The Corner

Politics & Policy

Clinton Emails Were Born Classified

In response to Gephardt – Pro

My column on the home-page today is a refutation of the laughable defense of Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information offered by the former Obama-appointed U.S. attorney who gave David Petraeus a sweetheart misdemeanor plea deal over his mishandling of classified information … and who is now a donor to Clinton’s presidential campaign.

In it, I make a point that our friend Shannen Coffin nailed last night on Megyn Kelly’s Fox News program: Mrs. Clinton’s claim that she was unaware that many of her emails contained classified information is untenable – in fact, it is remarkable that she and her pom-pom squad (to say nothing of Obama administration officials) dare to make it with a straight face.

Clinton rationalizes that because the emails were not stamped classified, she could not have been expected to know they were classified. As I’ve been emphasizing since March, she is trying to exploit the public’s unfamiliarity with the distinction between classified documents and classified information – the former are obviously classified because they are marked as such; the latter, because of its nature, is well known to national security officials to be classified – regardless of whether it is marked as such or even written down at all.

Now, we have an easily understandable demonstration of this distinction – and, hence, of Mrs. Clinton’s undeniable knowledge that she was pervasively exchanging classified information over her private email system.

In the first year of his administration (December 29, 2009, to be exact), President Obama issued Executive Order 13526, entitled “Classified National Security Information.” It explains that information is deemed classified if its disclosure would cause “damage to the national security.” Beyond that, whether the classified information is categorized as “top secret,” “secret,” or “confidential” depends on how serious the damage would be.

With that as background, the order makes clear that there is one category of information that is automatically deemed classified: information from foreign governments. Section 1.1(d) of the executive order decrees: “The unauthorized disclosure of foreign government information is presumed to cause damage to the national security.”

The reason for this is plain: It is not just the often sensitive nature of diplomatic communications; it is the fact that, in order to protect our national security, the United States must rely on intelligence from foreign governments; if our government does not keep that information strictly confidential, the foreign governments will be unwilling to share it – endangering American lives. As Secretary of State, Clinton not only knew this elementary rule; it was her duty to ensure that the rule was followed throughout her department.

As has been clear from the beginning, and is now patent after the latest disclosure of a subset of 6,000 of the emails Clinton deigned to preserve, at least 125 of which reportedly contain classified information, the emails Clinton sent, received and stored via her private server system were rife with information from foreign governments. This information was born classified. It makes no difference that these emails were not stamped “top secret”; all national security officials with security clearances know that foreign government information is deemed classified and must be handled as such. Period.

Indeed, since it is the State Department that deals most directly with foreign governments, the Secretary of State has the highest obligation and interest when it comes to assuring them that the information they share with the U.S. government is being handled with appropriate care.

Two other points:

1. As noted above, my column today rebuts the op-ed by Anne Tompkins, the former U.S. attorney who prosecuted former CIA director David Petraeus for mishandling classified information. As I noted at the time of Petraeus’s plea, the government filed a factual recitation of what it was in a position to prove if Petraeus went to trial instead of pleading guilty. Included in it was a description of the highly classified information at issue in the case in order to demonstrate that Petraeus knew it was classified. That description takes pains to include “diplomatic discussions.” Like all top national security officials, Petraeus clearly knew that foreign government information was presumptively classified – and, as even Ms. Tompkins concedes, it was immaterial that the documents Petraeus was hoarding were not marked classified because the information contained within them was palpably classified.

2. As also noted above, Shannen gave an excellent tutorial on this point about foreign government information last night on Megyn’s show. You should watch it, here (about halfway through the video clip – the beginning, where Megyn interviews Ed Henry, who summarized the latest Clinton email disclosures as they were breaking, is also very much worth watching).

So what now? Are Hillary Clinton and the Obama State Department going to tell us that, while Obama attempts to rule the whole country by executive orders, the executive branch – i.e., the only part of the country that is actually bound by executive orders – is at liberty to ignore them?


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