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FBI investigating whether classified Clinton email was compromised

Hillary Clinton's lawyer has confirmed that the FBI is looking into the security of classified emails, sent while she was secretary of state, that were once stored on a private server. The former senator and first lady has not been accused of any wrongdoing by authorities so far. Gwen Ifill learns more from Carol Leonnig, who helped break the story for The Washington Post.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Surrounding the e-mails Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sent while serving as secretary of state, Clinton's lawyer has confirmed the FBI is looking into the security of classified e-mails once stored on a private server.

    The questions first arose last summer, when State Department lawyers needed access to information about the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. Clinton herself has called for the State Department to release her e-mails to the public. A campaign spokesman said in a statement that she didn't send nor receive any e-mails that were marked classified at the time. The former senator and first lady has not been accused of any personal wrongdoing by authorities.

    Carol Leonnig helped break the story for The Washington Post and she joins me now.

    So, exactly what is the FBI investigating, Carol?

  • CAROL LEONNIG, The Washington Post:

    So the FBI and agents who are working on this are — is looking at how secure the copies, electronic, digital, paper, how secure copies of that — of those e-mails are to make sure they don't fall in the wrong hands.

    Now that we know that inspectors general at two agencies found classified material in some of the e-mails that went to Hillary's server, Mrs. Clinton's server, and from it, now that we know that, the FBI is concerned about whether or not some of that information could be compromised.

    Now, there are two places this is information is currently stored that we know of, one, in — on a thumb drive, rather, of Hillary Clinton's lawyer, David Kendall, in Washington. He has said he has electronic copies of all 30,000 e-mails that former Secretary of State Clinton sent during her time in the department, and that he's keeping them so that he can respond to congressional inquiries.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now, there is a distinction to be drawn in this investigation between what was on public servers, what was on the private servers we're talking about here, and what's classified, what is considered to be classified information and what's considered to be sensitive information. Can you sort that out for us?

  • CAROL LEONNIG:

    Yes, and it's the subject of a huge dispute in many different ways.

    For example, the State Department and the intelligence community have differences of opinion about what material is classified within the e-mails that they are reviewing of former Secretary Clinton. Remember, this all came to pass because of revelations that Mrs. Clinton had exclusively used a private e-mail server, a private e-mail address for her work business, and that she had sent — set up a private e-mail server at her home to handle those e-mails.

    Critics say that has put this information sort of out of the government's reach, to a degree. Anyway, back to the classified issue, there are disagreements about what material is classified. And this is why both the inspector general for the intelligence community and the inspector general for the State Department have asked the FBI to look at this matter and determine whether this material is secure and to make sure that no classified information has been compromised.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, one of the things that's interesting in this, Carol, is the Clinton campaign response, which is that she didn't send any e-mails that were classified at the time, their words, at the time.

    Does that mean that — is that leaving room for the possibility that there were some e-mails, some communication that was later deemed to be classified, that she unwittingly sent?

  • CAROL LEONNIG:

    I think that this could be basically a debate about semantics and words.

    The inspectors general have already said publicly that the e-mails they have reviewed that they found classified information in were not stamped classified. There was no formal stamp saying this is what this is. But they have said that it was clearly information that was sensitive, of national security significance, material that should have been stamped classified and that senior government officials would presume was classified.

    Remember that, oftentimes, agency officials would have their e-mails reviewed for classification purposes after the fact or when they were being reviewed. And that doesn't seem to have been the case with Mrs. Clinton's e-mails because they were not being sent on a government server, and they were not on a government e-mail address.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Do we know whether any of the information that's been unearthed so far had anything to do with what started all of this, which was the Benghazi investigation?

  • CAROL LEONNIG:

    We have not seen copies of the e-mails.

    Remember, there are four to five of them so far of 40 that have been reviewed by the intelligence community and have been found to contain classified information. The intelligence community says that these five of the 40, or four of the 40, depending on which they label as classified, that this information in them came from defense and intelligence community agencies.

    So, again, whether it references Libya or Benghazi, that, I don't know.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Or whether it's embarrassing or criminal, that's what we're waiting to see as it unfolds.

    Carol Leonnig of The Washington Post, thank you very much.

  • CAROL LEONNIG:

    Thank you, Gwen.

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