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Hillary Clinton Ordered an Aide to Communicate on a Non-Secure Channel

When a secure fax line malfunctioned, the then-Secretary of State may have taken a shortcut that could have violated the law.
January 8, 2016, 10:55pm

The latest release of Hillary Clinton's emails during her time as Secretary of State reveals that she directed a top aide to send her sensitive information over a non-secure fax line, and scrub the document of its "identifying heading."

Since much of the exchange is redacted, it's not clear if the document contained classified information or not. On Friday the State Department claimed that the aide didn't follow through on the request, and that the information was never delivered through the non-secure channel.

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Clinton's request was revealed late Thursday night, among 3,000 other newly released pages of correspondence, as part of an ongoing dump of the emails she sent and received as Secretary of State. The disclosure is a response to a FOIA lawsuit filed against the State Department by VICE News.

In one email exchange dated June 2011, Clinton instructed her top policy advisor Jacob Sullivan to send her talking points —  which were scheduled to be forwarded over the State Department's secured network — over a non-secure fax line. Sullivan reported a problem with the State Department's secure transmission system, so Clinton told him to wipe off any "identifying heading" and send it over using a regular fax line.

The "nonpaper" Clinton refers to is a term commonly used in diplomatic and international organization circles, indicating a document that does not reflect the offiicial position of the entity that produced it. Nonpapers are often circulated within international bodies as tools for discussion.

On Friday, the State Department faced a barrage of questions about the propriety of that order. "We did do some forensics on that and found no evidence it was actually emailed to her," State Department Spokesperson Kirby said at a daily news briefing on Friday. "There are other ways it could have found its way to her for her use."

The State Department would not comment on whether Clinton had ordered her staff to send classified information over a nonsecure channel. "Just because something, a document, is on a classified system doesn't necessarily make the document, the content, necessarily classified," Kirby said. The State Department did not respond to questions from VICE News to clarify the content of the document, or why Clinton ordered her staffer to remove the "identifying heading."

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Clinton's campaign denied that she'd directed her staff to do anything improper. "It is false that Hillary Clinton asked for classified material to be sent over a nonsecure system," her spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement.

As Secretary of State, Clinton used a private email server to conduct official business, and the FBI is currently conducting an investigation into the security of those communications. Though Clinton claims that none of the emails she received on that private server were marked classified, at least 1,340 of those emails have since been marked classified retroactively, according to the State Department's own tally.

In response to the latest release of emails — and the revelations about Clinton's directions to Sullivan — Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, released a statement criticizing the State Department's handling of the case:

"It raises a host of serious questions and underscores the importance of the various inquiries into the transmittal of classified information through her non-government email server," he said. "How long has the State Department been aware of this email? Why is it just now being released? Was her instruction actually carried out? If so, has the FBI opened a criminal inquiry into these circumstances?"

In a separate email chain released on Thursday, Clinton appears to criticize one of her staffers for using a private email address to conduct government business — something she herself was doing at that very moment.

After Clinton received a report from State Department analyst John Godfrey about Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi, she wrote back: "I was surprised that he used personal email account if he is at State."

The late-night document dump on Thursday came a day after its own Inspector General criticized State for its "inaccurate and incomplete" responses to public records requests during Clinton's tenure.