Days before voting begins in the 2016 presidential race, Hillary Clinton is facing new, serious allegations about whether she mishandled classified information while serving as the nation’s chief diplomat.
The State Department designated 22 of her emails “top secret” – the first time it has deemed any of Clinton’s emails to be classified at a level that can cause “exceptionally grave” damage to national security if disclosed.
State Department spokesman John Kirby declined to disclose the emails’ content – seven email chains totaling 37 pages – but said the intelligence community had requested the higher classification. Kirby said the documents were not marked classified at the time they were sent.
The emails will not be released to the public. The department has released other classified emails with some redactions.
“The State Department in the FOIA process is focusing on whether they need to be classified today,” he said. “Questions about classification at the time emails were sent are being, and will be, handled separately by the State Department.” He said the broader investigation on when they were classified is being led by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security and Intelligence and Research bureaus.
Clinton, who is in danger of losing both the early nominating states of Iowa and New Hampshire to Sen. Bernie Sanders, pushed back hard as Republicans immediately began criticizing her over the newest revelations as did other Democratic politicians.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, who is a member of the Intelligence Committee, said none of the email chains originated with Clinton and none of the emails sent to Clinton has the mandatory markings that are required when classified information is transmitted.
“The only reason to hold Secretary Clinton responsible for emails that didn’t originate with her is for political points, and that’s what we’ve seen over the past several months,” she said.
At least 1,582 emails that Clinton sent or received contained classified material, most at the lowest level, “confidential,” according to the State Department’s latest update from its ongoing review of more than 30,000 emails. Eleven include “secret” information. The 22 unreleased emails are not part of that number.
None of Clinton’s emails was marked as classified during her tenure, State Department officials say, but intelligence officials say some material was clearly classified at the time. Her aides also sent and received classified information.
“With even more emails on her secret server found to contain ‘Top Secret’ information, Hillary Clinton has removed all doubt that she cannot be trusted with the presidency,” said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee. “Democrats will have to decide whether they really want to nominate a candidate who could face severe legal repercussions in the middle of the campaign and who has so brazenly violated the public trust with her reckless disregard for our national security.”
Senator Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, said Clinton should face the same consequences that any federal employee who had behaved similarly would face, including criminal prosecution.
“We now know Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email account during her tenure at the State Department wasn’t just negligent, it was completely dangerous,” Cotton said.
Clinton has been under fire for months for exclusively using personal email routed through a private server while serving as the nation’s top diplomat. The FBI launched an inquiry into the handling of sensitive information after classified information was found in some of the emails.
The top secret emails were referenced in a letter Intelligence Community Inspector General Charles McCullough III sent to senators saying that at least several dozen emails Clinton sent and received while she was secretary of state contained classified material at the highest levels, according to a letter obtained by McClatchy.
The State Department also said Friday that 18 emails between Clinton and President Barack Obama were being withheld from disclosure.
Clinton’s campaign refuted the “top secret” designation and demanded that all of Clinton’s emails be released to the public.
“We firmly oppose the complete blocking of the release of these emails.” Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement. “Since first providing her emails to the State Department more than one year ago, Hillary Clinton has urged that they be made available to the public. We feel no differently today.
Fallon said the emails likely originated on the State Department’s unclassified system before they were ever shared with Clinton, and they have remained on the department’s unclassified system for years. In at least one case, he said, the emails appear to involve information from a published news article.
“This appears to be over-classification run amok,” he said. “We will pursue all appropriate avenues to see that her emails are released in a manner consistent with her call last year.”
The State Department has been ordered by a federal judge to release all of Clinton’s emails by Friday in response to a public records lawsuit. But the State Department said it would be unable to meet the deadline and asked for a one-month extension. About 1,600 pages of the remaining 9,000 pages were released Friday.
“State Department staff have been working extremely hard to process these emails and we are committed to getting them out,” State Department Mark Toner said last week. “The court’s goal for this month’s production represented the largest number of pages to date. The remaining emails are also the most complex to process as they contain a large amount of material that required interagency review. The cause of this delay is not due to any ongoing discussion about classification that has been in the news as of late.”
In response to a public records lawsuit, the State Department is releasing Clinton’s emails at the end of each month after partially or entirely redacting any containing sensitive U.S. or foreign government information. So far, it has released 43,148 pages.