WASHINGTON — Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton received information on her private email account about the deadly attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi that was later classified “secret” at the request of the FBI, underscoring lingering questions about how responsibly she handled sensitive information on a home server.
The nearly 900 pages of her correspondence released Friday are only a sliver of the more than 55,000 pages of emails Clinton has turned over to the State Department, which had its plan to release them next January rejected this week by a federal judge.
Instead, the judge ordered the agency to conduct a “rolling production” of the records. Along with a Republican-led House committee investigating the Benghazi attacks, the slow drip of emails will likely keep the issue of how Clinton, the front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, used a personal email account while serving as the nation’s top diplomat alive indefinitely.
Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said that the released emails were incomplete, adding that it “strains credibility” to view them as a thorough record of Clinton’s tenure.
The prospect for political complication in Clinton’s choice to use a personal email account, rather than one issued by the government, was evident in the messages released Friday. They included several that were deemed sensitive but unclassified, contained details about her daily schedule and held information – censored in the documents as released – about the CIA that the government is barred from publicly disclosing.
Taken together, the correspondence provides examples of material considered to be sensitive that Clinton received on the account run out of her home. She has said the private server had “numerous safeguards.”
Campaigning in New Hampshire, Clinton said Friday she was aware that the FBI now wanted some of the email to be classified, “but that doesn’t change the fact all of the information in the emails was handled appropriately.”
Asked if she was concerned it was on a private server, she replied, “No.”
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said, “It was not classified at the time. The occurrence of subsequent upgrade does not mean anyone did anything wrong.”
It’s not clear if Clinton’s home computer system used encryption software to communicate securely with government email services. That would have protected her communications from the prying eyes of foreign spies, hackers, or anyone interested on the Internet.
Last year, Clinton gave the State Department 55,000 pages of emails that she said pertained to her work as secretary sent from her personal address. Only messages related to the 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were released by the department on Friday. The 296 emails had already been turned over to the House Benghazi committee.
A Nov. 18, 2012, message about arrests in Libya was not classified at the time, meaning no laws were violated, but was upgraded from “unclassified” to “secret” on Friday at the request of the FBI to redact information that could contain information damaging to national security or foreign relations.
Twenty-three words were redacted from the message, which detailed reports of arrests in Libya of people who might have connections to the attack, Harf said.
The redacted portion appears to relate to people who provided information about the alleged suspects to the Libyans. That part of the email had been categorized by the State Department as “NOFORN,” meaning that foreign nationals weren’t allowed to read it, including close U.S. allies.
The message, originally from Bill Roebuck, then director of the Office of Maghreb Affairs, was forwarded to Clinton by her deputy chief of staff, Jake Sullivan, with the comment: “fyi.”
No other redactions were made to the collection of Benghazi-related emails for classification reasons, officials said. They added that the Justice Department had not raised classification concerns about the now-redacted 1 1/2 lines in the Nov. 18 email when the documents were turned over to the Benghazi committee. The committee retains an unredacted copy of the email, the officials said.
Clinton also appeared to send and receive protected information about the CIA, which was withheld on Friday because the State Department said federal law prevented its disclosure. The department did not offer a detailed description of what it was withholding, such as a name or other sensitive information.
A number of the messages were marked with codes indicating that the information had been censored for reasons related to the U.S. intelligence community, law enforcement or personal privacy – a process that happened after they’d already been circulated through Clinton’s home server.
Much of the correspondence concerned the mundane matters of high-level government service, press clippings, speech drafts, and coordination of calls with other top officials as well as chit-chat about shopping between Clinton and top aide Huma Abedin.
“What a wonderful, strong and moving statement by your boss,” Christian Brose, a top adviser to Sen. John McCain, writes in an email to Sullivan, forwarded to Clinton just after Stevens’ death. “Please tell her how much Sen. McCain appreciated it. Me too.”
There are repeated warnings of the unrest in Libya, though Clinton has said she was never personally involved in questions of security in Benghazi before the attack. One message describes a one-day trip by Stevens in March 2011 to “get a sense of the situation on the ground” and prepare for a 30-day stay in the future. A request for Defense Department support was made, the email adds, but no approval had yet been received. Stevens was killed in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012.
As early as April 2011, Clinton was forwarded a message sent to her staff that the situation in the country had worsened to the point “where Stevens is considering departure from Benghazi,” The email was marked “Importance: High.”