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State Dept. Won’t Release Clinton Emails Marked Top Secret

The decision threatens to reinvigorate a scandal that has threatened the Democratic frontrunner's presidential bid.

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The State Department said Friday it will not release 22 emails from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s homebrew email system because they contain information classified as “top secret.”

Three days ahead of the Iowa caucuses, the decision threatens to intensify a political storm that has raised questions about the Democratic presidential frontrunner’s handling of sensitive information while serving as America’s top diplomat.

The messages that will be withheld from the public span seven email threads and include 37 pages of material, State Department spokesman John Kirby said. The State Department will also withhold 18 emails between Clinton and President Barack Obama, citing his need to be able to receive confidential counsel from his advisers.

The State Department said Friday it will not release 22 emails from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s homebrew email system because they contain information classified as “top secret.”

Three days ahead of the Iowa caucuses, the decision threatens to intensify a political storm that has raised questions about the Democratic presidential frontrunner’s handling of sensitive information while serving as America’s top diplomat.

The messages that will be withheld from the public span seven email threads and include 37 pages of material, State Department spokesman John Kirby said. The State Department will also withhold 18 emails between Clinton and President Barack Obama, citing his need to be able to receive confidential counsel from his advisers.

Clinton’s campaign promptly condemned the State Department’s decision, calling the move “over-classification run amok.”

“After a process that has been dominated by bureaucratic infighting that has too often played out in public view, the loudest and leakiest participants in this interagency dispute have now prevailed in blocking any release of these emails,” Clinton campaign spokesperson Brian Fallon said in a statement. “This flies in the face of the fact that these emails were unmarked at the time they were sent, and have been called ‘innocuous’ by certain intelligence officials.”

While the State Department previously found sensitive information in emails on Clinton’s home servers, Friday’s announcement is the first time it has deemed such information “top secret.” The emails withheld from the public include a set of documents identified by the intelligence community’s inspector general as containing “special access” material, a highly-classified and more closely held subset of top secret information.

The FBI is investigating Clinton’s use of a private server to receive government emails. Her presidential campaign has consistently argued that emails deemed to contain classified information had not been labeled as such when they were sent.

That’s a claim Kirby backed Friday. “These documents were not marked classified at the time they were sent,” Kirby said.

That rather confusing distinction — that classified information was at one point not classified — speaks to the public relations quandary facing Clinton’s campaign. Classified information stored on her home servers could conceivably include news reports about top secret government programs. A New York Times article on CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, for example, could conceivably include information that the State Department decides is classified. Its presence on Clinton’s email could serve as the basis for the intelligence community’s judgment that her email contained information classified at the very highest levels.

“Just because something is in the public domain doesn’t mean that it isn’t classified,” Kirby said Friday.

It’s not clear what classified content was in the 22 emails that State deemed top secret. The difficulty of explaining the bureaucratic mechanisms behind classification decisions represents one reason why the Clinton campaign has been unable to squash a scandal that so far has produced no concrete evidence of wrongdoing.

In responding to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Vice reporter Jason Leopold, the State Department has been gradually releasing Clinton’s emails from her private server. The department reviewed 55,000 pages of information, and is set to release the latest tranche of emails later Friday evening.

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

 Twitter: @EliasGroll

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