This week, Hillary Clinton doubled down on the email scandal in a speech that appeared to mock the ongoing investigation of her use of an unsecured email system during her time as Secretary of State and dismissing questions over her use the system as pure politics. She even joked “You may have seen that I recently launched a Snapchat account. I love it. I love it. Those messages disappear all by themselves.” It is a great line but it is only funny for those who are entirely untroubled by the real danger that Clinton put national security secrets at risk by insisting on retaining control over her own emails and server. One group that is not laughing are former intelligence officials who have accused the government, again, of showing special treatment for powerful figures in the mishandling of classified material or current officials who are continuing to classify hundreds of emails from Clinton’s records. The number of Hillary Clinton emails now flagged for classification has grown to 300. The number is expected to rise even higher as the agencies plow through thousands of emails that remain after the Clinton staff erased thousands of others from the server.
Clinton again insisted that “I never sent classified material on my email, and I never received any that was marked classified.” The key of this spin is again the word “marked.” I have previously discussed why that explanation is less than compelling, particularly for anyone who has handled sensitive or classified material. As I discussed earlier, virtually anything coming out of the office of the Secretary of State would be considered classified as a matter of course. I have had a TS/SCI clearance since Reagan due to my national security work and have lived under the restrictions imposed on email and other systems. The defense is that this material was not technically classified at the time that it was sent. Thus it was not “classified” information. The problem is that it was not reviewed and classified because it was kept out of the State Department system. Moreover, most high-level communications are treated as classified and only individually marked as classified when there is a request for disclosure. You do not generate material as the Secretary of State and assume that it is unclassified. You are supposed to assume and treat it as presumptively classified. Otherwise, there would be massive exposure of classified material and willful blindness as to the implications of the actions of persons disregarding precautions. For example, there is not a person standing next to the President with a classification stamp in the Oval Office. However, those communications are deemed as presumptively classified and are not disclosed absent review. Under the same logic, the President could use a personal email system because his text messages by definition are not marked as classified. This is the whole reason that Clinton and others were told to use the protected email system run by the State Department. We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to secure such systems. Even the Washington Post is now reporting that Clinton’s statements that there was no classified information on her server appear to be “untrue.”
Clinton told an enthusiastic crowd in Iowa that “It’s not about Benghazi. And you know what, it’s not about e-mails or servers either. It’s about politics.” Despite both the State Department and intelligence agencies now finding hundreds of classified emails, Clinton has portrayed the entire matter to be the work of political operatives. In an incredible spin, she has insisted that she is the one who is serious about national security and the protection of secrets in this controversy in refusing to answer questions:
“I won’t get down in the mud with them. I won’t play politics with national security or dishonor the memory of those we lost. I won’t pretend this is anything other than what it is: the same old partisan games we’ve seen so many times before. I don’t care how many super PACs and Republicans pile on. I’ve been fighting for families and underdogs my entire life and I’m not going to stop now.”
Those words are likely to leave many grinding their teeth in the intelligence agencies after Clinton refused for months to turn over the server and then turned over a server that had been wiped clean — unilaterally destroying tens of thousands of emails that were on the server but cannot now be reviewed.
The number of flagged emails is now over 300. Some 305 have already been sent to various agencies for review.
The steady worsening of the scandal stands in stark contrast to the rhetoric of denial coming from the Clinton camp. At the very least, the use of a personal server was reckless and clearly designed to allow Clinton’s staff to control her emails (few people are buying the spin that Clinton just wanted to avoid carrying more than one device). Many view the refusal to use the secured State Department email system as a signature Clintonian move to retain control over information. The decision clearly put national security secrets as risk and I would be astonished if foreign intelligence did not target the vulnerable server. What is striking is that Clinton continues to deny that this was obviously bad judgment and a bad practice for any high-ranking government official. She is not the first to commit such errors but the campaign is unwilling to alter its initial position of denial and mockery of the controversy. This is not a political hatchet job. I dealt with classified material for decades. This is a serious potential breach in my view and the view of people who worked with such material for a living.
In the end, the Clinton campaign may be calculating that denial will get her through the primary even if she will have taken severe damage for the general election. The campaign clearly views Bernie Sanders as no real threat and that the opposition in the primary is still incapable of challenging Clinton with the money and party leadership behind her. Nevertheless, her national lead has called from 40 points to 19 points nationally.