Is Clinton’s Email Scandal for Real?

WARNING! Out of date!
This essay is now out of date since the Convention (& especially since the FBI report was released); we’ll be updating it soon, but just be aware in the meantime!
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I’m a Democrat. I would love if Hillary Clinton’s scandal didn’t exist or was just a partisan witch hunt. I don’t want to see a Republican win the presidency in 2016, especially not Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, who have historically high negative popularity poll numbers. But one cannot wish inconvenient facts away. We have to figure out what the truth is and then what its political implications might be.

I think the scandal is widely misunderstood because the media has focused on its less important aspects. I used to think the scandal was big “nothingburger” and I didn’t pay much attention to it. Then I found out that the 31,000 deleted emails of her 60,000 emails from her time as secretary of state had been recovered by the FBI. Clinton claimed that she deleted those because they were all personal, but that’s not true (as I will explain below). So we can see she could face charges of destruction of evidence and obstruction of justice just for starters.

How do we know the FBI has recovered Clinton’s deleted emails?

A stack of printed versions of 795 of Clinton emails, presented to the public by the House Benghazi Committee on October 22, 2015. (Credit: Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

A stack of printed versions of 795 of Clinton emails, presented to the public by the House Benghazi Committee on October 22, 2015. (Credit: Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

In late August 2015, a week after the FBI took possession of Clinton’s private email server, Clinton’s campaign acknowledged “that there was an attempt to wipe her server before it was turned over last week to the FBI. But two sources with direct knowledge of the investigation told NBC News…that the bureau may be able to recover at least some data.” In September 2015, Bloomberg News reported that, “Once the emails have been extracted, a group of agents has been separating personal correspondence and passing along work-related messages to agents leading the investigation…” That same month, the New York Times reported that according to two unnamed government officials, “It was not clear whether the entire trove of roughly 60,000 emails had been found on the server, but one official said it had not been very hard for the FBI to recover the messages.” In late March 2016, the Los Angeles Times reported that since the FBI took possession of Clinton’s private server on August 12, 2015, the FBI has “recovered most, if not all, of the deleted correspondence, said a person familiar with the investigation.”

That the FBI did not find it hard to recover the emails says to me that all of her deleted emails have been recovered. Furthermore, there were multiple copies of her server, so the FBI probably didn’t have any trouble at all if only one server copy was wiped—that is, overwritten repeatedly so that old data cannot be recovered. When a company named Platte River Networks took over management of Clinton’s email server in mid-2013, it transferred all the contents of her server onto a new server and managed that, but also kept the old server, and the FBI eventually took possession of both servers. Plus, Platte River Networks had a contract with another company called Datto, which made monthly copies of the server in the cloud. But Platte River Networks didn’t know this was happening since they didn’t ask for it or pay for it, and they only found out about it after the FBI had taken the servers away.


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Did Clinton obstruct the investigation?

The Datto monthly backups not only would ensure the FBI had copies of all the deleted emails, but also would allow the FBI to figure out which month the emails were deleted. Clinton has never indicated when the deletion happened; she could be in more trouble if it happened after December 2014, when the State Department formally asked for copies of all her emails.

Clinton’s lawyer David Kendall has asserted that the server was never wiped. He has said the emails were merely deleted in the normal way one deletes email from one’s inbox, and then they were permanently deleted after 30 or 60 days in the deletion folder. But the NBC News report mentioned above specifically says the emails were wiped. That’s another indicator of destruction of evidence.

Wiping those deleted emails further suggests there was material in them that Clinton didn’t want the FBI to see. Keep in mind that Clinton has said that she turned over not only all her emails that were work-related emails, but also any that may have been in doubt just to be on the safe side. On August 10, 2015, just two days before the FBI took possession of her servers, she even signed the following statement under oath: “I have directed that all my emails on in my custody that were or potentially were federal records be provided to the Department of State, and on information and belief, this has been done.”

However, we know that Clinton didn’t turn over all her work-related emails, because on at least three separate occasions since she turned over her 30,000 emails, more have turned up. The State Department permanently archived far less than one percent of all emails during Clinton’s time as secretary of state, so Clinton probably figured she didn’t have to worry too much about other copies of her emails showing up.

But senders also keep copies of email messages. In September 2015, one month after Clinton’s oath, about ten emails between Clinton and General David Petraeus were found by the Defense Department. These were from January and February 2009, the first two months of Clinton’s time as secretary of state, despite the fact that she firmly claimed that she didn’t start using her email account until March 18, 2009.

Additionally, when Clinton confidant Sid Blumenthal testified before the House Benghazi Committee in June 2015, he brought 60 Libya-related emails between himself and Clinton that the committee didn’t have already. He probably felt obliged to turn them over because he believed they were known after a hacker named Guccifer broke into his email account in 2013 and took screenshots of his inbox as well as individual emails. The State Department found that all of nine and parts of six emails handed over by Blumenthal were missing from the 30,000 emails Clinton had turned over. The New York Times reported two months later, “The Clinton campaign has not explained the discrepancy.” It is probable there are more emails between Clinton and Blumenthal still to see the light of day, since Blumenthal was obliged to turn over the only Libya-related ones to the House Benghazi Committee.

In late March 2016, in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the State Department turned over two more Clinton work-related emails that were not in the 30,000 emails Clinton had turned over already. This shows that the State Department has more Clinton emails that it won’t turn over unless lawsuits force them to. That lawsuit had a very specific target of emails relating to Clinton’s discussions of her iPhone or BlackBerry use. No doubt, a State Department search for all work-related Clinton emails would turn up many more, even though the department probably archived only a small percentage of all her emails.

Recall the Bloomberg News report that said FBI agents were sorting all of Clinton’s deleted emails into the work-related ones and the genuinely personal ones. That suggests there’s a significant percentage of work-related ones and not just a few stragglers. Consider that when experts comment on the chances of Clinton being indicted or not, they’re only considering the known released Clinton emails. What if the more damning material was in the deleted emails?

Imagine if you were the target of an FBI investigation and you realized after the fact that you had screwed up and discussed highly classified information in unsecure emails. Wouldn’t you be tempted to delete the worst emails if you thought you could permanently get rid of them?

What may still be hidden from the public?

Furthermore, Clinton already had an example to follow. In 2007 and 2008, Democrats wanted to investigate Karl Rove and other Republican officials to see if those officials had illegally put political pressure on certain US attorneys. It was hoped that emails would be the key evidence, but Rove and the others had stored all their emails on a private server, and millions of emails were deleted before investigators could find them. There was much talk for a while that Rove might get indicted, but that was not possible since there were no emails to look at. It seems likely to me that Clinton’s purpose in setting up her private server in 2008, when Rove’s investigation was in the news, was to keep her emails forever out of reach, just as Rove’s were.

Thus, I believe that the evidence we know of so far is only the tip of the iceberg. There may be many thousands of deleted work-related Clinton emails still to be revealed.

In 2009, British Secretary of State David Miliband sent Clinton an email with the warning he “very much wants the Secretary (only) to see this,” but she didn’t flag it as classified. (The London Times)

For instance, consider that Clinton was secretary of state for four years, and by her own account a review of all her emails “revealed only one email with a foreign official” during that time. And in her 30,000 released emails, I’ve found only three (all to British officials). Does that make any sense?! How on Earth could the US’s top diplomat be so hard to reach? Remember this was her only email account, so supposedly all her communication with foreigners had to be via other means, such as phone or fax. But even if she didn’t want to email foreigners out of security concerns, how could she stop foreigners from emailing her? In the case of the three foreign emails that we know of, there didn’t seem to be any alarm about her being emailed by them, even with obviously classified information.

Why did Clinton use only a BlackBerry for all her work-related email?

We have some solid evidence that Clinton did communicate with foreigners by typing on her BlackBerry, which means emails or instant messages. In 2013, long before Clinton’s email scandal became news, State Department official Wendy Sherman gave a public speech in which she described a 2011 incident when Clinton and three other high ranking diplomats (including United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon) were trying to hash out the language of a joint statement regarding an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan proposed by President Obama. Sherman explained what happened between Clinton and European Union official Catherine Ashton: “They sat there as they were having the meeting with their BlackBerrys transferring language back and forth between them and between their aides to multitask in quite a new fashion.” Sherman added, “Things appear on your BlackBerrys that would never be on an unclassified system, but you’re out traveling, you’re trying to negotiate something, you want to communicate with people—it’s the fastest way to do it.”

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman (Credit: Reuters)

So we can see that Clinton did use her BlackBerry to communicate with foreigners. And this wasn’t a unique example—Sherman brought that up to point out how using BlackBerrys for diplomacy was becoming the new normal in Clinton’s State Department. Yet we see only three emails between Clinton and foreigners in all her released 30,000 work-related emails. How can that be, unless there are many more in her deleted emails?

Why delete those emails?

It would make sense that Clinton would want to delete her emails with foreigners. Historically, law enforcement has been lenient when it comes to the unauthorized transfer of classified information amongst US government officials, but sending such information to foreigners is another matter altogether. It would make sense for her to systematically delete those emails.

It would also make sense for her to claim, however falsely, that she only started using her email account on March 18, 2009. It turns out that until late March 2009, Clinton’s private server had no encryption. That meant her account didn’t even need to be hacked—it was an open book. And yet she visited many countries during that time, including China and other Asian countries in a February 2009 trip. One could make an easy case for gross negligence if she sent and received classified information in her emails during that time—unless all those emails were missing.

Perhaps by now you can see why I believe Clinton is in serious trouble with the FBI. Yet her likely problems with the deleted emails have been very little noticed or commented on by the mainstream media.

The emails Clinton turned over spell trouble for her, too

The deleted emails are just one part of her legal difficulties. There also are her 30,000 emails that have been made public, over 2,000 of which have been retroactively classified and thus redacted to some degree. Oftentimes, so much has been redacted that it’s impossible to make heads or tails of how important the classified information in them was. In other cases, we can only make an educated guess.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen (Credit: Former Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

Anders Fogh Rasmussen (Credit: Former Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

For instance, I came across a Clinton email from August 24, 2011, that was entirely redacted except for the subject heading: “Rasmussen call.” No news article highlighted this email, no doubt because nobody could make sense of it from just two cryptic words. But it turns out that the secretary general of NATO at the time was Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Furthermore, a civil war was raging in Libya, and the US was part of a coalition led by NATO that was actively bombing the forces of Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi. Just two days prior to that email, rebel forces allied with NATO entered the Libyan capital of Tripoli, but still couldn’t find el-Qaddafi. Additionally, other less classified Clinton emails from that day and the days around it show that Clinton was planning on calling Rasmussen. So it seems extremely likely that Clinton and Rasmussen discussed the latest developments in the Libyan war. Then Clinton wrote three lines of text in the email about the call that would later be classified as “secret,” the second highest classification level.

Clinton has repeatedly claimed that she never sent or received classified information, and yet from this example we can see that’s untrue. Classification rules that she had to have been well aware of state that any communication with a foreign diplomat is by its very nature classified, much less high level contact between a secretary of state and the head of NATO. How many of the other over 2,000 partially redacted emails contain examples like that? We don’t know; we can only have occasional glimpses.

We don’t know what was redacted, but the FBI certainly does

The mainstream media has reported on Clinton’s emails and claimed that there wasn’t much of interest in them, but that’s because they could only analyze the non-redacted parts! We do know that 22 of her emails have been classified “top secret,” the highest classification level. Some of those are said to discuss “special access programs” that are above top secret. But we know nothing about these emails, including when they were sent or who sent or received them, except that Clinton was involved. Imagine how different the conversation about Clinton’s emails would be if the contents of those top secret emails were made public in full, and people knew exactly which secret programs were exposed to foreign governments because Clinton kept email on her unsecure email server. Again, we don’t know, but the FBI certainly knows.

Furthermore, the mainstream media has misunderstood what is important in the publicly released emails. There has been reporting on trivial aspects, like squabbles between Clinton and the Obama White House, with little heed paid to obvious indicators of Clinton’s criminal behavior. For instance, Clinton sent and received over a thousand emails with Sid Blumenthal. Many of these contained highly classified information. Curiously, most of those were sent by Blumenthal, even though he was a private citizen with no security clearance whatsoever. Blumenthal appears to have been running a private intelligence back channel operation to Clinton using information from a former CIA official named Tyler Drumheller. Drumheller left the CIA in 2005, but at least one email shows he got his information from an active CIA official. Furthermore, we know from a June 2011 email that was completely unredacted by accident (and then later redacted) that Blumenthal sent Clinton information from NSA reports about a meeting of rebel generals in Sudan that had taken place mere hours earlier!

What was Blumenthal up to?

One day after Clinton became secretary of state, she pledged under penalty of perjury to safeguard classified information whether “marked or unmarked classified information, including oral communications.” It was her duty to flag any instances of unsecure classified information so security officials could take steps to properly secure it. Blumenthal frequently sent Clinton emails that were fairly screaming out how classified they were. He often included warnings in all caps and specifically stated that his information came from sources that had to make the information born classified. For instance, in July 2012, he sent Clinton an email about Egypt he said was “CONFIDENTIAL,” which is the third level of classified information according to US government regulations. Then he gave this warning: “SOURCE: Sources with access to the highest levels of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and Western Intelligence and security services. THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION COMES FROM AN EXTREMELY SENSITIVE SOURCE AND SHOULD BE HANDLED WITH CARE.”

Former US Attorney General Michael Mukasey has said of Clinton, “If she [had] signals intelligence or information from a human source that is obviously confidential and secret and relates to intelligence activities of the United States abroad, she’d have to have been a low grade moron in order to not know that it’s classified.” Looking at that warning Blumenthal put on that Egypt email, truly only a “low-grade moron” could claim that it didn’t obviously contain classified information.

And yet back in March 2015 when the scandal broke, Clinton claimed, “I’m certainly well-aware of the classification requirements and did not send classified material.” Then, later in 2015, she changed that to say, “I never sent nor received any email that was marked classified.” But how much more clear could Blumenthal have been with his warnings?

Note that Blumenthal sent Clinton intelligence emails about once every other day for her four years as secretary of state. She often forwarded his emails to others, including to Obama’s White House sometimes, so she was both sending and receiving information that was clearly marked classified. Furthermore, in some cases Clinton replied to Blumenthal with comments that were later deemed classified, which are clear examples of her sharing classified information with someone who she knew had no security clearance. There’s no doubt doing that was against the law.

I could go on and on with the trouble Clinton is in due to her emails, and that’s based just on the glimmers of non-redacted information that’s been made public. But that’s what the timeline I’ve made is for, to present all that information. I highly recommend you read it all yourself. So instead, I’ll end with some speculation as to why she did this.

Clinton’s excuses don’t hold water

Clinton’s stated reason for having only one email account for all her work and personal emails is that “I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two.” This makes no sense, because it’s very easy to have more than one email account on one device. Other government officials, even at the cabinet level, have said they did just that at the same time Clinton was secretary of state. But also, we know that Clinton bought an iPad in 2010 and took it with her on trips. So for three of her four years, at least, she had two devices anyway.

Additionally, using only her BlackBerry for her emails was actually highly inconvenient for her. From the very beginning, security officials made clear that she could not take her BlackBerry into her office, because it could be hijacked by hackers and used as a spy device. Clinton turned down the offer to have a secure computer installed in her office so she could check her emails from the comfort of her desk. Instead, even though she was highly dependent on email communication, she had to leave her office, retrieve her BlackBerry from security, go to a nearby secure area, use her BlackBerry, and then give it back to security before returning to her office, every single time. As a result, she would sometimes complain about having to go hours between checking her emails.

So it seems Clinton actually had to put up with a lot of hassle just to check her emails on her BlackBerry and nowhere else. Why would she tolerate that? The most logical explanation was that she deliberately set up a system to make sure that her emails would never be publicly revealed due to future Freedom of Information Act requests or investigations. In home video footage from 2000, she even commented about using email, “As much as I’ve been investigated and all of that, you know, why would I? I don’t even want. […] Why would I ever want to do email? Can you imagine?” By the time she became secretary of state eight years later, practical considerations forced her to use email, but that comment shows a mindset to keep emails from investigators.

But I believe that’s not the full reason. It turns out that the entire time Clinton was secretary of state, she and her husband Bill Clinton were engaged in highly questionable activities involving the Clinton Foundation. While that foundation has undoubtedly done lots of worthy charity work, it appears the Clintons also frequently used it as their personal slush fund. For example, President Obama prohibited Clinton from giving Sid Blumenthal a job in the State Department. So Hillary Clinton simply gave him a $120,000 yearly salary at The Clinton Foundation instead, even though he did no actual charity work there, much to the annoyance of other foundation employees.

Conflicts of interest were rife at the foundation, because most of the foundation’s major donors also had business before the State Department while it was led by Hillary Clinton. A 2015 Washington Post investigative story reported, “At its heart, The Clinton Foundation is an ingenious machine that can turn something intangible—the Clintons’ global goodwill—into something tangible: money. For the Clintons’ charitable causes. For their aides and allies. And, indirectly, for the Clintons themselves.”

The work Clinton was doing for the State Department and the work she was doing for the Clinton Foundation were often intertwined. Sometimes, both would be discussed in one email. Having all her emails in one account, presumably permanently out of reach to the public, she could keep all her work and communication organized without her conflicts of interest ever being known or examined.

This is just speculation, but I believe that if the public were ever to see all of Clinton’s deleted emails, a large portion of them would involve the Clinton Foundation, and that would bring to light even more conflicts of interest. I’m not surprised that it has been reported the FBI’s email investigation has expanded into investigating the Clinton Foundation as well, though it will undoubtedly take longer to untangle the complicated ethical issues.

With this essay, I’ve presented only a few of the many reasons why Clinton should be in trouble if the FBI is properly investigating her. What she did went far beyond the occasional sloppy mishandling of classified information. Consider again the case of Sid Blumenthal. She had to know that he was passing on classified information from other government departments like the CIA and the NSA, because he overtly mentioned that in his emails from time to time. She never could have received those emails from him if she had used a government email account. Her email server was specifically set up to allow the improper transfer of classified information like that. That’s why she wouldn’t even use a government computer in her office to check her emails: She didn’t want to risk others in government knowing or archiving any of her emails, since she knew they contained evidence of illegal activity, such as Blumenthal’s secret intelligence pipeline.

And I’ve only scratched the surface with this essay. Read the timelines for yourself for a fuller picture. Make sure not to miss the Clinton Foundation Timeline in particular, because much of that is little known, and yet it should make anyone worry about the conflicts of interest to come if she wins the presidency.

What will come of this?

Will the FBI recommend that Clinton be indicted? I can’t say, since I can’t know the minds of the key people making the decisions. But I believe that anyone who studies these timelines will conclude as I have that there is plenty of evidence that the FBI should recommend her indictment if they are doing their jobs. One doesn’t have to be a legal scholar or even know the specific laws to see that there is a pattern of gross negligence of classified information, at the very least.

Regardless of what the FBI does, there’s no doubt the Republicans will push this scandal as much as they can. If Clinton faces Trump in the general election, you can be sure Trump will frequently highlight the scandal. He’s already calling her “Crooked Hillary.” If Clinton wins the presidency, Republicans may immediately start impeachment proceedings over the scandal. If she loses and a Republican wins, then the Republicans, because their hatred for the Clintons runs so deep, are bound to push legal cases against her anyway. She may seem to be cruising to political victory right now, but a reckoning is coming due to this scandal, one way or another.

Whether you’re Democrat, Republican, or other, you cannot and should not simply wish all this evidence away due to her success in the presidential primaries. This is a real scandal, and it’s only going to get worse as more information slowly comes out.

About the Author

Paul Thompson

Paul is the author of The Terror Timeline: Year by Year, Day by Day, Minute by Minute: a Comprehensive Chronicle of the Road to 9/11—and America’s Response, published by Harper Collins (2004), a compilation of over 5000 reports and articles concerning the September 11, 2001 attacks. Paul’s research has garnered over 100 radio interviews, along with TV appearances of Fox News and Air America. Paul has been featured in The Village Voice and Esquire Magazine’s “Genius Issue.” The Terror Timeline was used as a course text in Richard Clarke’s “Terrorism, Security, and Intelligence” course at Harvard University. In 2005, he was asked to speak at a congressional briefing on the 9/11 Commission’s final report. Paul was born in Pacific Beach, California, and spends his time there and in New Zealand. He holds a degree in psychology from Stanford University and has worked in the past as an environmental activist at an environmental-protection firm. He now works as a freelance researcher. Paul is a progressive Democrat.