And I did not receive any material that was marked or designated classified – which is the way you know whether something is." -- Clinton's statement at a press conference, Aug. 18

So, we've gone from "there is no classified material," to no one "deemed" the material classified at the time, to any material she "receive(d)" may have been deemed classified but was not "marked or designated" so. The Reuters report even blows up that last bit by indicating the type of information in question was among the most basic kind of classified information there is.

Which perhaps is why Clinton's campaign's newest talking point is:

(It's worth noting this "former Justice Department official" might be better described as a "longtime Democratic operative," given his past work for Sens. Chuck Schumer and Robert Menendez and John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign -- all of which he served, just like at the Justice Department, in a communications role, not a policy role.)

While I might be sympathetic to the argument our federal government classifies too much information -- just as it regulates too much, criminalizes too much and generally does too much -- this argument is a great example of the "blowing smoke" mentioned above. Might there be some government information out there that really shouldn't be considered classified? I'm sure there is. Does that include "foreign government information" that both other governments and ours would regard as secretive, as well as other information related to national security? Certainly not.

To underscore that point, Bloomberg reports today that some of the information in question concerned armed forces movements and diplomatic personnel's evacuation plans in Libya in April 2011. That is just one of the emails now being reviewed by the FBI.

All of this, remember, is a story now for one big reason: Hillary Clinton's insistence on exclusively using her private email account, on her own private, unsecured server, rather using a secure government account. Had she sent and received emails with classified information on a secure government account, we wouldn't be talking about this. Heck, you would expect the secretary of state to send and receive classified information via email at least from time to time, which is exactly why it should have been obvious from the start that her sole use of a private account was certainly foolish and probably, not just possibly, illegal.

And that gets back to one final question: Why? Why did Clinton insist on conducting her official public business in this way? What did she gain from it, and how did that trump -- in the public's interest, not her own -- what she risked by doing it?

As I wrote the other day, the legal questions are interesting and must be answered. But that shouldn't distract us from the larger question about why she put herself -- and our national security -- in this position in the first place. She should be asked that question at every opportunity until she gives us a good answer.


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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.