Hillary Clinton didn’t know how secret information got to be classified, she told the FBI in her interview earlier this summer, according to documents released Friday — showing a striking lack of awareness for someone at the highest reaches of government.
Asked specifically about several emails that were marked classified at the time she handled them, Mrs. Clinton said told investigators she was “not concerned,” saying she doubted the information really needed to be kept secret.
As State Department secretary, Mrs. Clinton was one of the small number of officials who hold original classification authority, meaning they can unilaterally deem information secret. But Mrs. Clinton told FBI investigators she couldn’t recall how often she used it, nor whether she was even trained.
“Clinton could not give an example of how classification of a document was determined,” the investigators said in the notes of their interview, which was released along with other parts of the investigative file.
Instead, Mrs. Clinton repeatedly said she relied on others at the State Department to handle that area of her work, and if they handled information without marking it, she assumed it wasn’t classified.
And when asked specifically about emails with paragraphs marked with a “(C)” designating classified information, the former first lady, senator and top diplomat said she thought they denoted an alphabetical ordering, not secrets.
Some of the information Mrs. Clinton handled by email included potential drone strike targets. She said she thought those conversations were “part of the routine deliberation” and didn’t seem to require any special extra care when it came to classification, the FBI agents said in their notes of their interview.
Mrs. Clinton is Democrats’ presidential nominee, and her unique email arrangement has been a major hurdle for her.
GOP opponent Donald Trump’s campaign said the FBI notes show Mrs. Clinton displayed “tremendously bad judgment.”
“Clinton’s reckless conduct and dishonest attempts to avoid accountability show she cannot be trusted with the presidency and its chief obligation as commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces,” said Jason Miller, a spokesman for the campaign.
The FBI also said it was unable to recover all of the electronic devices Mrs. Clinton used to handle email, meaning that some classified information may still be lurking on those devices.
FBI Director James Comey said earlier this summer that Mrs. Clinton showed “negligence” and was “extremely careless” in her handling of classified information, but said he doubted a criminal case could be made against her. He said she was too technologically inept and not “sophisticated” enough about classified material to prove she was aware of the risks she was running with top-secret information.
Democrats on Friday blamed the system for Mrs. Clinton’s struggles.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said the FBI should have released an email exchange between Mrs. Clinton and former Secretary of State Colin Powell where Mr. Powell warned that if Mrs. Clinton used a Blackberry to do official business the messages would be subject to open-records laws.
Mrs. Clinton told the FBI Mr. Powell’s advice didn’t factor into her decision-making.
Republicans, meanwhile, said the FBI should have released documents from one of the companies that operated the server kept at Mrs. Clinton’s New York home that handled her email traffic.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, who led the Benghazi probe that forced the revelation of the emails, said the timeline of Platte River Networks’ involvement in the server would be “instructive” for voters.
Outside of the criminal questions, Mrs. Clinton’s use of a secret email account thwarted open-records laws, shielding her communications from the public for more than six years.
Mrs. Clinton told the FBI she couldn’t remember if she was ever briefed on preserving records as she prepared to leave the department, but implied it may have happened in 2012, after she fell and suffered a concussion and developed a blood clot.
“Based on her doctor’s advice, she could only work at State for a few hours a day and could not recall every briefing she received,” the agents wrote in their notes.
Brian Fallon, Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman, said on Twitter that what Mrs. Clinton was saying was that she couldn’t recall each briefing, and that she missed some time at work due to her health.
The FBI agents do appear to defend Mrs. Clinton against accusations that she deleted emails to hide them from the public.
“Clinton never deleted, nor did she instruct anyone to delete, her email to avoid complying with the Federal Records Act, [the Freedom of Information Act], or State or FBI requests for information,” the agents concluded in their notes.
Mrs. Clinton’s lawyers belatedly returned some 32,000 of her emails to the State Department in December 2014. Their existence was made public in a March 2, 2015, New York Times story, which ignited a round of new questions.
The rest of Mrs. Clinton’s emails that she didn’t turn over — some 30,000 that she insists were private — were deleted several weeks later, when Mrs. Clinton’s aides became worried about what information was out there.