“I never received nor sent any material that was marked classified.”
— Hillary Clinton, interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” July 3
In her first TV appearance after voluntarily being interviewed by the FBI about her private email server, Clinton repeated one of her go-to lines saying that she did not send material that was “marked classified.” We initially awarded her Two Pinocchios for her claim about classified information in her emails when we fact-checked it in August, and found it very careful and legalistic phrasing that raised suspicions.
But on July 5, FBI Director James Comey announced that his agency’s investigation found 110 emails in 52 email chains that were found “to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received” — a contradiction to Clinton’s original wording about whether or not classified materials were in her emails. Eight of the chains contained information that was “top secret” at the time they were sent. Thirty-six chains contained “secret” information. Eight contained “confidential” information, the lowest classification.
Another 2,000 emails were “up-classified,” meaning those emails have reason to be classified now, even if they were not classified at the time they were sent. (We previously explored how “top secret” emails ended up on her server.)
Moreover, Comey directly contradicted Clinton’s claim that she did not send or receive materials “marked” classified:
“Separately, it is important to say something about the marking of classified information. Only a very small number of the emails containing classified information bore markings indicating the presence of classified information. But even if information is not marked “classified” in an email, participants who know or should know that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it.”
In light of this information, we updated the original Two Pinocchio rating to Four Pinocchios.
A Clinton campaign official sent the following comment: “We have not seen the emails the Director is referring to. We heard this for the first time when it was announced on TV, just like everyone else. The Secretary and campaign always have spoken to the best of our knowledge. And it was not just the campaign – but also the State Department, which also reviewed these emails – that had said none of these emails were marked classified. The bottom line is that career officials handling this case have determined that no further action by the Department is appropriate. And that there was no intent to do anything wrong. That is the main takeaway here.”
For more on classification designations, read our original fact-check here.
[Update, July 6, 2016: State Department spokesman John Kirby said the department was aware of two emails with a classification marking, and that they were marked classified by mistake. They were call sheets, bearing names of people the Secretary of State planned to call. Kirby said the call sheet markings “were a human error, they didn’t need to be there.” The process is for the secretary to decide to make the call, then change the markings to unclassified, Kirby said.
Kirby did not answer why the markings were still there, and said he did not know whether the FBI found more than two emails with such markings. The FBI did not respond to our request for information on whether there were other emails than the call lists with classification markings.
Update, July 7, 2016: In a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Comey provided more details about the marked classified materials. When asked: “Secretary Clinton said there was nothing marked classified on her e-mails, either sent or received. Was that true?” Comey answered: “That’s not true. There were a small number of portion markings on, I think, three of the documents.”
Throughout the hearing, Comey explained that three emails contained “portion markings where you’re obligated, when something is classified, to put a marking on that paragraph.” The emails bore the marking “(C),” indicating there was confidential classified information. It is possible that Clinton was not “technically sophisticated” enough to understood what the “(C)” meant, Comey said, but said a government official should be attentive to such a marking.]
The Fact Checker Recidivism Watch tracks politicians who repeat claims that we have previously found to be incorrect or false. These posts are short summaries of previous findings, with links to the original fact-check. We welcome reader suggestions.
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