For months, Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign have stuck to a consistent story line when faced with allegations of classified information on the private server she used exclusively as secretary of state: She was the victim of an overzealous intelligence community bent on categorizing information as top secret or classified when it was, in fact, neither.
That defense hit a major snag on Friday when the State Department announced that it, too, had found “top secret” information on Clinton’s server — 22 emails across seven separate emails chains. The information, the State Department said, was so secret that those emails would never be released to the public.
Suddenly Clinton’s narrative of an overly aggressive intelligence community or a broader squabble between the intelligence world and the State Department didn’t hold water. Or at least held a whole lot less water than it did prior to Friday afternoon.
The Clinton team quickly pivoted. “After a process that has been dominated by bureaucratic infighting that has too often played out in public view, the loudest and leakiest participants in this interagency dispute have now prevailed in blocking any release of these emails,” said campaign spokesman Brian Fallon.
Calling for the release of the allegedly top secret emails is a smart gambit by the Clinton folks since it makes them look as if they have nothing to hide while being protected by the near-certainty that the State Department won’t simply change its mind on the release because the Clinton team asked them to.
Still, the timing of the State Department announcement, coming just three days before the pivotal Iowa caucuses, and the nature of that announcement seem likely to further complicate a situation that has already caused Clinton and her campaign huge amounts of agita since the existence of her private email server was revealed almost one year ago to the day.
It now seems beyond question that Clinton’s server contained a variety of classified information including some information so sensitive that even now — years after she left her job as secretary of state — it can’t be released. While that fact doesn’t for certain undercut Clinton’s central defense — that she never sent or received any information marked classified at the time — it does raise even more questions about why she chose to be the first secretary of state to exclusively use a private server to conduct her official business.
Clinton has said that none of her emails were marked classified when they were sent. But it is the responsibility of individual government officials to handle classified material appropriately, including by properly marking it as classified, according to experts.
For Clinton, the State Department announcement will give credence to the idea that her initial explanations of why she set up the private server and what sorts of material she kept on it are not entirely accurate. And, more broadly, the State Department announcement keeps the story in the news and hands her political opponents a ready-made way to bash her on the eve of what is the most important vote of her political life.
Despite Clinton’s best efforts to downplay and dismiss it, the questions surrounding her email server are growing not shrinking. Friday’s announcement from the State Department should worry any Democrat who thought this issue might fade into obscurity any time soon.