The latest release of roughly 6,300 more pages of emails is just the latest installment of a prolonged disclosure process that has proved to be painful for Clinton’s presidential campaign. The roiling controversy has opened up the Democratic front-runner to accusations that she was trying to dodge public records rules and that she put sensitive material at risk — allegations Clinton denies.
Wednesday’s release marks the first time the State Department itself has deemed messages in Clinton’s account to warrant protection at the SECRET level — the middle tier of the national security classification system. State earlier classified one Benghazi-related message SECRET, but did so at the request of the FBI.
Two of the just-released SECRET emails pertain to talks about the Iranian nuclear program, conducted by a group of nations referred to as the P5+1. The messages are from January 21 and 22, 2011 and were forwarded to Clinton’s private account by Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan, who now serves as policy director on Clinton’s presidential campaign.
The substance of the two emails was redacted from the public release, but the subject lines identify the messages as summaries of the nuclear talks underway in Istanbul, Turkey. A State Department spokesman said that message, and the others deemed classified, were not marked as such when they were sent to Sullivan by other State officials.
Republicans and some security experts have said the forwarding of such sensitive messages to Clinton’s private account risked national security and made them vulnerable to interception and hacking. Aides to Clinton’s presidential campaign have argued that classified messages are not supposed to be on unclassified systems, either in or out of government, so the former secretary’s reliance on a private account is irrelevant to that issue.
The other message deemed “SECRET” in Wednesday’s release is only classified in a technical sense. The document, forwarded to Clinton by Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin, is a transcript of a June 15, 2008 Mideast peace negotiating session between the U.S., Israel and Palestinian officials. The transcript was obtained from anonymous sources by Al Jazeera in 2011 and published on the news outlet’s website.
It appears Abedin, now the vice chairwoman of Clinton’s campaign, got the transcript from State officials who downloaded it off the Internet and were debating how to respond to the leak. The decision to later classify the document may reflect the fact that the U.S. government has never formally acknowledged the accuracy of the slew of Mideast peace process-related documents Al Jazeera posted.