Last September, Andrea Mitchell of NBC News scored a sit-down interview with Hillary Clinton, a discussion that spanned many topics, though most pointedly the former secretary of state’s email scandal. When Mitchell asked whether Clinton’s private email server was designed to keep correspondence away from reporters and investigating committees, Clinton let loose with an extensive and defiant response.
“Well, I had a personal email when I was in the Senate, as the vast majority of senators do. It was very convenient,” said Clinton. Pressed on the national security exposure associated with a private server, Clinton went on, “That’s why I’m so careful about classified information and as has been confirmed repeatedly by inspectors general over and over I did not send or receive any material marked classified. We dealt with classified material on a totally different system. I dealt with it in person, I dealt with it on secure phone lines. I had the traveling team, the technical team that went with me — they set up tents so that when I was traveling, anything that was classified would be protected from prying eyes. I take classified material very, very seriously and we followed all the rules on classified material.”
Those remarks were a bit more careful than what she said back in March 2015 at a press conference regarding this matter. “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material. So I’m certainly well-aware of the classification requirements and did not send classified material,” Clinton told a crush of reporters.
After her Saturday interview with the FBI, Clinton repeated her mantra when it comes to classified stuff: “Let me just repeat what I have repeated for many months now. I never received nor sent any material that was marked ‘classified,'” the presumptive Democratic nominee said in a chat with NBC News’s Chuck Todd.
Compare that talking point to the talking point presented today by FBI Director James Comey. In a stunning briefing on his agency’s email investigation, the director noted that his people had read all of the approximately 30,000 emails that Clinton had given to the State Department back in 2014. Whenever an email contained possibly classified information, the FBI checked it with the relevant agency. This process yielded a devastating portion of Comey’s prepared remarks for his briefing. Have a look:
From the group of 30,000 e-mails returned to the State Department, 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. Eight of those chains contained information that was Top Secret at the time they were sent; 36 chains contained Secret information at the time; and eight contained Confidential information, which is the lowest level of classification. Separate from those, about 2,000 additional e-mails were “up-classified” to make them Confidential; the information in those had not been classified at the time the e-mails were sent.
More from Comey:
For example, seven e-mail chains concern matters that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level when they were sent and received. These chains involved Secretary Clinton both sending e-mails about those matters and receiving e-mails from others about the same matters. There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation. In addition to this highly sensitive information, we also found information that was properly classified as Secret by the U.S. Intelligence Community at the time it was discussed on e-mail (that is, excluding the later “up-classified” e-mails).
Nor did the FBI director leave unanswered this whole question of whether Clinton traded in information “marked” classified. “Only a very small number of the e-mails containing classified information bore markings indicating the presence of classified information. But even if information is not marked ‘classified’ in an e-mail, participants who know or should know that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it,” Comey noted in his prepared remarks. In other words, Hillary Clinton — you have some contradictions to address.
In his remarks, Comey made clear that he was departing from protocol in releasing such details, thank the lord of transparency and accountability.
Now: Andrea Mitchell and all of her peers in the media need to have some more sit-downs with Hillary Clinton: How could you ever make these representations? We’re talking about 30,000 emails here — how could you have been so sure about what you’d sent and received? Do you question the FBI’s findings? You said this over and over and over again, by your own admission — did you ever have a moment when you thought it wasn’t true?
More than a year ago, as Clinton traveled around on something of a listening tour, the media chronicled just how stingy she was with Q-and-A sessions. The New York Times even wrote up the problem with this headline, “Hillary Clinton, Acutely Aware of Pitfalls, Avoids Press on Campaign Trail.” Such scrutiny will look shabby compared to the microscope that’ll now be focused on Clinton’s interview schedule.