The Corner

Politics & Policy

Hillary on Instructing Staffer to Delete Classified Heading: This Is ‘Common Practice’

Hillary Clinton today defended a 2011 e-mail instructing her staffer at the State Department, Jacob Sullivan, to remove a document’s classified marking and send it over an unsecured line. “Headings are not classification notices and so oftentimes we’re trying to get the best information we can,” she told John Dickerson on Face the Nation.

“Obviously what I’m asking for is whatever can be transmitted, if it doesn’t come through secure to be transmitted on the unclassified system,” Clinton said. ”So, no, there is nothing to that, like so much else that has been talked about in the last year.” 

Dickerson said the e-mail showed she was “very facile” in how to navigate around classification laws and asked, “You’re saying there was never an instance, any other instance in which you did that?”

Clinton replied that her instructions to Sullivan reflect “common practice” and then pivoted to attacking Republicans for throwing things “against the wall … to see what sticks.”

Dickerson followed with a question about another e-mail in which Clinton expressed bewilderment another staffer was using private e-mail to conduct government business — “which is what you were doing.”

Clinton answered that this e-mail showed how she tried recording all government business on “the government system.”

Here’s the full exchange: 

DICKERSON: Aren’t you ordering him to violate the laws on handling classified material there?

CLINTON: No. Not at all. As the State Department said just this week, that did not happen. It never would have happened because that’s just not the way I treated classified information. Headings are not classification notices and so oftentimes we’re trying to get the best information we can. Obviously what I’m asking for is whatever can be transmitted, if it doesn’t come through secure to be transmitted on the unclassified system. So, no, there is nothing to that, like so much else that has been talked about in the last year.

DICKERSON: So, in no instance — what’s striking about that particular e-mail suggests you were very facile with how to do this, this process, you knew the instructions how to get around the restrictions for sending classified information. So you’re saying there was never an instance, any other instance in which you did that?

CLINTON: No. And it wasn’t sent. I think this is another instance where, what is common practice, namely, look, I needed information, I had points I had to make. I was waiting for a secure fax that could give me the whole picture. But oftentimes there’s a lot of information that isn’t at all classified. So whatever information can be appropriately transmitted unclassified often was — that’s true for every agency in the government and everybody that does business with the government. But the important point here is, I had great confidence because I worked with Jake Sullivan for years. He is the most meticulous, careful person you could possibly do business with. And he knew exactly what was and wasn’t appropriate. And in fact the State Department has said there was no transmission of any classified information. It’s another effort by people looking for something to throw against the wall, as you said in the beginning of the program, to see what sticks. But there’s no there there.

DICKERSON: Well this one is a little different since FBI is investigating this specific question of whether a classification was meddled with. Let me ask you about another e-mail in this batch, which was one in which you seemed to express surprise that somebody e-mailed on non-State Department personal e-mail, which is what you were doing. Why was that a surprise to you?

CLINTON: Well, I e-mailed two people on their government accounts because I knew that all of that would be part of the government system. Indeed the vast majority of all my e-mails are in the government system. That’s how I conducted the business. I was very clear about e-mailing anything having to do with business to people on their government accounts.

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