Clinton’s email woes won’t go away – Politico
As Hillary Clinton prepares for the first debate of the Democratic presidential primary season, she’s got one more thing to worry about: An imminent dump of another batch of emails from her private account that includes at least one reflecting an alleged security breach.
The expected release from Clinton’s account as secretary of state includes one that names a human source providing information to the CIA, according to a letter from Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C). The email undercuts Clinton’s defense that she did not send classified information by email and that none of the information on her server was classified at the time she received it. That claim is now being tested in a meticulous FBI inquiry of how classified information wound up in her account.
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Gowdy called the human source’s identity “information Clinton should have known was classified at the time she received it” and “some of the most protected information in our intelligence community.”
Gowdy said Clinton forwarded the email to a colleague. However, Clinton aides have said she would have had no reason to think she was receiving highly classified information from her friend Sidney Blumenthal, who was offering Clinton unofficial advice on Benghazi. Both Blumenthal and the former CIA operative who supposedly identified the CIA source, Tyler Drumheller, were outside the government at the time.
An email release, stirring another round of Republican attacks about Clinton’s truthfulness, is tough for any candidate to face in the tense lead-up to a high-profile debate. But in Clinton’s case, the email controversy has dogged her candidacy for seven months and counting, with periodic releases leading to shifting explanations about what was on Clinton’s server and what became of about 32,000 emails she said were deleted after her lawyers deemed them personal.
The timing of another release appears to be no accident, and Republicans on the House Benghazi Committee have been defending themselves from charges that the whole investigation is a partisan witch hunt designed to derail Clinton’s candidacy. That line of attack intensified over the weekend.
The saga has left Clinton wrestling with an octopus, disentangling one tentacle only to find another latching on somewhere else.
The Tuesday release includes more than 1,500 emails relating to Libya, including over 500 pages of emails to and from Blumenthal. His involvement has been controversial because he had been rejected by the Obama administration for a top job under Clinton but had a back channel to her, while simultaneously pursuing private business interests in Libya. She forwarded some of his emails to other top officials.
Adding to the congressional probes and an FBI inquiry, Clinton has also been plagued by a slew of lawsuits filed by conservative groups and news outlets that have led to their own document releases from her email trove, including a monthly release ordered by a federal judge. Her campaign has struggled to keep up with the steady diet of daily developments that keep the issue in the news.
The FBI’s inquiry focuses not on Clinton specifically but on how classified information made its way into Clinton’s email account. It is unclear whether investigators have focused on the CIA source issue Gowdy highlighted. Still, in such situations, any investigation—particularly any criminal investigation– usually zeroes in on who in government disclosed that kind of information, rather than who received it after it escaped government control, experts said.
“Drumheller could have gotten in trouble if this is true [but] the further you go down that chain, the less significant it is,” said Steven Aftergood, a classified information expert with the Federation of American Scientists. “The Blumenthal factor is a bit of a wild card because he is a non government interlocutor who is connecting other parts of government to each other….He doesn’t fit into any regulatory scheme for controlling classified information.”
Drumheller died in August. Blumenthal’s attorney did not respond to an email Sunday seeking comment for this story.
Republicans say the incident is another indication that Clinton was cavalier in handling information that was or should have been classified, but Aftergood said he’s not sure from the public facts if Clinton did anything wrong.
“Is Clinton implicated in demonstrating bad judgment? It’s harder to say. I think she presumed her communications with Blumenthal were confidential in the first place even if they were not on an encrypted, secure line. She was the secretary of state not the classification police,” Aftergood added.
Some information has emerged from the Benghazi committee and two Senate panels probing aspects of Clinton’s email setup. The campaign has also been buffeted by disclosures in the nearly 40 Freedom of Information lawsuits pending in federal court,. Most of the suits were filed by two conservative groups long at odds with Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton—Judicial Watch and Citizens United.
The Clinton campaign’s strategy for handling the email mess has evolved in recent months, passing through three distinct phases. At the outset of the controversy, Clinton insisted she’d done nothing wrong, and she sometimes treated the issue as a joke. This approach was epitomized by her response at an August press conference where she was asked if her email server had been wiped of all the emails her lawyers deemed were personal and she replied: “What with a cloth or something?”
The second phase, triggered by slumping poll numbers, involved greater contrition and an acknowledgment that many potential Clinton supporters had concerns about her decision to put the entirety of her email records as secretary of state on a private server. Clinton conceded that her decision to do that was a “mistake,” while Clinton’s aides also took on a proactive effort to publicly litigate the facts, including through a web video that tackled alleged misstatements in news accounts about the furor.
The third phase of Clinton response, and the one the candidate is expected to display at Tuesday night’s debate, has shown increased combativeness, illustrated by Clinton’s angry reaction when asked by an interviewer last week about the email aspect of the Benghazi probe.
“Look at the situation they chose to exploit to go after me political reasons the death of four Americans in Benghazi,” Clinton said sharply on NBC’s “Today Show.” “This committee was set up as they have admitted for the purpose of making a partisan political issue out of the deaths of four Americans. I would have never done that, and if I were President and there were Republicans or Democrats who were thinking about that, I would have done everything to shut it down.”
The Clinton campaign has also gone after not only Gowdy’s Benghazi probe but the email-related inquiries being led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). The campaign’s statements say all the probes are partisan and illegitimate, in part because they’re treading on the same ground being covered by the FBI.
“Ron Johnson is ripping a page from the House Benghazi Committee’s playbook and mounting his own, taxpayer-funded sham of an investigation with the sole purpose of attacking Hillary Clinton politically,” Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said last week. “The Justice Department’s independent review is led by nonpolitical, career professionals, and Ron Johnson has no business interfering with it for his own partisan ends.”
In an interview aired Sunday night, President Barack Obama rejected the laugh-it-off approach, while also appearing to fault the GOP and, perhaps, the press as well for obsessing about the issue.
“I think that this was a mistake that she has acknowledged,” Obama told CBS’ “60 Minutes.” “I do think that the way it’s been ginned-up is in part because of–in part– because of politics. And I think she’d be the first to acknowledge that maybe she could have handled the original decision better and the disclosures more quickly. … This is one of those issues that I think is legitimate, but the fact that for the last three months this is all that’s been spoken about is an indication that we’re in presidential political season.”
Obama also said he did not believe Clinton’s decision to use the private email account posed a national security risk.
The more confrontational Clinton strategy seems spurred in part by opportunity. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) created a huge opening for Clinton when he said last month that Clinton’s “numbers are dropping” as a direct result of the Benghazi’s committee exposure of her exclusive use of private email as secretary of state. The campaign turned those comments into a TV ad blasting the Benghazi probe as shamelessly partisan.
The Clinton campaign got another gift Sunday when CNN aired an interview with a former Benghazi committee staffer, Bradley Podliska, who said he was fired from the panel in part for rebuffing pressure to focus on Clinton rather than the broader issues involved in the attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi in 2012. Podliska called the probe “a partisan investigation” that was shortchanging the families of the four Americans killed in the attack.
Gowdy denied Podliska’s allegations, but the Clinton camp jumped on the claim as more evidence of bias in the House inquiry.
The more heated response from Clinton and her team also appears linked to the complexity of putting forward a fact-based rebuttal while the facts relating to the email saga continue to shift. In recent weeks, it has emerged that the Pentagon found Clintonemail.com messages from Clinton predating the March 19, 2009 date her aides said she began using that account.
In addition, a second tech company, Connecticut-based Datto Inc., said it may have had copies of some messages even though Clinton’s aides may not have been aware of that firm’s role.
Whatever the array of reasons, Clinton’s shift to a more aggressive approach also has another benefit in the eyes of many Democrats. The Democratic frontrunner is now on offense as she prepares for another pivotal showdown: her scheduled public testimony next week before the House Benghazi Committee.