Investigators have discovered four emails containing what they say should have been marked classified information on the personal email account that Hillary Rodham Clinton used as secretary of state, the investigators said in a letter to Congress released Friday.
WASHINGTON — Government investigators said Friday that they had discovered classified information on the private email account that Hillary Rodham Clinton used while secretary of state, stating unequivocally that those secrets never should have been stored outside of secure government computer systems.
Clinton has said for months that she kept no classified information on the private server that she set up in her house so she would not have to carry both a personal phone and a work phone. Her campaign said Friday that any government secrets found on the server had been classified after the fact.
But the inspector generals of the State Department and the nation’s intelligence agencies said the information they found was classified when it was sent and remains so now.
Information is considered classified if its disclosure would likely harm national security, and such information can be sent or stored only on computer networks with special safeguards.
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“This classified information never should have been transmitted via an unclassified personal system,” Steve Linick, the State Department inspector general, said in a statement signed by him and I. Charles McCullough III, the inspector general for the intelligence community.
The findings by the two inspector generals raise new questions about Clinton’s use of her personal email at the State Department, a practice that since March has been criticized by Clinton’s Republican adversaries as well as advocates of open government, and has made some Democrats uneasy. Voters, however, do not appear swayed by the issue, according to polls.
In their joint statement, the inspector generals said the classified information had originated with the nation’s intelligence agencies, such as the CIA or National Security Agency. It is against the law for someone to receive a classified document or briefing and then summarize that information in an unclassified email.
The two investigators did not say whether Clinton sent or received the emails. If she received them, it is not clear that she would have known that they contained government secrets, since they were not marked classified. The inspector generals did not address whether they believed that Clinton should have known such information was not appropriate for her personal email.
Regardless, the disclosure is an example of an unforeseen consequence of Clinton’s unusual computer setup. Security experts have questioned whether her practice made government secrets more vulnerable to security risks and hacking.
Exactly how much classified information Clinton had on the server is unclear. Investigators said they searched a sample of 40 emails and found four that contained government secrets.
But McCullough said in a separate statement that although the State Department had granted limited access to its own inspector general, the department rejected McCullough’s request for access to the 30,000 emails that Clinton said were government-related and gave to the State Department.
Clinton’s lawyer, David Kendall, is “purported” to also have copies of the 30,000 emails on a thumb drive, according to McCullough.
Campaigning in New York on Friday, Clinton pledged to cooperate with inquiries into her emails but also said she would stay focused on the issues at the heart of her presidential campaign.
“We are all accountable to the American people to get the facts right, and I will do my part,” Clinton said. “But I’m also going to stay focused on the issues, particularly the big issues, that really matter to American families.”
The discovery of the four emails prompted McCullough to refer the matter to FBI counterintelligence agents.
On Thursday night and again Friday morning, the Justice Department referred to the matter as a “criminal referral,” but later Friday dropped the word “criminal.” The inspector generals said late Friday that it was a “security referral” intended to alert authorities that “classified information may exist on at least one private server and thumb drive that are not in the government’s possession.”