Hillary Rodham Clinton’s email narrative had finally seemed to run its course as a top news story when Washington was entering the dog days of summer.
Then, from of all places, her former place of employment — the State Department — suddenly injected new life into the scandal on July 1 by announcing that a significant number of her private stash of emails contained classified information.
That made her exclusive use of an unsecured, at-home server during her tenure as secretary of state a far more serious affair. As The Washington Times reported that day, government regulations mandate that officials conduct an inquiry to judge the lengths to which the secrets were disseminated, including inspecting her server and other media devices.
The first steps toward that possible outcome became public July 24, when two inspectors general issued statements chastising Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, for keeping secrets on an unprotected server.
According to a point-by-point analysis, the inspectors’ memos directly contradict Mrs. Clinton’s explanation for months on how she operated her email account to conduct State Department business instead of a State.gov address like every other employee.
Mrs. Clinton and her backers repeatedly have said she did not circulate classified information while secretary of state, and if there were such information, it was not secret during her 2009-2013 tenure.
But a memo from I. Charles McCullough III, the inspector general for the U.S. intelligence community, and a joint statement by he and the State Department IG, said information stored on the server was classified at the time it was disseminated.
Mrs. Clinton has said in interviews that she followed all government rules in her unusual email arrangement.
But again, the IG said in his memo to Congress that classified information in her emails should never have been stored on an unsecure, private server. In other words, he suggests she violated the procedures for handling classified information, a failing that can result in government workers being reprimanded or criminally charged.
A day after the IGs spoke out on July 24, Mrs. Clinton clung to her explanation, saying the investigators were wrong and nothing was classified at the time.
But several days later, her traveling press secretary, Nick Merrill, did not repeat that defense when asked by The Times to respond to specification allegations made by IG investigators.
Mr. Merrill said: “We have had a chance to review the statement released by the Inspectors General of the State Department and Intelligence Community outlining their concerns with regard to the State Department’s review and release of Hillary Clinton’s work emails. We want to ensure that appropriate procedures are followed as these emails are reviewed while not unduly delaying the release of her emails. We particularly do not want their release to be hampered by bureaucratic infighting among the Intelligence Community. More emails are slated to be released by the State Department next week, and we hope that release is as inclusive as possible.”
Call for special prosecutor
Mrs. Clinton’s reliance on a server kept at her home in Chappaqua, New York, could prompt a formal investigation by the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, which handles cases of unauthorized disclosures of government secrets.
Thomas Fitton, president of the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, told The Washington Times there is sufficient indication of wrongdoing for Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch to appoint a special prosecutor.
“Loretta Lynch should appoint a special prosecutor immediately,” said Mr. Fitton, who has sued the administration to force the release of documents. “The Obama Justice Department is conflicted, and the alleged crimes and cover-up not only implicate Mrs. Clinton but other senior administration officials, including Secretary of State [John F.] Kerry and lawyers in the Justice Department. Even President Obama and the White House have been sketchy on what they knew about Mrs. Clinton’s email system. The public interest demands a serious and independent criminal investigation.”
P.J. Crowley, Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman during the first year of her tenure at the State Department, said Republicans risk losing voters if they make her emails a big campaign issue.
“I would like to think the American people will want to hear more about the state of the economy, the cost of health care and the security of the homeland,” Mr. Crowley said. “If their big issue is the fact she used a private network to email her staff, I like her chances in the general election.”
Mrs. Clinton has said she used her private server as a convenience instead of having to tote around two devices, one for herself and one for State.gov.
But security experts said the arrangement might have hand-delivered damaging information to U.S. enemies who know how to hack computer networks.
“It is equivalent to leaving classified docs stacked in the middle of a public library,” said Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst and an expert on handling classified information. “It makes us more vulnerable to foreign threats.”
Mr. McCullough, a former FBI agent and longtime intelligence community official, sent a formal security referral to the FBI last month requesting an investigation for “potential compromise of classified information.”
That politically charged decision — a Democratic administration investigating the email practices of the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination — ultimately rests with Ms. Lynch.
‘So much confusion’
The two-page referral is stamped “official use only.” The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) was in the process of sanitizing the two pages for release, but then handed it off to the Justice Department. An FBI spokesman referred a reporter to the Justice Department, which did not respond to queries. The referral could shed more light on the type of classified information contained in Mrs. Clinton’s emails.
Mr. McCullough and his counterpart at State, Inspector General Steve Linick, issued two statements that greatly changed the debate on Mrs. Clinton’s private emails.
Her personal email messaging was not known publicly until the House Select Committee on Benghazi pressed State to turn over her emails. The reply came back that they resided with her, not with a State server.
Mrs. Clinton then unilaterally reviewed thousands of emails and turned over about 30,000 to State in December 2014. She says she wiped the server clean of thousands more that presumably will never be disclosed.
A State spokesman said on July 1 that about two dozen emails in the first tranche released under the Freedom of Information Act contained classified information. But he said he did not know if the information would have been classified at the time.
Last Friday, the count increased as State released another tranche in which 37 emails had to be cleansed of classified material.
On the campaign trail, Mrs. Clinton has been sending this message: “I think there’s so much confusion around this that I understand why reporters and the public are asking questions, but the facts are pretty clear. I did not send nor receive anything that was classified at the time.”
After The New York Times broke the story on the McCullough referral, Mr. Merrill, Mrs. Clinton’s traveling press secretary, sent out a tweet that said: “She followed appropriate practices in dealing with classified materials. As has been reported on multiple occasions, any released emails deemed classified by the administration have been done so after the fact, and not at the time they were transmitted.”
A ‘not acceptable’ practice
But IG McCullough directly contradicts that assertion in his July 23 memo to leaders of Congress’ House and Senate intelligence committees.
“We note that none of the emails we reviewed had classified or dissemination markings, but some included [intelligence community-]derived classified information and should have been handled as classified, appropriately marked and transmitted via a secure network. Further, my office’s limited sampling of 40 of the emails revealed four contained classified IC information which should have been marked and handled at the SECRET level.”
That is 40 of about 30,000.
A subsequent joint statement by Mr. McCullough and Mr. Linick said: “These emails were not retroactively classified by the State Department; rather these emails contained classified information when they were generated and, according to IC Classification officials, that information remains classified today.”
At a March press conference, Mrs. Clinton asserted she “fully complied with every rule” in maintaining her private server for official business.
But the joint IG statement said she did not follow the rules. “This classified information should never have been transmitted via an unclassified personal system,” the two said.
Previously, a State Department official appointed by President Obama told a Senate committee that Mrs. Clinton’s email practice was “not acceptable.”
“I think that the actions we’ve taken in the course of recovering these emails have made it very clear what people’s responsibilities are with respect to record keeping,” Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I think the message is loud and clear that that is not acceptable.”
State Department bureaucrats appear to be going to bat for Mrs. Clinton in a battle with Mr. McCullough.
Mr. McCullough’s memo to congressional leaders disclosed that:
• Mr. McCullough and the State inspector general asked State to provide a copy of the 30,000 emails.
State agreed to limited access for the State IG, but flatly refused to provide the emails to Mr. McCullough’s office.
• State already has released classified information in the Clinton emails “as a result of insufficient coordination with the intelligence community.” State personnel “continue to deny the classified character of released information despite a definitive determination from” the intelligence community.
• Mr. McCullough’s office recommended that State conduct the review of 30,000 Clinton emails on a top secret computer network, but State said it does not have sufficient resources.
• The 30,000 Clinton emails were downloaded to an unsecure thumb drive in the possession of her personal attorney, David Kendall.
To date, State has released only a small portion of those emails in response to a judge’s order that it quicken the process in response to Freedom of Information Act lawsuits.
The Washington Times reported on July 1 that the fact the State Department disclosed that some emails contained classified information meant that the government had grounds to launch an inquiry and seize her server.
The joint IG statement said, “The IC IG is statutorily required to refer potential compromises of national security information to the appropriate IC security officials.”