Nearly a third of the classified messages released so far from former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s emails came from one man: Jake Sullivan, who served as her deputy chief of staff in the department, and is now the top foreign policy adviser to her presidential campaign.
Cheryl D. Mills, a longtime top Clinton aide who was chief of staff at the department, ranked second, and Huma Abedin, Mrs. Clinton’s close personal assistant who was also a deputy chief of staff, ranked third, with 27 emails sent by her that contain information marked “confidential” by the government, according to a Washington Times analysis.
Mrs. Clinton herself accounts for another 27 of the 186 marked messages that have been released so far, accounting for 2.3 percent of the 7,945 total that have been divulged as of Aug. 31. More than 20,000 messages are still to be released.
All told, 17 different people sent messages that now have been blacked out at least in part, due to classified information, which has become the focus of interest into the former secretary and current Democratic presidential hopeful’s email practices.
But it’s Mrs. Clinton’s inner circle that’s beginning to get more scrutiny, with experts saying they should have been aware they were exchanging potentially classified information.
“Should they have known? Yes. They should of because that’s their profession,” said Alan Edmunds, a lawyer who specializes in national security matters. “If they didn’t know, did they have an obligation to inquire and did they raise questions about whether these emails rise to the level of being classified and should they have taken other measures?”
The State Department has said the fact that the information is now classified doesn’t mean it was, or should have been, at the time the emails were sent. They’ve said it’s not their job to second-guess the circumstances at the time.
“Classification is not a black and white issue,” department spokesman Mark Toner said this week. “You can talk about all of these things. Foreign policy priorities, interagency communications, at an unclassified and a classified level, and I can assure you, and I can assure the American people that these kinds of decisions are made by serious professionals within the State Department, but throughout the interagency everyday. And everybody receives extensive training, and everybody takes that responsibility seriously.”
It’s not always clear what type of information is being redacted in the 186 emails released so far with now-classified information, but some indications are there, including the length of time the classification runs.
Information classified for just 10 years from the date it was created is usually dealing with scheduling or protective security detail matters, according to State Department guidelines. Information gleaned from foreign government officials, meanwhile, is deemed classified for at least 25 years — the standard level of classification.
Mr. Sullivan sent at least 59 messages to Mrs. Clinton that are now marked with some level of classified redaction.
One of those dealt with the fallout from the 2010 parliament elections in Afghanistan, in which many of President Hamid Karzai’s favored candidates lost.
In a message sent the morning of Nov. 25, 2010, the day after election, he forwarded information from U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, who was passing on information and analysis provided by Afghan activist and State Department adviser Rina Amiri about challenges to the vote results.
A large portion of her communique was redacted as classified foreign relations or activity.
Another email that Mr. Sullivan forwarded to Mrs. Clinton was a readout from a conversation between the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson and Ghanaian President John Atta Mills about tense negotiation over a major deal between Exxon Mobil and Kosmos Energy in Ghana.
The Aug. 12, 2010, email was sent a week before the $4 billion deal for the U.S. company to access Ghana’s oil fields blew up.
“Madam Secretary: I spoke to President John Atta Mills for about fifteen minutes on Thursday evening, August 12,” wrote Mr. Carson. The rest of the message was redacted, with the markings indicating it contained confidential foreign government information and U.S. foreign relations activities that needed to remain secret.
Mr. Sullivan didn’t reply to a message sent to his email account at Yale Law School, where he is a senior fellow.
The Clinton campaign also didn’t reply to a message seeking comment. Mr. Sullivan is a top foreign policy adviser to Mrs. Clinton, while Ms. Abedin is vice chairwoman of the campaign.
Mr. Edmunds said it was the responsibility of the sender to determine and mark classified information.
“All of the email and documents should have been marked classified or unclassified or whatever,” he said. “Whoever sends — the original disseminator — would declare the document to be classified or unclassified.”
Still, Mr. Edmunds said that everyone involved in the exchanges appeared to have national security clearances, which means they likely were following the rules about who they can legally share classified information.
“The only question that remains is what was the method used to transmit it the private server and was it secure,” he said.
As for Mrs. Clinton’s exposure to possible criminal charges due to the emails, he said that nobody has found a “smoking gun.”
“So far, I think she’s unscathed,” said Mr. Edmunds.
Mr. Sullivan is scheduled to testify behind closed doors to the congressional committee probing the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack, which among its other duties has taken a lead role in pushing for disclosure of Mrs. Clinton’s emails.
Indeed, it was the committee that made Mrs. Clinton’s unique email arrangement public in the first place, and forced the State Department to go back and demand she return all official records to the government.
Ms. Mills testified to the committee Thursday, and afterwards the top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, demanded Republicans release the full transcript. He said she answered all questions and dispelled “wild Republican allegations.”
“Unfortunately, it appears that the Select Committee has shelved its core work on Benghazi to focus almost exclusively on Secretary Clinton and her aides in an effort to attack her bid for president,” said Mr. Cummings, Maryland Democrat.
Indeed, Mrs. Clinton’s email arrangement has become the dominant issue for the Democratic presidential front-runner, and has dented her standing in the polls.
When she took office as secretary, she rejected use of a state.gov email account and a State Department-issued Blackberry or iPad, instead using her own devices and setting up an account for herself on a server she kept at her home in New York. She said it was more convenient to use a single account for personal messages and government business.
But she didn’t turn over the government records upon leaving office, only sending them back — in paper form — late last year. She initially said she never sent classified information from the server, but has since clarified that she never sent information officially deemed classified at the time.
After the State Department began releasing the emails in response to a court order, internal watchdogs warned there was classified information being made public.
That sparked a shake-up, and now five separate intelligence agencies have a role in vetting the emails and determining if anything needs to be redacted as classified.
The State Department has not indicated what actions, if any, Mrs. Clinton’s top aides took regarding the classification of information they handled via email.