The results of an FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state shredded Clinton’s most oft-recited defense — that she never sent or received information marked classified.
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee made the case for a year and as recently as Saturday, hours after being interviewed by investigators.
Clinton has made the same general claim two ways. At a Democratic debate in February, Clinton said, “I never sent or received any classified material.” Other times she’s added the qualifier that she never sent material “marked” classified.
We previously found that Clinton was spinning what was publicly known about the FBI investigation and Clinton’s emails. We rated her claim Half True.
Now we know: It’s just plain wrong.
At PolitiFact, our policy is that we fact-check statements and claims using the information available at the time. That policy stands. But in this case, while the evidence FBI Director James B. Comey presented wasn’t available to us, it was available to Clinton through her own emails. She had every opportunity to present an accurate accounting in comments to the public and voters. She did not do that.
We looked at Clinton’s claim again with the information that was available to her when she spoke but only became available publicly Tuesday.
In an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd hours after being interviewed by the FBI, Todd asked Clinton how her practices did not violate federal law.
“Let me repeat what I have repeated for many months now,” Clinton responded. “I never received nor sent any material that was marked classified.”
FBI investigators reviewed the 30,000 emails Clinton turned over to the State Department in 2014. The investigation found “a very small number” contained classification markings at the time they were sent.
In total, the FBI investigation found 110 emails in 52 email chains containing information that was classified at the time it was sent or received. Eight chains contained top secret information, the highest level of classification; 36 chains contained secret information; and the remaining eight contained confidential information. Most of these emails, however, did not contain markings clearly delineating their status.
Even so, Clinton and her team still should have known the information was not appropriate for an unclassified system, Comey said.
About 2,000 additional emails have been retroactively classified, or up-classified, meaning the information was not classified when it was first emailed. This is a regular practice when documents are reviewed for release, according to transparency experts.
Clinton has said she turned over all work-related emails to the State Department. But Comey said FBI investigators uncovered “several thousand” work-related emails that she had not handed over, and three of those were classified at the time they were sent, though they were not marked as such.
Comey added that some work-related emails are still out there, but FBI investigators were unable to find them. It’s possible those emails could contain classified information.
The Clinton campaign told PolitiFact it does not know which emails Comey is referring to and repeated the fact that the State Department has not said any were classified at the time they were sent.
Some of Clinton’s emails now made public actually show Clinton’s team talking about how they couldn’t email each other classified information over the private server and instead have to move the conversation to a more appropriate venue. Clinton has said she viewed classified information in hard copy in her office. If she was traveling, she used other secure channels.
But the FBI investigation found that Clinton sent and received classified information over her private server.
Agencies regularly disagree over what should be classified. As the email story has unfolded, the State Department has squabbled with the intelligence community over whether certain emails should be classified today and if it was classified back when it was sent during Clinton’s tenure.
“The decision to mark a document is more art than science and leads to bureaucratic in-fighting on whether something should be classified or not,” said Gary Bass, the executive director of the Bauman Foundation and a former director of OMB Watch, a government accountability organization.
Thomas Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, said some of the classified material the FBI identified might not be particularly sensitive. “There is not a line in any of Mrs. Clinton’s emails that meets the smell test of classification, which is their release would be damaging to our national security,” he said.
Given these concerns, it’s reasonable to give Clinton a little benefit of the doubt regarding how she treated classified information that landed in her inbox unlabeled, said Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.
Clinton said, “I never received nor sent any material that was marked classified.”
Clinton has made this claim over and over again. An independent FBI investigation has found that to be inaccurate.
Over the course of a year, Clinton and her staff have painted a picture of an email setup where absolutely zero classified information slipped through the cracks, case closed.
We rate Clinton’s statement False.
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For the full fact-check with all sourcing, please see www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/jul/06/hillary-clinton/fbi-findings-tear-holes-hillary-clintons-email-def/.