WASHINGTON » Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stored classified information on her personal server, potentially compromising sensitive government information, according to two government inspector generals.
Clinton has repeatedly denied she ever sent classified information, but an inspector general’s report indicates that at least four emails she sent or received included information that was classified.
It’s unclear whether Clinton knew that the information was classified, though her critics were quick to accuse her of being careless with national secrets.
“This classified information should have never been transmitted via an unclassified personal system,” the inspectors general of the intelligence community and Department of State said in a statement released late Friday.
The news could further complicate Clinton’s run for president. Recent polls have already showed that she has a problem with people believing she is not honest and trustworthy.
“What these reports demonstrate is the inherent risk of conducting our nation’s diplomacy and foreign policy on your home email and personal server,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement.
The inspectors general referred the matter to FBI and counterintelligence officials at the State Department and intelligence agencies.
In referring the matter to the FBI, Inspector General I. Charles McCullough of the intelligence community noted that Clinton’s attorney, David Kendall, has a flash drive containing all the State Department emails from her personal computer server.
As a result, Kendall also is in possession of classified information. It was not clear whether Kendall has a security clearance and, if not, whether the drive is being turned over to federal officials. Kendall did not respond to phone and email messages.
Paul Pillar, a former CIA official and deputy chief of the intelligence community’s counterterrorism center, said that if a secretary of state issued any directive of import at all, “it’s almost by definition classified. It’s the sort of thing that we would not want other governments to find out.”
Pillar, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, called it “irresponsible for people of any level of seniority to mishandle classified information and to do so in a way that is clearly contrary to the rules to which ordinary employees with (security) clearances are subject.”
“There should be no exceptions made with regard to the rank or the prominence of the person,” he said. To do otherwise sends the wrong message to lower-level bureaucrats with security clearances, he said.
The email issue overshadowed Clinton’s economic policy speech in New York Friday. Her campaign issues multiple statements, saying she never sent classified information. The campaign did not respond to a request for comment late Friday.
Clinton addressed the issue in New York.
“Maybe the heat is getting to everybody,” she said. “We all have a responsibility to get this right. . . .We are all accountable to the American people to get the facts right. And I will do my part. But I am also going to stay focused on the issues. Particularly the big issues that really matter to America families.”
The New York Times first reported the inspector general’s report, although it said the officials asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into whether sensitive government information was mishandled in connection with Clinton’s email. In fact, it was a counterintelligence referral, not a criminal referral.
Kel McClanahan, a lawyer at National Security Counselors who represents national security whistleblowers, said just because the inspector general decided that this was a counterintelligence referral and not a criminal referral does not preclude the FBI from launching its own criminal investigation.
“If Secretary Clinton did indeed knowingly create and store classified documents on a nonsecure private email server, it appears that she would be susceptible to prosecution,” he said.
In 2003, Sandy Berger, President Bill Clinton’s former national security adviser, removed classified documents from a reading room at the National Archives without authorization, though he returned them. In April 2005, Berger pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count and was sentenced to two years probation, 100 hours of community service and a $50,000 fine. He later also surrendered his license to practice law.
Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was a national security aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted of four felony counts for leaking the classified identity of clandestine CIA employee Valerie Plame to the news media and was sentenced to 30 months in prison and a $250,000 fine. President George W. Bush commuted Libby’s jail sentence after he lost his appeal.
Other government officials have not been charged.
Former CIA Director Leon Panetta revealed classified information, including the name of the Navy SEAL unit that carried out the Osama bin Laden raid, to “Zero Dark Thirty” screenwriter Mark Boal during a speech at the agency headquarters in 2011.
Former CIA Director John Deutch, who was accused of using unsecured computers at his home and his America Online account to access classified defense information, was investigated by the Clinton administration, but the Justice Department declined to prosecute him. President Bill Clinton pardoned Deutch on his last day in office.
Clinton has turned over 30,490 work emails to the State Department in response to a request from the agency, but said she deleted another 31,830 personal emails that she said were about her daughter’s wedding, her mother’s funeral and yoga routines, among other things.
The House Select Committee on Benghazi subpoenaed the emails while asking that she turn over her personal email server to a “neutral, detached and independent” third party, perhaps the State Department’s inspector general, for “immediate inspection and review.”
“It is appalling that people who want to attack Secretary Clinton continue to leak inaccurate information to generate bogus stories and front-page headlines, but it is also disappointing that so many press outlets keep falling for this same ploy,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, top Democrat on the Benghazi Select Committee, which is examining Clinton’semails.
Clinton’s attorney told the committee that she permanently deleted all emails from the server — apparently after she was asked by the State Department to turn them over — and refused to turn over the server.
Clinton has said she regrets using a private email account for business while she was secretary of state, and said she did so only as a matter of “convenience.”
“I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material,” Clinton said in March.
Friday morning, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill 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.”
The State Department has begun to release her emails, though the four emails were among those who have not yet been released. The inspectors general said the emails were found in a sample of 40 emails whose contents they checked.
Of the 3,000 Clinton emails made public June 30, 22 had sections redacted because they contained information pertaining to national security, foreign relations or U.S. actions in a foreign country.
But that information was not classified at the time Clinton sent or received the emails; it was redacted only in preparation for the emails’ publication.
Many of those classified emails, all from 2009, concerned North Korea, which was holding two American journalists in detention at the time. Another email provided background for a call with Japanese, Russian, Chinese and South Korean foreign ministers after a North Korean nuclear test.
Other popular topics were Haiti and Sri Lanka, which was ending a 25-year civil war about the same time the emails were sent. Other emails involved Honduras, where there was a coup a few months earlier, and Egypt. The subjects of other emails is hard to determine because of the amount of material redacted.