Monday, April 23, 2018
Politics

PolitiFact: Fact-checking Hillary Clinton's claim she never sent, received classified information on personal email

Saturday's news that Hillary Clinton spent more than three hours speaking with the FBI bled into the Sunday news shows, with Clinton again saying she did not send or receive material marked classified through the private email server she used while secretary of state.

"Let me just repeat what I have repeated for many months now," Clinton told NBC's Chuck Todd in a phone interview following her interview with investigators. "I never received nor sent any material that was marked classified."

The line has been part of Clinton's defense since at least August. Back then, PolitiFact hesitated to rate Clinton's claim because of the fluidity of events and the ongoing investigation.

Eleven months later, we wanted to take a fresh look.

Classified, after

The public became aware that Clinton used a private email server in March 2015. Eventually, Clinton turned over about 30,000 work-related emails to the State Department for public release.

The State Department redacted about 2,000 of those emails before releasing them, saying they contain classified information — including some that have been withheld entirely because they contain "top secret" information.

Clinton's statement focuses on a much narrower and potentially misleading point — that Clinton sent or received material she knew was classified because it was marked.

None of the emails the State Department redacted, or any other emails made public, contained classification markings at the time they were sent, government officials said.

The possibility remains, however, that she sent or received classified information that was inappropriately left unlabeled — or that Clinton, as head of the department, failed to recognize and deal with information that should have been classified.

Further, because Clinton used a private server, we only have Clinton's word that she turned over all relevant email. It's possible there are emails with classified information on them that she deleted or did not turn over.

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, said Clinton is carefully picking her words.

"On the one hand, I believe that sentence is likely accurate," Brian told PolitiFact. "But I also believe that it is so carefully crafted as to avoid a more important question, which is whether there was information in her email that should have been marked classified."

The plot only gets more complicated.

While we know officials retroactively classified portions of emails on Clinton's private server, we do not yet know if any of those emails contained classified information when they first landed in Clinton's server. It's possible that emails that were not marked classified contained classified information.

There's also some disagreement between the State Department and the intelligence community over what was or should have been treated as classified. Government agencies regularly disagree over what should be classified or not, and transparency advocates say the government regularly over-classifies.

Clinton's specific phrasing — that she never sent or received material "marked classified" — is likely a critical point for investigators, as it's relevant to the question of Clinton's intent and whether she knowingly mishandled material.

In that sense, Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said Clinton's claim might not be misleading.

But it's also true, Aftergood said, "that statement alone does not answer all possible questions about the matter."

Our ruling

Clinton said, "I never received nor sent any material that was marked classified."

One of the principles of PolitiFact is not only to judge the facts behind a claim, but to investigate whether a statement leaves a particular impression that may be misleading.

Clinton is focusing on a technical aspect of the government chain of classification, that information contained within her private email server wasn't "marked" classified. There is no evidence Clinton knowingly sent or received classified information.

But the government classification system is complicated, and Clinton fails to acknowledge that classified information could have moved through her email server without a proper label. Part of the problem is Clinton's private server itself, because only she and her team know what was in the emails she deleted.

We rate her claim Half True.

Read the full fact-check at PolitiFact.com.

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