In a “serious risk” to national security, Hillary Clinton gave her State Department emails containing Top Secret and other classified information to her lawyer, who lacked sufficient clearances to possess it and who kept it for as long as eight months, the Republican Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee charged Tuesday.
In a letter to her successor Secretary of State John Kerry, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said when she turned over thumb drives containing her official emails to her lawyer, “it appears Secretary Clinton sent (Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information) to an unauthorized person.”
Grassley, who has sent multiple demanding letters in the controversy over Clinton’s use of a private email server, said: “The transmission of classified material to an individual unauthorized to possess it is a serious national security risk (and) it raises legitimate questions as to whether the information was properly secured from foreign governments and other entities.”
David Kendall, the prominent Washington attorney who has represented Clinton for 20 years or more, had written Grassley just a day earlier that when Clinton turned over her 30,490 official emails to the State Department on Dec. 5, 2014, “none of those emails was classified.”
The dueling interpretations of events surrounding Clinton’s personal email account mirrored the running battle of rhetoric over the issue between the Democratic presidential frontrunner and her detractors. Clinton says she never sent or received emails that were classified – or at least that were marked as classified. Her growing legions of critics say much of the information was sensitive, and some of it was classified when she received it.
Tensions over the issue escalated on Aug. 11 when the inspector general for the Intelligence Community, Charles McCullough III, notified 17 senior members of Congress and James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, that two of the emails had been classified as Top Secret /Sensitive Compartmented Information.
On Aug. 12, a Colorado firm turned over Clinton’s server to the FBI, which has been investigating whether Clinton’s use of a private email account compromised national security.
Grassley is one of two Senate committee chairmen who have burrowed into the issue of whether Kendall and a colleague had adequate clearances to handle the thumb drives, which Kendall handed over to the Justice Department on Aug. 6.
In his letter to Grassley on Monday, Kendall said that he was granted a Justice Department clearance to view Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information in November 2013 and a Top Secret clearance from the State Department in November 2014. Kendall said the State Department clearance is still active, but did not disclose whether the higher-level Justice Department clearance has lapsed. The Justice Department had no comment.
Kendall said a law partner, Katherine Turner, also obtained a Top Secret clearance from the State Department in December 2014. The 2014 clearances were needed so that they could review sensitive department documents to prepare Clinton for testimony to a House committee investigating the fatal 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya that killed Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans, Kendall wrote.
It was on Dec. 5, 2014, that Clinton turned over all of her official emails to the State Department.
But Grassley wrote Kerry that “neither Mr. Kendall nor Ms. Turner have a security clearance at a sufficient level to be a custodian of (Top Secret/SCI) material.”
He noted that maintaining such material “generally requires advanced protocols,” such as requiring a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, a specially designed vault for protecting state secrets.
However, Grassley said, Kendall’s letter “indicates that Secretary Clinton provided copies of her emails to him in December 2014,” although he has said the State Department did not deliver him a safe to store the thumb drives until July.
In his letter, Kendall advised Grassley that he should “be assured that my firm has followed the guidance provided by the Department of State,” and later from the Justice Department, with regard to whatever equipment was needed to safeguard the thumb drives.
But Grassley pressed Kerry for “clear and complete” explanations as to how and why the department granted Kendall and his colleague security clearances and when Clinton gave them the thumb drives. He also asked whether, amid the FBI investigation, security clearances granted to Clinton and her lawyers have been suspended pending the outcome of the inquiry. Suspending clearances is a common practice in such circumstances.
Clinton’s campaign and the State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Separately, a new report by the State Department inspector general released Tuesday faulted U.S. diplomats in Japan, including U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, for using private email for conducting government business.
That includes instances where emails labeled sensitive but unclassified were sent from, or received by, personal accounts. Sensitive but unclassified information requires administrative control and protection from public or other unauthorized disclosure for other reasons, according to the IG.
The email practices were reported during a routine inspection of State Department operations in Japan between January and March of this year.
The inspector general previously reported on the risks associated with using commercial email for government business, such as data loss, hacking, phishing and spoofing of email accounts, as well as inadequate protections for personally identifiable information.
Also, Tuesday, Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana asked the inspectors general of the State Department and the Intelligence Community to comment on a recent change that allows the Justice Department, not the inspectors general, to determine what information is warranted or necessary to an IG investigation.
While this is not the first instance in which a federal agency has tried to shut down Inspectors General from doing their job, this time the Obama Administration is attempting to unilaterally obstruct oversight of their potentially corrupt dealings. Sen. David Vitter, R-La.
The Justice Department issued a memo to federal agencies using that same language, which he says potentially inhibits oversight ability of each agency’s IG.
(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misquoted Kendall's statement about the status of his Justice Department security clearance.)