It depends on the meaning of the word classified …. maybe. It took several hours for Team Hillary to respond to the big reveal in this latest tranche of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. Rather than explain what “turn into nonpaper w no identifying heading and send nonsecure” meant about information Hillary needed when the secure fax was balky, her campaign issued a simple denial to CBS’ Nancy Cordes:
Clinton camp tells @CBSNews: "It is false that Hillary Clinton asked for classified material to be sent over a nonsecure system."
— Nancy Cordes (@nancycordes) January 8, 2016
Let’s parse this message out. Clearly she asked Sullivan to send something through the non-secure system, as the e-mail in question states:
So the hinge in this case seems to be on the word “classified.” The e-mail does not discuss the content or the topic of the talking points, but clearly Sullivan intended to have them transmitted through the secure system rather than any other method, several of which would have been easier to use. The State Department told Buzzfeed’s Katherine Miller that it still doesn’t mean the information would necessarily have been classified. “Many documents that are created or stored on a secure system are not classified.”
There are still a couple of problems for the “nothing to see here” explanation. First, Sullivan isn’t a college intern; he was and remains a key Clinton adviser who had been on this job for over two years by this point. If there was a problem getting unclassified data to Hillary on time, it’s almost certain that Sullivan wouldn’t need direction on how to get around the secure transmission. This was 15 hours after Sullivan first promised the talking points, and his 8:17 am message back would have been lame for a clerk in those circumstances if the information was unclassified.
On top of that, Hillary directs Sullivan to remove the “identifying heading” before “send[ing] nonsecure.” Why would that have to be done for information allowed to be transmitted through unsecured means? Simply removing a header does not mean information meant to be secured can be suddenly transmitted in the open. And if it was okay to send in the open, then the headers would not need to be removed.
Besides, as I pointed out in the earlier post (and several other times over the past year), 18 USC 793 does not require information to be classified to take action on violations, although that does allow prosecutors to build a case easier. It just requires information that transmitted or stored in the open could damage national security. Clearly Sullivan thought this needed to go through secure channels, and yet Hillary not only tried to override it, she wanted the headers deleted to allow for it — which shows a pretty clear intent to violate the regulations on handling of secure information.
This explanation won’t cut it … if the Department of Justice takes its job seriously. We’ll see.
Update: Why was Hillary so anxious to get these talking points that morning? As it happens, she had a discussion with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov that morning. According to the State Department readout in the daily briefing later on 6/17/2011, it was quite a conversation:
QUESTION: On Syria, has Secretary Clinton spoken with her Russian counterpart, Lavrov?
MS. NULAND: She did speak to Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning, and she did discuss Syria with him. She also discussed Middle East peace, Libya, UN Security Council 1267, and Russian-Georgian relations. With regard to Syria, the discussion focused on action in the UN Security Council and how the U.S. and Russia can work together to make sure that we can get to a UN Security Council resolution that supports peace and security in Syria.
A reader sent me this after a site called Tass in Lichtenstein
Lithuania tracked down the data using my earlier post as a springboard. I have no idea whether this is affiliated with the old Soviet publication or not, but the links and the transcript from Victoria Nuland’s briefing are accurate. The writer ends by sarcastically wondering whether talking points for use with Lavrov on Syria, Libya, and Georgia might have been classified. Assuming that Hillary needed the talking points for this conversation (which we don’t know from the e-mails), it would seem likely that the information was at least sensitive to national security — and therefore needed to be secured. But was this the topic? Maybe Hillary Clinton will enlighten us … or maybe the FBI already knows.
Update, 1/9/16: The site is hosted in Lichtenstein, not Lithuania, and the tipster has explained to me that the site’s theme is a parody of Tass. It’s … a darned good one, actually. Good for them.