In recent days, attention has focused on an email exchange that Hillary Clinton had with one of her principal aides, Jake Sullivan, in June 2011. As Paul noted here and here, some have characterized the exchange as a smoking gun, demonstrating that Hillary improperly instructed Sullivan to send classified information by unsecure email when an attempt to send by secure fax failed. If true, this would refute Hillary’s last line of defense with regard to her bizarre homebrew email setup, i.e., the claim that her home server was never used to send or receive classified information.
This is Clinton’s email exchange with Sullivan; click to enlarge:
Clinton’s key words:
If they can’t [fix the server], turn into nonpaper w no identifying heading and send nonsecure.
This morning on Face the Nation, Hillary was asked about her emails with Sullivan. Her story was that she instructed Sullivan to strip out any classified material from the original document, and send whatever was left via email. You can watch it here, although you may need to sit through a 30-second commercial. The exchange itself is brief:
Does Hillary’s explanation make sense? I agree with Paul that it doesn’t seem to. Her email says nothing about deleting any classified information, it merely says to “turn [the fax] into nonpaper” and remove the “identifying heading.” But the exchange is cryptic enough that I can’t rule out the possibility that Hillary referred to a custom and practice of deleting classified information before sending in an insecure fashion, as she claimed on Face the Nation.
I want to focus on something that Hillary said twice in the course of her brief appearance this morning: that the State Department has backed up her claim. (“As the State Department said just this week, that did not happen.”) This appears to be a misrepresentation. As best I can tell, the State Department has done no such thing; on the contrary, its spokesman has been careful to stay clear of the controversy. During Friday’s daily press briefing, State Department spokesman John Kirby was asked about the June 2011 emails with Sullivan. He repeatedly refused to comment on the propriety of Mrs. Clinton’s conduct. The exchange is lengthy; you can read it all here. These are relevant excerpts:
QUESTION: Can we go to the substance now of some of these emails? And particularly one that’s attracted a lot of attention is this exchange between former Secretary Clinton and Jake Sullivan on June 16th through the 17th of 2011 in which one of them, she, tells Jake to – that if they – if she can’t get a secure fax through or if there’s a problem with a secure fax going through, she asks him would he remove the header, make it a non-paper, and email it to her on her private server.
Do you know what this is about? They appear to be – appear to have been talking points for a telephone conversation she was going to have with Senator Cardin. But I’m looking to you to see if you can confirm that and also to ask whether or not this is an issue, a problematic – a problem for the State Department.
MR KIRBY: So on the first part of your question, I do not know. I don’t know anything more about the document in question or the email traffic than what you do, having seen it. So I don’t have additional context on it. And as I’ve said many times, I’m not – I am going to continue to refrain from speaking to specific content here or former Secretary Clinton’s email practices. That’s not – that’s not our role right now.
The second part of your question, it was about whether it’s a problem. Can you – can you be more specific about what you mean by that?
QUESTION: Well, I mean, yeah. It would – some, including Senator Grassley, say that this suggests that former Secretary Clinton was asking her deputy chief of staff to remove potentially classified information from what was to be a secure fax and put it into an email that was – that would be sent unclassified into her private server. Would that be a violation of State Department rules if that was the case? I mean, first of all, is that the case? Is that what was happening here?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know that it’s the case. And as you know, I’m not going to talk about former Secretary Clinton’s email practices. That’s not our role here, not least of which also those practices are under review and investigation, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to talk about that. And as for the intention, the motivation, I simply wouldn’t have that information.
I have consistently, James, refrained, as I will continue to refrain, from discussing former Secretary Clinton’s email practices or the specific content in the actual traffic. You can see for yourself what is or what isn’t there, and frankly, I don’t know anything more about that traffic than you do.
QUESTION: — I’ll wrap up here. Do you know whether anyone in this building has referred the matter of this particular email to the Department of Justice for further investigation?
MR KIRBY: I do not know that. You’d have to refer —
QUESTION: Are you concerned that there is a violation of law here?
MR KIRBY: That is not our role. Our role is to work through the process to make these public and to do so in a responsible way, obeying the Freedom of Information Act, and that law. As I said at the outset, the practices themselves are matters of review and investigation, not by the State Department, and so it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it.
So Hillary’s twice-repeated statement that the State Department has validated her claim that she did nothing wrong is false.
Perhaps more significant than the details of this issue, which few people will try to understand, is how Hillary comes across when she discusses it. I am of course a biased observer, but her demeanor when she responds to questions about her State Department practices and the FBI investigation–she looks like she is sucking on a lemon–strikes me as unfortunate. Then, too, there is the fact that Mrs. Clinton has the reputation of being a liar. John Dickerson, the host of Face the Nation, appears skeptical of her defense. He never would have treated Barack Obama that way.