Hours before the State Department released its latest cache of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emails, a department spokesman revealed for the first time that dozens of her communications were deemed to be top-secret.
Of the roughly 1,000 pages of Clinton's emails posted to the State Department's website Friday evening — just half the number the department originally said it would post — 22 emails were "retroactively classified" and 18 emails exchanged between Clinton and President Barack Obama were withheld in their entirety, State Department spokesman John Kirby said at a press briefing Friday.
The material, which was not marked as classified at the time it was sent and received by Clinton on her private, unsecured server, was upgraded to top secret at the request of a team of reviewers from the intelligence community. The State Department has designated 1,582 of Clinton's emails classified and almost all has been classified at the "confidential" level. The top-secret classification means that if any of the information were disclosed it would cause "exceptionally grave" damage to national security.
When the allegation surfaced Friday afternoon, Clinton's campaign press secretary Brian Fallon vehemently denied the charge.
This is overclassification run amok. We adamently oppose the complete blocking of the release of these emails. — Brian Fallon (@brianefallon)January 29, 2016
At Friday's White House press briefing, press secretary Josh Earnest defended Clinton, telling reporters that allegations she sent or received classified information were untrue and that the claim was an attempt by the Democratic presidential candidate's detractors to damage her standing in the campaign.
"I know that Secretary Clinton and her team have said on a number of occasions that she neither sent nor received information on her private server that was stamped 'classified,'" Earnest said. "That is consistent with the proper handling of sensitive materials. In the context of a presidential campaign, people are going to have a whole bunch of reasons to criticize any of the candidates, so it's not surprising to me that there are certain political opponents of Secretary Clinton that are looking for a way to use this situation to criticize her. That's part of the process. And she and her team, I'm confident, will muster a robust defense."
Senator Dianne Feinstein also came to Clinton's aid Friday. The California Democrat and ranking minority member of the Senate Intelligence Committee asserted that none of the emails the State Department designated as top secret originated with Clinton.
"The only reason to hold Secretary Clinton responsible for emails that didn't originate with her is for political points, and that's what we've seen over the past several months," Feinstein said.
Both Feinstein and Earnest also erroneously claimed that Clinton's emails are being released voluntarily because Clinton tweeted last year that she wanted the State Department to release all of her communications. Clinton's emails are not being released because she asked State to do so. Instead, her emails were ordered released on a rolling monthly basis by a federal court judge in response to VICE News' Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, which was filed months before the New York Times revealed that Clinton exclusively used a private server to conduct official business.
The State Department has so far released 43,144 pages of Clinton's emails from her tenure as Secretary of State in response to VICE News's FOIA lawsuit. The final batch of emails, covering roughly 9,000 pages, were scheduled to be released Friday. However, in court documents the State Department requested a one-month extension to complete its production, citing its failure to scrutinize more than 7,000 pages to ensure they did not contain classified information as well as last weekend's snowstorm, which a government attorney said slowed down the review process.
With the Iowa Caucus a few days away, this is a critical juncture for Clinton. This last group of emails would have presumably covered many of the hot-button topics the Democratic presidential candidate worked on during her final days as the nation's top diplomat — the Arab Spring, North Korean nuclear testing, negotiations with Iran, chemical weapons in Syria — and would have likely offered important insights into how she handled these issues.
Instead, what was released Friday was a collection of fawning emails.
"If you get a chance — please tell HRC that she was a ROCK STAR yesterday," wrote Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, the White House coordinator for Defense Policy, Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Arms Control, in a January 24, 2013 email to Clinton advisor Jacob Sullivan. "Everything about her 'performance' was what makes her unique, beloved, and destined for even more greatness. She sets a standard that lesser mortals can only dream of emulating."
Sullivan, who is now the top foreign policy advisor to Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, forwarded it to her 90 minutes later.
A week earlier, Sullivan wrote to Clinton, reminding her of his good judgment.
"They've done a 'memo to the president' — a public report laying out their view of a second term agenda," he wrote. "It reads remarkably like the doc I sent you awhile back on maintaining American leadership."
Getting credit for policy foresight appears to have been top-of-mind for Clinton herself as well.
"Remind—didn't we, not the WH, first use the [term] 'pivot'?" she asked Sullivan in a May 14, 2012 email.
Another email in the cache was forwarded to Clinton aide Huma Abedin and advisor Philippe Reines by Tommy Vietor, then the White House's National Security Council spokesman. It was a sharply worded email Vietor sent to Peggy Noonan, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, objecting to Noonan's portrayal of an adversarial relationship between Obama and Clinton.
"I'm writing to strenuously object to your portrayal of Secretary Clinton in today's column. First, a little background about me. I spent the better part of my time on the Obama campaign working to defeat then Senator Clinton, so I'm no apologist or Hillaryland loyalist. But to be frank, in the first 6 months of this administration she has more than won me and the vast majority of this White House over with her tireless work," Vietor wrote. "Maybe I'm just naïve, but I do hope that at some point the relationship between President Obama and Secretary Clinton will no longer be viewed on purely adversarial and political terms. The notion that she has been shelved or sidelined because you see the President also speaking about foreign policy makes no sense."
A March 26, 2012 email to Clinton from her 2008 campaign advisor Mark Penn suggested he disagreed so much with the White House he thought she should consider resigning.
"This could be about the stupidest thing ever said by a president in foreign policy," Penn wrote. "To explicitly say that he is laying low on nuclear defense policies because of his election right now and tell your opponent that is to politicize all foreign policy, evidence weakness that can be exploited by others, and undermine the administration's credibility. This is one I'm glad I don't have to figure out how to retract but you will surely be asked if your decisions and positions are part of the election campaign and bat that down definitively. Or even consider resigning if it's the case — American foreign and strategic nuclear policy can't be one way before an election and another after it — and certainly you can't tell your opponents that."
Clinton forwarded the email to Sullivan, with a note.
"What is this referring to?" she asked.
Follow Justin Rohrlich on Twitter: @JustinRohrlich