Hillary Clinton Continues Deceptive Narrative on Email Scandal

Our fact-check on Secretary Clinton’s false claims.

PC: MSNBC (Screenshot)

Earlier today at the NABJ/NAHJ convention, Secretary Clinton answered questions from the press about her emails for the first time in over 200 days. It was a rare showing of openness to the press; the Clinton campaign has been notoriously difficult to access (campaign strategist Joel Benenson’s outburst on ABC News — “We’ll have a press conference when we want to have a press conference” — comes to mind).

When confronted about her handling of emails on her private server as Secretary of State, however, Secretary Clinton went beyond artfully avoiding having to admit wrongdoing or responsibility for her mistakes. She stretched the truth, doubling down on false claims about Director Comey’s testimony regarding her use of a private email server.

Here’s our fact-check.


Secretary Clinton’s claims

Let’s go through the transcript of Secretary Clinton’s comments today, provided to us by LexisNexis:

REPORTER: Are you mischaracterizing Director Comey’s testimony, and is this not undercutting your efforts to rebuild trust with the American people?
CLINTON: Well Chris, I appreciate your asking that because, I was pointing out, in both of those instances, that Director Comey has said that my answers, in my FBI interview, were truthful — that’s really the bottom line here. And, I have said, during the interview, and in many other occasions over the last months, that what I told the FBI — which, he said, was truthful — was consistent with what I have said publicly. So I may have short-circuited, and for that, I will try to clarify because I think Chris Wallace and I were probably talking past each other, because of course he could only talk to what I had told the FBI, and I appreciated that. Now, I have acknowledged repeatedly that using two email accounts was a mistake, and I take responsibility for that. But I do think, you know, having him say that my answers to the FBI were truthful, and I should quickly add, what I said was consistent with what I had said publicly, and that’s really, sort of, in my view, trying to tie both ends together.
REPORTER: Isn’t the one inconsistency, though, that you said you never sent or received classified material, and he did say there were three emails that were marked classified at the time… is that an inconsistency?
CLINTON: Well, here are the facts behind that, as well — you know that I sent over 30,000 emails to the State Department that were work-related emails. Director Comey said that only three out of 30,000 had anything resembling classified markers. Well, what does that mean? That means usually, if any of you have ever served in the government, a classified document has a big heading on the top, which makes very clear what the classification is. And, in questioning, Director Comey made the point that the three emails, out of the 30,000, did not have the appropriate markings, and it was therefore reasonable to conclude that anyone, including myself, uh, would have not suspected that they were classified. And, in fact, I think that has been discussed by others, who have said that two out of those three were explained by the State Department not to have been in any way confidential at the time they were delivered. So, that leaves the 100 out of 30,000 emails, that Director Comey testified contained classified information, but he acknowledged there were no markings on those 100 emails. And, so, what we have here is pretty much what I have been saying throughout this whole year, and that is that I never sent or received any information that was marked classified. Now, if in retrospect — which is behind the 100 number — if, in retrospect, some different agency said ‘but it should have been,’ but it wasn’t, that’s where the debate has been. But, Director Comey said there was absolutely no intention on my part to either ignore, or in any way dismiss the importance of those documents, because they weren’t marked classified, so that would have been hard to do, and I will go back to where I started: I regret using one account, I’ve taken responsibility for that, but I’m pleased to be able to clarify and explain what I think the bottom line is on this.

Whew. That’s a doozy of a statement.

Let’s break this down.


CLINTON: Well Chris, I appreciate your asking that because, I was pointing out, in both of those instances, that Director Comey has said that my answers, in my FBI interview, were truthful — that’s really the bottom line here.

This statement is only partially true. Comey did literally state “We have no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI,” but at no point in the hearing did he state that what she said was truthful; when asked that directly, he refused to comment.

CLINTON: And, I have said, during the interview, and in many other occasions over the last months, that what I told the FBI — which, he said, was truthful — was consistent with what I have said publicly.

This statement is not true. FBI Director Comey never said that Clinton’s public answers were truthful; the Washington Post Fact-Checker elaborates on this in their “four pinocchios” ruling deeming a similar claim false earlier in the week:

“While Comey did say there was no evidence she lied to the FBI, this is not the same as saying she told the truth to the American public — which was the point of Wallace’s question. Comey has repeatedly not taken a stand on her public statements. And although Comey did say many emails were retroactively classified, he also said that there were some emails that were already classified that should not have been sent on an unclassified, private server. That’s the uncomfortable truth that Clinton has trouble admitting.”

Clinton can’t claim that Comey vindicated her public statements if he refused to make a statement on them.

CLINTON: Now, I have acknowledged repeatedly that using two email accounts was a mistake, and I take responsibility for that. But I do think, you know, having him say that my answers to the FBI were truthful, and I should quickly add, what I said was consistent with what I had said publicly, and that’s really, sort of, in my view, trying to tie both ends together.

Again, not true. But it’s worth noting as well that she’s using a lawyerly turn of phrase to dodge giving a clear answer. This issue of possible inconsistencies between what she said in her FBI interview and how she has publicly addressed questions about her emails arose after an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. He questioned her about whether or not she was dishonest to the American public, and in that interview she hid behind her claims that Comey vindicated her. She dug her own hole here.

CLINTON: Well, here are the facts behind that, as well — you know that I sent over 30,000 emails to the State Department that were work-related emails. Director Comey said that only three out of 30,000 had anything resembling classified markers. Well, what does that mean? That means usually, if any of you have ever served in the government, a classified document has a big heading on the top, which makes very clear what the classification is. And, in questioning, Director Comey made the point that the three emails, out of the 30,000, did not have the appropriate markings, and it was therefore reasonable to conclude that anyone, including myself, uh, would have not suspected that they were classified. And, in fact, I think that has been discussed by others, who have said that two out of those three were explained by the State Department not to have been in any way confidential at the time they were delivered.

This statement is technically untrue, and probably dishonest. This is an issue of semantics, so let’s be clear: it isn’t true that only three of 30,000 had classified markers. As The Guardian’s David Smith reported on July 5:

“Of 30,000 of Clinton’s emails, 110 emails in 52 chains contained classified information when they were sent or received. This contradicts statements she has made over the past year, including in a July interview, when she said: ‘I never received nor sent any material that was marked classified.’”

What is true is that only three of 30,000 had confidential markers. Classified materials range in type, from “top secret,” to “secret,” to the highest level of classification, “confidential.” However, her original statement at the UN referred to not sending “classified” material; her subsequent statements referred to “classified” material; in her interview with Chris Wallace, she referred to “classified” material. In other words, she has repeatedly misused the word “classified” to use a statistic that vastly underestimates the level of carelessness that she and her staff exhibited regarding the use of classified material.

Let’s look at Comey’s statement again:

“Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”

While it is true that if we switch the word “classified” with “confidential” in her statement it becomes technically true, Secretary Clinton, in this interview and in others, has continued to downplay any responsibility for her conduct and make the claim that Comey vindicated her. He did not, and Secretary Clinton has ignored his core claim — that while what she did wasn’t illegal, it was definitely careless.

CLINTON: And, so, what we have here is pretty much what I have been saying throughout this whole year, and that is that I never sent or received any information that was marked classified.

Nope, using the aforementioned evidence.

CLINTON: Now, if in retrospect — which is behind the 100 number — if, in retrospect, some different agency said ‘but it should have been,’ but it wasn’t, that’s where the debate has been.

This statement is technically true. It is true that over 2,000 emails were deemed classified AFTER Secretary Clinton had sent them, and true that the media jumped on that statistic, running with headlines that made it seem like Secretary Clinton had sent 2,000 emails with classified material knowingly. However, this is totally irrelevant to the question she was asked. Secretary Clinton was being asked about her statements to the public — and Comey’s statement clarified that while post-classification had exaggerated the headline, she still exhibited carelessness in her handling of classified material.

CLINTON: But, Director Comey said there was absolutely no intention on my part to either ignore, or in any way dismiss the importance of those documents, because they weren’t marked classified, so that would have been hard to do, and I will go back to where I started: I regret using one account, I’ve taken responsibility for that, but I’m pleased to be able to clarify and explain what I think the bottom line is on this.

This statement is technically true, but it dodges the question asked. Remember: this question was about her public statements. She steered her answer towards the 2,000 emails deemed classified after they were sent or received, and not the 110 emails marked classified beforehand that Director Comey concluded had been mishandled. Comey’s statement indicated that there was extreme carelessness on her part, and that she did dismiss the importance of those documents regardless of their classification. It’s a lawyerly dodge; she answered a question different than the one she was asked so that her answer would be true, but also easily mistakable for a different answer and irrelevant to the question asked.


The Bottom Line

Hillary Clinton has been openly asking the American people, in interview after interview, why she’s found to be untrustworthy. Hillary continually claims that her reputation is the result of right-wing attacks, and magazines like Cosmopolitan publish articles posing questions like “Do You Really Not Like Hillary Clinton, or Are You Just Sexist?” proliferating the assumption that none of this is her own doing.

But here’s the reality: many people don’t trust Hillary Clinton because, time and time again, she shows that the American people can’t just take her at her word. I happen to personally view the ‘email scandal’ as a dumb, overhyped issue — but she did make a number of statements that were incorrect, and then doubled down on those statements afterwards.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what she did today.

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