Contrary to the furious spin from Hillary Clinton’s adversaries in the media and Republican Party, FBI Director James Comey did not undercut Hillary’s truthfulness on her State Department emails. In fact, his statement and testimony affirm that Hillary has been honest about the email issue from day one. Here are the facts, not the spin.
“We have no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI.” — James Comey
On various occasions over the past fifteen months, Hillary has said that she did not send or receive emails containing classified information or any material marked as classified. This, to the best of her knowledge at the time, was the truth. And nothing FBI Director James Comey said in his July 5th statement or during his July 7th Congressional testimony contradicts that conclusion.
Simply put: Hillary did not lie.
According to Comey, the year-long investigation of 55,000 Hillary emails did not reveal a single email clearly marked classified. Only three — just three — of Hillary’s emails “bore markings indicating the presence of classified information.” “Bore markings” is not the same thing as “marked classified.” In his July 7 testimony before Congress, Comey said that those markings were simply a (c) symbol somewhere in the body of the email and nothing in the header or subject line. He further stated that they were improperly marked and that it was reasonable for Hillary to assume they were not classified.
Additionally, two of those emails are now known to have been mismarked as a result of “human error.” They did not contain classified information.
Here’s what those two emails were about:
One email, dated Aug. 2, 2012, noted that Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations, was stepping down as special envoy trying to mediate the war in Syria. A second one, sent in April 2012, discussed Mrs. Clinton’s call to the newly inaugurated president of Malawi.
Absent that pair of emails, Hillary’s opponents are left with this, from Comey’s statement: “110 e-mails in 52 e-mail chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received.”
Let’s break that down. 110 out of 55,000 emails are said to have contained classified information. That’s just 0.2 percent of her emails. Crucially, these emails were not marked classified. And there is absolutely no indication or accusation that classified markings were concealed or removed.
Therefore, we can unequivocally say that out of 55,000 emails, Hillary never received or sent a single email that was both marked classified and contained classified information.
Additionally, media reports have indicated that the classified information contained in those 110 emails may frequently have been indicative of over-classification, as exemplified by the CIA classifying as top secret drone strikes that were already made public by the media.
Seven of the eight email chains dealt with CIA drone strikes, which are classified top secret/special access program—unlike Defense Department drone strikes, which are unclassified. The difference is that CIA drones hit targets in countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where we are not officially at war; they are part of covert operations. (Defense Department drone strikes are in places where we are officially at war.) But these operations are covert mainly to provide cover for the Pakistani and Yemeni governments, so they don’t have to admit they’re cooperating with America. Everyone in the world knows about these strikes; nongovernment organizations, such as New America, tabulate them; newspapers around the world—including the New York Times, where some of the same reporters are now writing so breathlessly about Clinton’s careless handling of classified information—cover these strikes routinely.
A very simple analogy is useful here. If a vegetarian ordered and consumed a vegetable dumpling off a menu and said they did not eat meat, they would be telling the truth. If a forensic investigation by the department of health later showed that the restaurant contaminated their vegetable dumplings with meat, it doesn’t retroactively make the vegetarian a liar. They were telling the truth as far as they knew it.
Extending the analogy further, saying Hillary “should have known” that 0.2 percent of her emails contained classified material when the material was unmarked, is akin to saying the vegetarian should have tasted the meat.
Put differently, why would classification markings even exist if the Secretary of State was required to divine the contents of all her emails? If everyone who has access to classified information “should know that the subject matter is classified,” then why do we even have a system that marks classified information?
The U.S. Secretary of State is one of the busiest people on the planet. It is unreasonable to expect that part of her job is to magically divine what is and is not classified — when it is unmarked. Especially considering she is working within an infrastructure where there exists a standard for marking classified information, and thus she is entitled to a reasonable expectation of not receiving classified information unmarked.
There is a system in place on which people are meant to rely. “You should have known the system was failing you and that this information was really classified” is not, actually, a reasonable standard. Not at all.
Hillary used an entirely different protocol for information she knew to be classified; clearly, if she’d known these email chains were classified, she would have handled them the way all other classified information was handled.
Another factor to consider is that in many, perhaps most, of these emails, Hillary was at the end of a long chain. Comey notably referred to email “chains” and never suggested that Hillary originated a classified email.
As a former adviser to Hillary, I know from personal experience how the process works. Hillary is often advised of an important issue or conversation by her senior aides. In fact, more than one of my emails or articles showed up among the 55,000 emails analyzed by the FBI. In each case, it was information forwarded to Hillary by an aide. [As an aside, none contained classified information.]
Comey’s testimony confirmed this point: “A lot of what ended up on Secretary Clinton’s server was stuff that had been forwarded up a chain, gets to her from her staff, a lot of that, forwarding and then she’d comment sometimes on it.”
Even if you set all these points aside, the fact that Hillary has been honest about her emails is really just common sense. If she knew she had sent or received classified information and also knew that there was an ongoing investigation that could result in a public finding, she wouldn’t make a knowingly false assertion. If she really is a scheming liar who tries to cover up misdeeds, why on earth would she say something that could be publicly proven false?
It’s patently obvious that Hillary has told the truth based on the facts she knew at the time. 110 out of 55,000 emails contained information that was NOT marked classified; nor did she know that they contained information deemed classified by other agencies. Simply put, Hillary trusted that the material she was sent — and on occasion replied to — was not classified. Because it was never marked classified. She stated her honest opinion when she said she didn’t send or receive classified information.
One more fact of note on Hillary’s truthfulness:
Comey said that Clinton used numerous mobile devices. According to the sources, that also is a stretch, with the secretary using just one phone at a time. “In the normal wear and tear, you get a new phone,” one source said. “It’s just the normal wear and tear, and there was a small number of phones but never more than one at the same time.”
Comey himself conceded: “As new servers and equipment were employed, older servers were taken out of service, stored, and decommissioned.”
As we concluded previously, ultimately, this entire email story comes down to the conclusion, from the New York Times, that Comey “did not claim that Mrs. Clinton’s behavior had compromised any program or operation.” The Times quotes Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, as saying, “There was no assertion of damage to national security because of this episode.”
No assertion of damage and no evidence of damage.
Most importantly, no bad intent on Hillary’s part. None whatsoever. Simply a mistake she regrets making.
She trusted government officials not to send her classified emails without markings. The fact that she placed her trust in people is what’s good about her character. The fact that her detractors in the GOP and media are trying to distort that trust into something nefarious says something about them, not her.
[Melissa McEwan contributed to this article.]