Politics & Policy

Tony Blair’s Appearance in the Clinton E-mails Demolishes Hillary’s Excuses

Then-secretary of state Clinton with Tony Blair in 2011. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty)

Tony Blair knew about Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail account before the American people did — and his off-the-grid e-mail exchanges with Clinton are another sledgehammer to the already crumbling edifice of excuses offered in defense of her homebrew server.

Among the thousands of Clinton e-mails released by the State Department last night were direct exchanges with foreign dignitaries such as former prime minister (and then special envoy for the Middle East Quartet) Blair and internal exchanges between State Department officials about those conversations. The conversations cover a wide range of world hot spots, including the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iran, Sudan, and Haiti. Many of them — nearly 200 in total to date — have now been classified by the State Department as “foreign government information” and redacted or withheld from release. The very nature of the communications in those e-mails established that they contained classified information from their inception. Mrs. Clinton’s defense that she did not know of the existence of such information on her server at the time is laughable.

In September 2010, Barack Obama undertook an ambitious effort to settle the ancient dispute between Israel and the Palestinian people. Direct talks took place in Washington, D.C., in early September, and follow-up discussions were planned for later in the month. But talks broke down when a moratorium on West Bank settlement construction expired and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to tie renewal of the moratorium to Palestinian recognition of Israel.

With some urgency, Hillary Clinton asked Tony Blair to cancel a speech scheduled in Aspen, Colo., to “go to Israel as part of our full court press on keeping the Middle East negotiations going.” Blair obliged, and Clinton e-mailed the organizers of the Aspen conference to explain the cancelation. She then e-mailed Blair that his schedule was now clear: “Tony — Message Delivered. . . . I’m copying Jake Sullivan because I’ve asked him to arrange a call w you once you land so you can be fully briefed before seeing BN [Netanyahu]. We are on a fast moving train changing every hour but determined to reach our destination.”

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Later that day, Blair responded: “Hi Hillary. Just spent 3 hours with BB [Netanyahu]. Ready to speak when convenient but should do it on a secure line.” There is no indication whether that secure conversation took place, but the message certainly indicates that Blair at least understood the sensitivity of the subject matter.

Blair e-mailed Clinton again the next day, copying Sullivan, Clinton’s aide, apparently on a private e-mail account of his own. The entirety of that e-mail has been redacted from public disclosure as part of the FOIA release. Why? Because it has now been acknowledged as classified information and formally marked “Confidential” by State Department reviewers. The markings that accompany the redactions (which took place just this week as part of the release) explain that the redacted portion is classified under parts 1.4(B) and 1.4(D) of President Obama’s Executive Order 13526. Thus, it falls within the categories of information classified as “foreign government information” — 1.4(B) — and information relating to “foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources” — 1.4(D).

#share#Those markings are relevant because they blow up the Clinton campaign’s insistence that Mrs. Clinton and her colleagues did not know that the information at issue was classified at the time. Clinton is, of course, correct that the e-mails were not formally marked classified at the time they were exchanged, but that is only the result of a failure by Mrs. Clinton and her staff to mark them and handle them through the proper channels used for such foreign communications. The information contained in the e-mails was plainly classified at the time they were sent and received — by order of the president.

Putting aside the legal technicalities, Clinton’s plea of ignorance defies common sense.

Executive Order 13526, issued by President Obama at the beginning of his term, addresses the classification and handling of national-security information. It provides that “foreign government information” — which includes “information provided to the United States Government by a foreign government or governments, an international organization of governments, or any element thereof, with the expectation that the information, the source of the information, or both, are to be held in confidence” — must be treated as classified. The president made a determination in the Executive Order that disclosure of these confidential foreign communications “is presumed to cause damage to the national security.”

Since a reasonable expectation of harm to the national security is the threshold for whether to classify information, the president’s determination necessarily establishes the classification of any foreign communications provided to the U.S. with the expectation of confidence. The Executive Order leaves no doubt on this point, when it directs that an agency “shall safeguard foreign government information under standards that provide a degree of protection at least equivalent to that required by the government or international organization of governments that furnished the information.”

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The State Department now acknowledges that the Blair communications — just like scores of other Clinton e-mails involving sensitive diplomatic communications in Africa, Afghanistan, and elsewhere — are classified “Confidential” as foreign-government communications. Their determination simply confirms that the information was classified all along and that Clinton and her inner circle should have treated the e-mails containing it with the care required by our national-security laws and regulations. Instead, they were regularly passed between insecure private e-mail addresses, handed off wholesale to the private Internet company that maintained her server, and shared with who knows how many lawyers and staff as part of her own private review process.

#related#Putting aside the legal technicalities, Clinton’s plea of ignorance defies common sense. The very nature of our diplomatic relations requires that we closely guard information learned from foreign dignitaries. And the State Department’s secure e-mail system contains reams of such classified communications. We protect that information in order to protect our international relationships and sources. The secretary of state regularly deals in those communications, as evidenced by the growing number of e-mails now classified. Yet here we see the sitting secretary of state communicating with a foreign envoy about sensitive diplomatic communications regarding the world’s most nettlesome national-security issues. She did so on the least secure platform imaginable — a private server concealed from government oversight — and took no steps to limit the information’s subsequent distribution. Faced with such irrefutable proof of her own recklessness, the former secretary of state now claims ignorance. Her plea rings hollow.

Shannen W. Coffin is a contributing editor to National Review. He practices appellate law in Washington, D.C.

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