US declares 22 Clinton emails ‘top secret’

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration confirmed for the first time Friday that Hillary Clinton’s home server contained closely guarded government secrets, censoring 22 emails that contained material requiring one of the highest levels of classification. The revelation comes three days before Clinton competes in the Iowa presidential caucuses.

State Department officials also said the agency’s Diplomatic Security and Intelligence and Research bureaus are investigating if any of the information was classified at the time of transmission, going to the heart of Clinton’s defense of her email practices.

The department published its latest batch of emails from her time as secretary of state Friday evening.

But The Associated Press learned seven email chains are being withheld in full for containing “top secret” information. The 37 pages include messages a key intelligence official recently said concerned “special access programs” — highly restricted, classified material that could point to confidential sources or clandestine programs like drone strikes.

“The documents are being upgraded at the request of the intelligence community because they contain a category of top secret information,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told the AP, calling the withholding of documents in full “not unusual.” That means they won’t be published online with others being released, even with blacked-out boxes.

Department officials wouldn’t describe the substance of the emails, or say if Clinton sent any herself.

Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, insists she never sent or received information on her personal email account that was classified at the time. No emails released so far were stamped “CLASSIFIED” or “TOP SECRET,” but reviewers previously designated more than 1,000 messages at lower classification levels. Friday’s will be the first at top secret level.

Even if Clinton didn’t write or forward the messages, she still would have been required to report any classification slippages she recognized in emails she received. But without classification markings, that may have been difficult, especially if the information was publicly available.

“We firmly oppose the complete blocking of the release of these emails,” Clinton campaign spokesman Brain Fallon said. “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 accused the “loudest and leakiest participants” in a process of bureaucratic infighting for withholding the exchanges. The documents, he said, originated in the State Department’s unclassified system before they ever reached Clinton, and “in at least one case, the emails appear to involve information from a published news article.”

“This appears to be overclassification run amok,” Fallon said.

Kirby said the State Department was focused, as part of a Freedom of Information Act review of Clinton’s emails, on “whether they need to be classified today.” Past classification questions, he said, “are being, and will be, handled separately by the State Department.” It is the first indication of such a probe.

Department responses for classification infractions could include counseling, warnings or other action, officials said. They wouldn’t say if Clinton or senior aides who’ve since left government could face penalties. The officials weren’t authorized to speak on the matter and demanded anonymity.

Separately, Kirby said the department is withholding eight email chains, totaling 18 messages, between President Barack Obama and Clinton. These are remaining confidential “to protect the president’s ability to receive unvarnished advice and counsel,” and will be released eventually like other presidential records.

The emails have been a Clinton campaign issue since 10 months ago, when the AP discovered her exclusive use while in office of a homebrew email server in the basement of her family’s New York home. Doing so wasn’t expressly forbidden. Clinton first called the decision a matter of convenience, then a mistake.

Last March, Clinton and the State Department said no business conducted in the emails included top-secret matters. Both said her account was never hacked or compromised, which security experts assess as unlikely.

Clinton and the State Department also claimed the vast majority of her emails were preserved properly for archiving because she corresponded mainly with government accounts. They’ve backtracked from that claim in recent months.

The special access programs emails surfaced last week, when Charles I. McCullough, lead auditor for U.S. intelligence agencies, told Congress he found some in Clinton’s account.

Kirby confirmed the “denied-in-full emails” are among those McCullough recently cited. He said one was among those McCullough identified last summer as possibly containing top secret information.

The AP reported last August that one focused on a forwarded news article about the CIA’s classified U.S. drone program. Such operations are widely discussed publicly, including by top U.S. officials, and State Department officials debated McCullough’s claim. The other concerned North Korean nuclear weapons programs, according to officials.

At the time, several officials from different agencies suggested the disagreement over the drone emails reflected a tendency to overclassify material, and a lack of consistent classification policies across government.

The FBI also is looking into Clinton’s email setup, but has said nothing about the nature of its probe. Independent experts say it’s unlikely Clinton will be charged with wrongdoing, based on details that have surfaced so far and the lack of indications she intended to break laws.

“What I would hope comes out of all of this is a bit of humility” and Clinton’s acknowledgement that “I made some serious mistakes,” said Bradley Moss, a Washington lawyer specializing in security clearance matters.

Legal questions aside, it’s the potential political costs that probably more concern Clinton. She has struggled in surveys measuring perceived trustworthiness and any investigation, buoyed by evidence of top secret material coursing through her account, could negate a main selling point for her becoming commander in chief: her national security resume.

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of Feb. 26

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024

For Thursday, Feb. 29 Assault At 5:49 p.m. on Thursday, a 17-year-old… Continue reading

The Alaska Supreme Court is seen on Thursday, Feb. 8, in Juneau. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska Supreme Court decides key question: Who is an Alaskan?

An Alaskan is someone physically present in the state who intends to… Continue reading

Pink salmon are seen in an undated photo. (NOAA Fisheries photo)
New salmon study adds to evidence that pink salmon could be crowding out sockeye

A new analysis of nearly 25,000 fish scales offers more evidence that… Continue reading

Liana Wallace offers a water blessing during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool on Friday following nearly a year of renovations. The pool is scheduled to reopen for public use on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Ribbon-cutting for Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool a blessing for longtime users after 11-month renovation

Infrastructure upgrades, new locker rooms and student tile art in lobby greet visitors at ceremony.

The Alaska State Capitol in Juneau is seen on Friday, Feb. 23. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska Legislature plans March 12 vote on Gov. Dunleavy’s executive orders

Order giving governor full control of Alaska Marine Highway Operations board among six scheduled.

Brenda Josephson, a Haines resident, testifies in favor of a bill setting statewide standards for municipal property assessors during a state Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee hearing Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Statewide standards for municipal property assessments sought in bill by Juneau lawmaker

Some residents say legislation doesn’t go far enough, want limits on annual valuation increases.

The front page of the Juneau Empire on Feb. 26, 2004. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Empire Archives: Juneau’s history for the week of March 2

Three decades of capital city coverage.

Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, speaks Thursday, April 27, 2023, at a news conference in Juneau. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska House considers constitutional guarantee for Permanent Fund dividend

The Alaska House of Representatives will vote as soon as Friday morning… Continue reading

Most Read