July 24, 2015: Many of Clinton’s emails contained classified information when they were sent, not just retroactively.

Intelligence Community Inspector General Charles McCullough and State Department Inspector General Steve Linick issue a joint statement about their inquiry into Clinton’s emails. The statement says that out of a random sample of 40 of Clinton’s emails, Linick found four emails containing information that should have been classified at the time they were sent. “These emails were not retroactively classified by the State Department; rather these emails contained classified information when they were generated and, according to [Intelligence Community] classification officials, that information remains classified today. This classified information should never have been transmitted via an unclassified personal system.” (US Department of State, 7/24/2015) 

One email will later be declassified by the State Department, and the department will dispute the classification of another one. (The Washington Post, 3/27/2016)

August 21, 2015: In many cases, information in Clinton’s emails were “born classified.”

That means they were classified from their creation. A Reuters analysis concludes, “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 US government defines this as any information, written or spoken, provided in confidence to US officials by their foreign counterparts.” Although unmarked, Reuters’ analysis suggests that these emails “were classified from the start.”

J. William Leonard, a former director of the NARA Information Security Oversight Office, said that such information is “born classified” and that “If a foreign minister just told the secretary of state something in confidence, by US rules that is classified at the moment it’s in US channels and US possession.” According to Reuters, the standard US government 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.”

The State Department disputes Reuters’ analysis but does not elaborate or explain why. (Reuters, 8/21/2015)

May 2, 2016: The State Department changes its policy on when foreign intelligence should be considered classified.

State Department legislative liaison Julia Frifield sends a letter to the Senate indicating an apparent change in what information the State Department considers properly classified. The vast majority of redactions in Clinton’s emails are for foreign government information, to which Frifield refers as “FGI.”

Frifield writes, “Although the unauthorized release of FGI is presumed to cause harm to the national security—thereby qualifying as Confidential [level] classified information, department officials of necessity routinely receive such information through unclassified channels. For example, diplomats engage in meetings with counterparts in open settings, have phone calls with foreign contacts over unsecure lines, and email with and about foreign counterparts via unclassified systems. Diplomats could not conduct diplomacy if doing so violated the law.” As a result, not all such information should automatically be considered classified.

However, regulations in effect when Clinton was secretary of state called for FGI to be marked “confidential” unless it was designated “C/MOD” (for “confidential/modified handling”). But none of Clinton’s emails appear to have been given that designation. (Politico, 5/12/2016)

July 5, 2016: FBI Director Comey announces he will not recommend Clinton’s indictment on any charge, but he calls her “extremely careless” in handling highly classified information.

FBI Director James Comey announces his recommendation for Clinton and her aides on July 5, 2016. (Credit: Cliff Owen / The Associated Press)

FBI Director James Comey announces his recommendation in a press conference on July 5, 2016. (Credit: Cliff Owen / The Associated Press)

FBI Director James Comey gives a public speech in front of a group of reporters. The timing is surprising, since this brings an end to the FBI’s investigation of Clinton’s email practices, and just a Sunday and the Fourth of July holiday separate this from the FBI’s interview of Clinton on July 2, 2016. Comey spends most of his speech criticizing Clinton, but ends it by saying he will not recommend that the Justice Department pursue any indictment of Clinton or her aides.

Comey’s fifteen-minute speech includes the following information, in order, with key phrases bolded to assist in understanding.

Comey begins by describing the FBI investigation:

  • The investigation started with a referral from Intelligence Community Inspector General Charles McCullough, and “focused on whether classified information was transmitted” on Clinton’s personal email server during her time as secretary of state. It specifically “looked at whether there is evidence classified information was improperly stored or transmitted on that personal system, in violation of a federal statute making it a felony to mishandle classified information either intentionally or in a grossly negligent way, or a second statute making it a misdemeanor to knowingly remove classified information from appropriate systems or storage facilities.” The FBI “also investigated to determine whether there is evidence of computer intrusion in connection with the personal email server by any foreign power, or other hostile actors.”
  • The FBI found that Clinton “used several different servers and administrators of those servers during her four years at the State Department, and used numerous mobile devices to view and send email on that personal domain. As new servers and equipment were employed, older servers were taken out of service, stored, and decommissioned in various ways…”
  • The FBI analyzed the over 30,000 work emails that Clinton did turn over to the State Department in December 2014, working with other US government departments to determine which emails contained truly classified information at the time they were sent, and which ones were justifiably classified later.
  • James Comey (Credit: Fox News)

    James Comey (Credit: Fox News)

    From the group of 30,068 emails Clinton returned to the State Department, “110 emails in 52 email chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight of those chains contained information that was ‘top secret’ at the time they were sent; 36 chains contained ‘secret’ information at the time; and eight contained ‘confidential’ information, which is the lowest level of classification. Separate from those, about 2,000 additional emails were ‘up-classified’ to make them ‘confidential’; the information in those had not been classified at the time the emails were sent.”

  • It had previously been reported that the FBI had recovered most or all of the 31,830 emails that Clinton had deleted, allegedly because they contained personal information only. However, Comey reveals that was not the case, and thousands of emails were not recovered. He gives an example of how when one of Clinton’s servers was decommissioned in 2013, the email was removed and broken up into millions of fragments.
  • The FBI “discovered several thousand work-related emails” that were not included in the 30,068 emails Clinton returned to the State Department, even though Clinton claimed under oath that she had returned all her work-related emails. The FBI found these after they “had been deleted over the years and we found traces of them on devices that supported or were connected to the private email domain.” Others were found in the archived government email accounts of other government employees whom Clinton frequently communicated with. Still others were found “from the laborious review of the millions of email fragments” of the server decommissioned in 2013.
  • Out of these additional work emails, three were classified at the time they were sent or received – none at the ‘top secret’ level, one at the ‘secret’ level, and two at the ‘confidential’ level. None were found to have been deemed classified later.
  • Furthermore, Comey claims “we found no evidence that any of the additional work-related emails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them. Our assessment is that, like many email users, Secretary Clinton periodically deleted emails or emails were purged from the system when devices were changed. Because she was not using a government account—or even a commercial account like Gmail—there was no archiving at all of her emails, so it is not surprising that we discovered emails that were not on Secretary Clinton’s system in 2014, when she produced the 30,000 emails to the State Department.”
  • 160705DeletingAttorneys

    The three Clinton attorneys who deleted emails are David Kendall (left), Cheryl Mills (center), and Heather Samuelson (right). (Credit: public domain)

    However, he also admits that “It could also be that some of the additional work-related emails we recovered were among those deleted as ‘personal’ by Secretary Clinton’s lawyers when they reviewed and sorted her emails for production in 2014.” He claims that the three lawyers who sorted the emails for Clinton in late 2014 (David Kendall, Cheryl Mills, and Heather Samuelson) “did not individually read the content of all of her emails…” Instead, they used keyword searches to determine which emails were work related, and it is “highly likely their search terms missed some work-related emails” that were later found by the FBI elsewhere.

  • Comey states it is “likely” that some emails may have disappeared forever. because Clinton’s three lawyers “deleted all emails they did not return to State, and the lawyers cleaned their devices in such a way as to preclude complete forensic recovery.” But he says that after interviews and technical examination, “we believe our investigation has been sufficient to give us reasonable confidence there was no intentional misconduct in connection with that sorting effort.”

Comey then begins stating his findings:

  • “Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”
  • As an example, he points out that “seven email chains concern matters that were classified at the ‘Top Secret/Special Access Program’ [TP/SAP] level when they were sent and received. These chains involved Secretary Clinton both sending emails about those matters and receiving emails from others about the same matters. There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.”
  • He adds that it was a similar situation with emails classified at the “secret” level when they were sent, although he doesn’t specify how many.
  • He comments, “None of these emails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these emails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at departments and agencies of the US government—or even with a commercial service like Gmail.”
  • He notes that “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.”
  • He then criticizes the State Department as a whole. The FBI found evidence that “the security culture” of the State Department “was generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information found elsewhere in the government.” This was especially true regarding the use of unclassified email systems.
  • Then he addresses whether “hostile actors” were able to gain access to Clinton’s emails. Although no direct evidence of any successful hacking was found, he points out that “given the nature of the system and of the actors potentially involved, we assess that we would be unlikely to see such direct evidence. We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account. We also assess that Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal email domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent. She also used her personal email extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related emails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries. Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account.”

After laying out the evidence of what the FBI found, Comey moves to the FBI’s recommendation to the Justice Department. He admits that it is highly unusual to publicly reveal the FBI’s recommendation, but “in this case, given the importance of the matter, I think unusual transparency is in order.”

James Comey (Credit: NPR)

James Comey (Credit: NPR)

Then he comes to these conclusions:

  • “Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. Prosecutors necessarily weigh a number of factors before bringing charges. There are obvious considerations, like the strength of the evidence, especially regarding intent. Responsible decisions also consider the context of a person’s actions, and how similar situations have been handled in the past.”
  • To justify this decision, he claims he examined other cases involving the mishandling or removal of classified information, and “we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.”
  • He then says, “To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that is not what we are deciding now. As a result, although the Department of Justice makes final decisions on matters like this, we are expressing to Justice our view that no charges are appropriate in this case.”
  • He concludes by saying the FBI’s investigation was done competently, honestly, and independently, and without any kind of outside influence.

He doesn’t address the possibility of recommending the indictment of any of Clinton’s aides or other figures like Sid Blumenthal or Justin Cooper. He also doesn’t make any mention of the Clinton Foundation, though there have been media reports the FBI has been investigating it as well. After finishing his speech, he leaves without taking any questions from the media. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7/5/2016)

July 5, 2016: 113 of Clinton’s emails contained classified information at the time they were sent, destroying one of Clinton’s main excuses for her actions.

This is according to public comments by FBI Director James Comey. Three of these were not included in the emails Clinton turned over to the State Department, but were discovered by the FBI through other means. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7/5/2016)

The New York Times comments that this means those emails “should never have been sent or received on an unclassified computer network — not hers, not even the State Department’s official state.gov system. That fact refutes the core argument she and others have made: that the entire controversy turned on the overzealous, after-the-fact classification of emails as they were being made public under the Freedom of Information Act [FOIA], rather than the mishandling of the nation’s secrets.” (The New York Times, 7/5/2016)

July 7, 2016: FBI Director Comey says three of Clinton’s emails were clearly marked as classified when they were sent.

At a Congressional hearing, FBI Director James Comey is asked by Representative Trey Gowdy (R), “Secretary Clinton said there was nothing marked classified on her emails, either sent or received. Was that true?”

Comey replies, “That’s not true. There were a small number of portion markings on, I think, three of the documents.” Later in the day, the State Department says that two of those emails were incorrectly marked as classified when they were sent. Both of those emails, sent on April 8, 2012 and August 2, 2012, were released as part of the over 30,000 emails Clinton made public. It is unknown which email Comey is referring to in the third instance. It could be the part marked classified is redacted, or perhaps the email has not yet been released. (Politico, 7/7/2016) (CNN, 7/7/2016)

A September 2016 FBI report will give more information on these emails, including mentioning that the third email is still classified at the “confidential” level.

July 31, 2016: Clinton continues to maintain that none of her emails contained classified information when they were sent.

Clinton holds a press conference on August 5, 2016 and explains how she may have "short-circuited" during her interview with Chris Wallace. (Credit: Fox News)

Clinton holds a press conference on August 5, 2016 and explains how she may have “short-circuited” during her interview with Chris Wallace a few days earlier. (Credit: Fox News)

In a Fox News interview with Chris Wallace, she says, “There were discussions and decisions made to classify retroactively certain emails.” She also claims that FBI Director James “Comey said my answers were truthful and consistent,” with what she said in the past.

She adds, “I was communicating with over 300 people in my emails. They certainly did not believe and had no reason to believe what they were sending was classified.” (The Hill, 7/31/2016)

However, on July 5, 2016, Comey clearly stated, “From the group of 30,000 [Clinton] emails returned to the State Department in 2014, 110 emails in 52 email chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7/5/2016)

Clinton’s comments are heavily criticized in the media. So five days later, on August 5, 2016, she says she may have “short circuited” and she and Wallace might have been “talking past each other.” (Fox News, 8/5/2016)

September 2, 2016: The FBI provides statistics on the number of Clinton’s classified emails, but those numbers diverge wildly from the State Department’s numbers.

The FBI Clinton email investigation’s final report, released on this day, details how many of Clinton’s emails were deemed classified, and when, and at what level. This data is according to FBI and Intelligence Community (IC) classification reviews, which is different from a State Department review mentioned below:

  • 81 email chains containing approximately 193 individual emails were classified at the “confidential,” “secret,” and “top secret” levels at the time the emails were drafted on unclassified systems and sent to or from Clinton’s personal server.
  • Of the 81 email chains classified at the time they were sent, 68 remain classified.
  • Twelve of these email chains, classified at the “confidential” or “secret” levels, were not included in the over 30,000 emails turned over by Clinton in December 2014. Apparently, no “top secret” emails were in this category.
  • Thirty-six of the 81 email chains were classified at the “confidential” level.
  • Thirty-seven of the chains were at the “secret” level.
  • Eight of the chains were at the “top secret” level.
  • Out of the eight “top secret” chains, seven chains contained information associated with a Special Access Program (SAP), and three email chains contained Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI). One “top secret”/SCI email was later downgraded to a current classification of “secret.”
  • Thirty-six of the 81 classified email chains were determined to be Not-Releasable to Foreign Governments (NOFORN) and 2 were considered releasable only to Five Allied partners (FVEY) – the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
  • Sixteen of the email chains, classified at the time the emails were sent, were downgraded in current classification by Intelligence Community (IC) agencies.
  • By contrast, the State Department’s FOIA process identified 2,028 emails currently at the “confidential” level and 65 currently at the “secret” level, for a total of 2093 emails.

The FBI report further notes: “Of these emails, FBI investigation identified approximately 100 emails that overlapped with the 193 emails (80 email chains) determined through the FBI classification review to be classified at the time sent. All except one of the remaining 2,093 emails were determined by the State FOIA process to be ‘confidential’, with one email determined to be ‘secret’ at the time of the FOIA review. State did not provide a determination as to whether the 2,093 emails were classified at the time they were sent.”

It is unclear why the FBI and IC numbers are so different from the State Department numbers when it comes to “confidential” level emails. The FBI and IC identified 36 of the 81 email chains were classified at the “confidential” level, while the State Department identified 2,028 emails at the “confidential” level. And while one cannot compare email chains to emails, all 81 classified emails chains only contained 193 individual emails, so the 36 “confidential” chains must contain fewer emails than that.

Furthermore, the FBI found an additional 17,000 emails to the over 30,000 work-related emails Clinton gave to the State Department, and it appears these largely haven’t been analyzed. It hasn’t even been reported how many of them are work-related. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)