Saturday, July 9, 2016



The truth behind the rhetoric

What we now know about Clinton's emails and the FBI investigation

This week, FBI Director James Comey took an unusual step of commenting publicly about his agency’s decision not to recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server.

Clinton has said all along that she did not send or receive classified materials on her email. Often, she specified that she “did not send nor receive any material that was marked or designated classified.” We initially awarded Two Pinocchios to this claim in August 2015, finding that her very careful and legalistic phrasing raised suspicions. Specifically, her claim that she did not receive “marked or designated” classified left open the possibility of receiving classified information that was not correctly marked.

Comey announced this week that there were 110 emails found “to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received” — a contradiction to Clinton’s earlier wording. Moreover, Comey said: “Separately, it is important to say something about the marking of classified information. Only a very small number of the e-mails containing classified information bore markings indicating the presence of classified information. But even if information is not marked ‘classified’ in an e-mail, participants who know or should know that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it.”

During a House hearing this week, Comey clarified the “very small number” turned out to be three emails, which carried “portion markings where you’re obligated, when something is classified, to put a marking on that paragraph.” It is possible that Clinton was not “technically sophisticated” enough to understood what that marking meant, Comey said, but said a government official should be attentive to such a marking. He added that it is “not accurate to say that she did not send or receive classified (information).”

In light of the new information, we updated our rating to Four Pinocchios.

Clinton’s claim she used personal email out of ‘convenience,’ and it ‘was allowed’

In response to many reader requests, we took a renewed look at a claim from Clinton’s initial, March 2015 news conference: “First, when I got to work as Secretary of State, I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two.”

Convenience certainly may have been a factor — she told the FBI as such, we learned this week. But email communications released since then show that on at least two separate occasions in her tenure, she was open to carrying two devices or having two separate email accounts — especially when her use of personal email led to communications breakdowns with her staff. These details show there was more happening than Clinton explained in this statement, and it makes her convenience excuse less credible.

The second part of the claim is clearly problematic. She said using her personal email account “was allowed by the State Department.” But the May 2016 State Department Office of Inspector General report makes it clear that Clinton never cleared her use of her private email on a private server even though she had an obligation to do so. The report also says the department would not have approved it had she asked. So her statement was quite misleading. We awarded Three Pinocchios.

Clinton case = Petraeus case? Nope.

Donald Trump repeated the Two-Pinocchio claim comparing the Clinton private email case with that of Gen. David Petraeus, the former CIA director who pleaded guilty last year to mishandling classified information he gave to Paula Broadwell, his mistress and biographer.

It’s easy to say that the Petraeus and Clinton cases are alike, because they both involve how a high-level government official handled information that was, or potentially was, classified. One can also argue it’s a question of judgment or transparency.

But they’re not really the same. Petraeus knew he wasn’t supposed to divulge highly classified information — but he did it anyway, to his biographer (a.k.a., someone who will write his story to be consumed by the public). And then when he got caught, he lied about it to the FBI. Petraeus pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information.

Comey said Clinton and her aides “were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” But investigators didn’t find the combination of clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information, obstruction of justice or vast quantities of exposed classified information that suggest intentional misconduct.

Is there any truth that Petraeus “got in trouble for far less” than Clinton, as Trump suggests? “No, it’s the reverse,” Comey said.

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