Classified Emails at Home: What Could Go Wrong?

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President Bill Clinton had a problem. One of his most senior national security officials, John Deutch, had been discovered working on classified materials at home. The administration acted quickly, forcing the CIA director out of his job and launching several intensive investigations. Ultimately, the Department of Justice declined to prosecute, but the administration handed out other, unprecedented punishments. Deutch was not only tossed out of office, he was stripped of his security clearance “for violating government rules by working with classified material on an unsecured computer at his home.”

It was a humiliating blow for a top adviser. For the Clinton administration, it was a high-profile scandal.  “The unprecedented action against a widely respected and still powerful former official comes at a time of heightened concern over foreign espionage and the handling of classified information,” the Washington Post reported. Suspending Deutch’s security clearance “was clearly intended as a signal that the federal government, and the CIA in particular, is determined to tighten security.”

Having watched that train wreck, Hillary Clinton has climbed aboard the same locomotive and sped into the same dangerous curve. Yes, she grudgingly admitted, she used a private email server while she was secretary of state. But she went on to make four crucial assurances.

1) She never held any classified materials on the server.

2) She has turned over all work-related documents to the State Department. She excluded only personal items such as “yoga appointments” and “Chelsea’s wedding arrangements.”

3) She used the private server only for convenience, not to obscure public business or evade Freedom of Information laws.

4) The server was completely secure and no one hacked it.

The two main questions are: Was she telling the truth? Will those answers hold up as a political strategy? As an experienced politician, she hopes to wait it out. When the general election rolls around, she can wave it off as old news.

Whether that works depends on whether Hillary’s four assurances unravel. Right now, the damaging evidence is slowly accumulating. Some discrepancies are deeply disturbing.

One is that, despite Clinton’s assurances, she had multiple classified documents on her private server. We know that only because a federal judge required the State Department to begin releasing documents Clinton turned over. On Wednesday, a State Department spokesman told Fox News it would not release some 25 emails (as part of its first batch) because it had determined they were classified.

That should be major news since that contradicts Clinton’s straightforward statements.  Aside from Fox, however, no major news outlet has deemed it newsworthy. Not ABC, CBS, NBC, or PBS. Not the New York Times or the Washington Post.

We also know that Clinton did not turn over all work-related emails. That news dribbled out when the House Benghazi Committee required Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal to turn over his correspondence with the secretary of state. It included some emails Clinton had not given to the State Department. The gap is not huge and may simply be an oversight. But the mere fact it exists is a problem. It’s like having four extra nuts and bolts after you finish assembling an Ikea bookcase. Not good. You wonder if that sucker will collapse when you put any weight on it.

Clinton has not explained the discrepancy. Nor has she walked back her false statement that Blumenthal’s emails were unsolicited. The documents show she asked for them and that the Clinton family complex of nonprofit organizations was paying Blumenthal, evading the White House’s instruction that Clinton not hire Blumenthal at State.

Mind you, we only know about the classified materials that Clinton has turned over to the State Department. We have no idea what she didn’t turn over. She won’t let any third party check, and that includes the State Department. One obvious problem is there are crucial months where Clinton says there were no emails at all. Yet there are photographs of her texting and emailing during this period.

The documents also show Clinton used several electronic devices and several email addresses. That crushes her explanation that she only used a private server because it would be “inconvenient” to use more than one device or email address (the government’s for business, a home server for personal).

We also know the White House was aware Clinton was coloring outside the lines. Their rules required everyone in the administration to use government servers for business. Yet White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and senior advisor David Axelrod had to ask for Clinton’s private email address.  Did anyone in the White House try to curb the abuse?

Finally, in this age of ubiquitous hacking, who else has read Clinton’s emails? It’s not just the classified emails that matter here. All work-related emails offer valuable insights into U.S. policy and policymaking. Has someone, somewhere in Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, Pyongyang, Berlin, Ankara, Paris, or Havana read this stuff? Hacking a private server should be easier than getting the personnel records for every single government employee, something China has already accomplished. If foreign intelligence services didn’t crack CompuClinton, they are simply incompetent. They ought to be working for Acme Dial-Up Modems, not cyber-intelligence. 

Having sensitive materials in vulnerable locations is why Clinton CIA chief John Deutch was forced to leave his post and stripped of his security clearance. It is why former CIA chief David Petraeus pled guilty to “mishandling classified materials,” which he gave to his mistress.

Those scandals are dwarfed by a private server stuffed with top-level materials and still not scoured by government experts. Of course, it might be all about yoga. After all, Clinton has been very flexible with the truth.

RCP contributor Charles Lipson is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, where he is founding director of PIPES, the Program on International Politics, Economics, and Security. He blogs at and can be reached at

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