The Clinton campaign seized on two e-mails highlighted in Fox News report Wednesday, telling reporters in a hastily arranged conference call that the information in that story bolsters Clinton’s contention that she did not use her home-based, private e-mail system for classified communications.
Campaign press secretary Brian Fallon said Clinton was merely a “passive recipient” of material that later became the subject of what he characterized as a bureaucratic squabble over classification.
“We think it vindicates our point that Secretary Clinton did not send or receive classified material,” Fallon said, noting that the e-mails were generated by career foreign service officers conducting routine State Department business.
In one case, the e-mail is marked “sensitive but unclassified,” and in the other case the material contains no marking.
When Clinton’s use of the separate e-mail system was revealed in March, she said “there was no classified material” involved. She later amended that to say that she did not handle any information on the private system that was marked classified at the time.
At issue is potential mishandling of classified national security information and the security of the Clintons’ e-mail system, which was maintained privately, outside government control. The department uses at least two e-mail systems – one for classified material, and one for unclassified. Hillary Clinton’s aides have said she read classified material only on the approved internal system or in secure, hard copy form.
However, GOP critics have said Clinton’s unorthodox e-mail system is evidence of a tendency to think she can play by different rules, and that her decisions could have placed top secret information at risk. Clinton now says that in hindsight she should not have set up the system as she did, although she maintains she did nothing wrong.
Clinton and her allies have cast the controversy as a trumped-up political attack by Republicans, and said there is no evidence that information labeled classified crossed her server at the time it was labeled. Fallon suggested that the intelligence community takes a more aggressive posture towards classification than officials at State Department, and called the differences an honest disagreement. By retroactively classifying some material as “classified,” he said intelligence officials were attempting to “put the genie back in the bottle.”
After the briefing, an aide to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) issued a statement defending the intelligence community’s concern. “Just because the State Department may not think information is or should be classified, it does not have the authority make that decision if it received the information from another agency,” a Grassley spokesperson said.
Clinton allies on Capitol Hill and elsewhere who have reviewed some of the classified messages wave away suggestions that national security was placed at risk. Two sources told The Post that one of the e-mail chains was launched after an inquiry by a reporter. Clinton was copied on the response provided by several experts in the department. The ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) downplayed claims that Clinton was careless with national security secrets.
“I think the fact that some staff of the Department of State may have sent the secretary some e-mails not marked as classified is going to prove to be of very minor significance,” Schiff said.
Still, questions about whether she was trying to circumvent regular government rules now blot her record as secretary of state, and the controversy is sure to extend well into the 2016 calendar. The State Department is releasing batches of redacted Clinton e-mails monthly under the eye of a federal judge, and the FBI is now looking at the security of the system.
Clinton’s lawyer turned over thumb drives containing copies of her e-mails to the FBI recently. Similarly, the private company handling Clinton’s e-mail service since 2013 turned over a server that had been used during the period she was secretary of state.
Fallon said Wednesday that he is confident the FBI review will remain a small-bore look at security procedures and will not become a wider criminal probe.
Clinton remains comfortably ahead of Republican challengers in most surveys, but a CNN poll Wednesday gave her only a single-digit lead over three Republicans, including front-runner Donald Trump.
Until now, discussion of the material that triggered the FBI security review has taken place in a vacuum, Fallon said. He said the identification of these two communications by Fox helped illustrate that “what is taking place in this review of her e-mail server is really a case where you have members of the intelligence community erring on the side of classification,” after the fact,d.
“You have other agencies of the government acting in perfectly good faith [that] have a completely different view of the nature of the underlying information,” he said. “It says more about the bent toward secrecy in some quarters of the government than it does about Hillary Clinton’s e-mails,”
Greg Miller contributed to this article