Opinion writer

Hillary Clinton in 2011. (Pool photo by Kevin Lamarque/Associated Press)

“There is no classified material.” That’s how Hillary Clinton put it when asked in March. To anyone who knows what the secretary of state actually does, this seemed strange, to put it mildly. Then the Clinton line was: “I did not send nor receive anything that was classified at the time.” Notice that she is reduced to pleading mere recklessness as a defense against possibly mishandling confidential material.

Well, to begin with, classified material does not need a label to make it so. Former attorney general Michael Mukasey recently explained, “It is no answer to say, as Mrs. Clinton did at one time, that emails were not marked classified when sent or received. Of course they were not; there is no little creature sitting on the shoulders of public officials classifying words as they are uttered and sent. But the laws are concerned with the sensitivity of information, not the sensitivity of the markings on whatever may contain the information.”

In that vein, Reuters now reports, “Although it appears to be true for Clinton to say none of her emails included classification markings, a point she and her staff have emphasized, the government’s standard nondisclosure agreement warns people authorized to handle classified information that it may not be marked that way and that it may come in oral form.” As to the nature of the material, Reuters reported:

In the small fraction of emails made public so far, Reuters has found at least 30 email threads from 2009, representing scores of individual emails, that include what the State Department’s own “Classified” stamps now identify as so-called ‘foreign government information.’ The U.S. government defines this as any information, written or spoken, provided in confidence to U.S. officials by their foreign counterparts.

This sort of information, which the department says Clinton both sent and received in her emails, is the only kind that must be “presumed” classified, in part to protect national security and the integrity of diplomatic interactions, according to U.S. regulations examined by Reuters.

“It’s born classified,” said J. William Leonard, a former director of the U.S. government’s Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO). Leonard was director of ISOO, part of the White House’s National Archives and Records Administration, from 2002 until 2008, and worked for both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

In short, either Clinton was totally ignorant as to what material is classified (and still is) or she has been misleading the media and American people. The first explanation makes her grossly incompetent, the latter dishonest.

But many of us were confident from the get-go that this sort of material would be found. This is what the secretary of state does — she discusses, analyzes and makes policy regarding what foreign leaders and intelligence officials are telling the administration about the world. She would have to have been refraining from doing a significant aspect of her job if nothing she sent or received was classified.

The Clinton campaign and Democratic flunkies are in spin mode. From her crashing poll numbers on likability, favorability and horse-race match-ups against potential Republican foes, we know it’s not working. That’s probably why some Republicans are nervous that a plausible presidential candidate might get into the Democratic race. They badly want to run against Clinton instead. Who can blame them?