'Top Secret' Email Revelation Changes 'Nothing,' Clinton Says

Jan 20, 2016
Originally published on January 22, 2016 4:46 pm

Hillary Clinton dismissed a report that emails she sent on her private email server contained a high level of classified material.

Speaking to NPR's Ari Shapiro in San Antonio on Wednesday, the Democratic presidential candidate continued to maintain that she "never sent or received any material marked classified" while at the State Department "and that hasn't changed in all of these months."

According to a Fox News report Tuesday, more emails that went through Clinton's private email server than previously reported were classified beyond the "Top Secret" classification level, according to a letter sent to lawmakers from the Intelligence Community inspector general.

The former secretary of state said the claim was a "continuation of an interagency dispute that has been going on now for some months."

"As the State Department has confirmed, I never sent or received any material marked classified, and that hasn't changed in all of these months," she maintained. "This, seems to me, to be, you know, another effort to inject this into the campaign. It's another leak."

In response to the earlier Fox News report, the Republican National Committee said Clinton's email server issue "has taken on an entirely new level of recklessness."

"The revelation that Clinton exposed intelligence from our most secretive and highly classified programs raises serious legal questions given the fact she signed non-disclosure agreements obligating her to protect classified information regardless of whether it was marked," said RNC spokesman Michael Short.

Clinton added, "I'm just going to leave it up to the professionals at the Justice Department, because nothing that this says changes the fact that I never sent or received material marked classified."

She said "the best we can determine" is that the emails in question were a forward of a New York Times article on a classified drone program and that they had likely been retroactively classified.

"How a New York Times public article that goes around the world could be in any way viewed as classified, or the fact that it would be sent to other people off of the New York Times site, I think, is one of the difficulties that people have in understanding what this is about," Clinton said.

Though the drone program was classified at the time, it was being written about publicly, which Clinton said, "strikes me as somewhat strange that there would be a — an effort by those who are leaking this — and obviously that's what's happening — to try to raise concerns and doubts about information in the public sector."

She added, "But even if they have retroactive concerns and doubts, that doesn't change the fact that these were not marked classified at the time they were sent or received."

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ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Hillary Clinton was here this morning for a fundraiser less than two weeks before people in Iowa cast the first votes in the 2016 presidential race. In an ornate hotel ballroom, I sat down with the former secretary of state for a wide-ranging interview, and we began with a story that broke last night about the private email server she used during her time at the state department. The inspector general for the intelligence community sent a letter to lawmakers, saying some emails on that server were classified at a level above top secret. I asked Secretary Clinton - can you give us anymore details about how many emails there were, what they were about, whether they were sent or received by you?

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me say that this is the continuation of an interagency dispute that has been going on now for some months. As the State Department has confirmed, I never sent or received any material marked classified, and that hasn't changed in all of these months. And the Department of Justice is doing an inquiry to determine whether there were any issues around the email uses that I had.

This seems to me to be, you know, another effort to inject this into the campaign. It's another leak. I'm just going to leave it up to the professionals at the Justice Department because nothing that this says changes the fact that I never sent or received material marked classified.

SHAPIRO: Just so listeners can understand, then, you're saying that the designation above top secret was applied after you sent or received these emails, or...

CLINTON: Well, it's difficult to know because the best we can determine is that it's likely what they are referring to is the forwarding of a New York Times article. How a New York Times public article that goes around the world could be in any way viewed as classified or the fact that it would be sent to other people off of the New York Times site, I think, is one of the difficulties that people have in understanding what this is about. So again, I just reiterate, I never sent or received anything marked classified. I did perhaps receive some New York Times articles.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about the Supreme Court and the Court's announcement yesterday that it will review President Obama's executive action on immigration which would suspend deportation for millions of people. Now, you've said that you would like to go farther than the Obama administration. If the Supreme Court strikes down this program as overreach, as president, what would your next step be?

CLINTON: Well, first, Ari, let me say that I believe the President has acted within his legal authority. And I think that's a very important point to make to your listeners. We have a long tradition of giving the executive branch the discretion to make decisions about everything from criminal justice to immigration, detention and extradition and deportation. So what the president basically has said is rather than having just blanket rules where we're going to be deporting on the same basis a young person brought here as a toddler who is now in high school, wanting to go to college, has lived his or her whole life here, one of the dreamers or those dreamer's parents, we're going to focus on the felons, the violent criminals, the people who should be deported. And I think the president has the authority to do that. I think there is precedent because other presidents have also exercised discretion.

SHAPIRO: And if the Supreme Court disagrees and you become president, what is your next step?

CLINTON: We would, of course, look at what the Supreme Court said. And then I would get to work on trying to figure out what it actually meant and how it would be applied in practice. And I would still be committed to doing everything I could to protect those hard-working immigrants who are here making a contribution to our country.

SHAPIRO: Now, by the time the next president takes office, there will be three Supreme Court justices in their 80s. What criteria would you use if you have the opportunity to choose Supreme Court justices? Bernie Sanders has said he would have a litmus test. Anybody he would nominate would have to commit to overturning the Citizens United campaign finance decision. Would you have a litmus test? What would your criteria be?

CLINTON: Well, I believe strongly that we need Supreme Court justices who truly understand the impact of their decisions. And I think some of the recent decision - Citizens United being one, voting rights being others, the extension of more and more rights to corporations vis-a-vis real people - I think has created some unintended consequences. So I would want somebody who understands when you blow open the door and say money is speech and you have a, in my view, somewhat misguided hope that all of the money that would then be pouring into our political system would be disclosed in real-time - which, of course, it is not - that you would have someone who has an experience as a lawyer, as a judge in the real world who would say, hey, wait a minute; that really undermines and corrupts our political system.

SHAPIRO: So is that yes to a Citizens United litmus test?

CLINTON: Absolutely. But it's broader than that. It's not just Citizens United, Ari. Let's take voting rights. I was in the Senate when we voted 98 to nothing to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act. President George W. Bush signed it. And we did that because there was substantial evidence that a lot of the discrimination that, unfortunately, was part of our voting that we addressed with the Voting Rights Act in the '60s was still a problem in some parts of our country. The folks who didn't agree with that appealed it, took a challenge to it to Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court really gutted the Voting Rights Act. And their argument, again, in my view, was fundamentally naive. So I'm looking for people who understand the way the real world works.

SHAPIRO: Secretary Clinton, we're talking to you 12 days before the Iowa caucuses, where the polls are much closer than your campaign would prefer.

CLINTON: (Laughter) That's always true if you're in a very competitive race.

SHAPIRO: And your campaign has started waging some very pointed attacks on Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Yesterday, a group of national security veterans - former national security officials - put out a letter attacking Sanders on foreign policy and specifically on Iran. Part of the letter says, we need a commander-in-chief who knows how to protect America and our allies and advance our interests and values around the world. Are you suggesting that Sanders is not qualified to be commander-in-chief?

CLINTON: Well, Ari, in a campaign that is as spirited as ours, we owe it to voters to draw contrasts. Certainly Senator Sanders has been drawing lots of contrasts for quite some time, which, it won't surprise you to hear me say, I think are not particularly well-founded. But from my perspective, you are picking a president and a commander-in-chief. And in some of the comments that Senator Sanders has been making, there is room for disagreement and even concern.

Take his comments about Iran. Senator Sanders has said he'd like to see Iranian troops in Syria. I think that would be a terrible mistake. Syria's on the doorstep of Israel - just among one of the reasons why it would be. He has said he wants to see Saudi Arabia and Iran work together in a coalition to defeat ISIS. Well, you know, we're having a very big flare-up of tension between two longtime adversaries, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Either he didn't understand that or thought that he could get away with saying what he said.

SHAPIRO: And...

CLINTON: And thirdly, let me say this. I think that when he said, in the debate the other night, that he would favor normalizing relations with Iran, that too was a fundamental misunderstanding of what it takes to do the patient diplomacy that I have experience in to be able to continue to change behavior or at least to mitigate against behavior by Iran. President Obama doesn't believe we should be moving to normalize relations with Iran. Neither do I.

SHAPIRO: That's Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. You'll hear more of my interview with her elsewhere in the program, where we talk about the tightening race in Iowa against Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.