State Department Review of Clinton Emails Cites 38 People for Mishandling Classified Information

October 19, 2019 Updated: October 20, 2019

The State Department found 38 people culpable of “failure to safeguard classified information” in the final report on its yearlong security review of thousands of emails sent through the unauthorized email server used by Hillary Clinton during her tenure as secretary of state.

“Instances of classified information being deliberately transmitted via unclassified email were the rare exception and resulted in adjudicated security violations,” according to the report (pdf) released by the Senate Finance Committee. “There was no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information.”

The report doesn’t identify any of the culpable people and doesn’t differentiate between current and former officials. The inquiry, conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, wasn’t punitive in nature. Officials who were found culpable received a security violation citation. Those who couldn’t be reached have a letter in their files that allows for an appeal once they learn of the violation.

Clinton handed over 33,000 emails to Congress, the State Department, and the FBI after House Republicans discovered her private email account as part of the inquiry into the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi. The State Department’s review didn’t include the thousands of emails subpoenaed by Congress but deleted by Clinton’s server administrator.

The State Department began its review of the emails in December 2014 but suspended its inquiry at the FBI’s direction in March 2016. The department resumed the inquiry in July 2016 after the FBI completed its investigation. After pausing briefly after the FBI discovered additional emails and reopened the investigation in August, the State Department inquiry proceeded uninterrupted for 38 months.

Then-FBI Director James Comey exonerated Clinton on July 5, 2016, in an unprecedented public statement. Comey concluded that “Clinton and her colleagues were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” The FBI assessed that it was possible that hostile actors gained access to Clinton’s email account.

“Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case,” Comey said.

The Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (OIG) reviewed the FBI’s handling of the Clinton-email probe. The OIG issued a final report in June last year, concluding that the pro-Clinton and anti-Trump bias expressed by officials who conducted the inquiry “cast a cloud” over the credibility of the investigation.

Then-FBI agent Peter Strzok led the email investigation. Text messages between Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page showed the pair discussed stopping then-candidate Donald Trump from winning the 2016 election and an “insurance policy” in case Trump was elected. Strzok also led the counterintelligence probe of the Trump campaign, which eventually evolved into the special counsel inquiry by Robert Mueller.

Despite multiple inquiries, questions remain about Clinton’s email server. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) released a batch of documents in August that showed that Clinton’s email server administrator, Paul Combetta, used a Gmail account to sync Clinton’s entire email archive to her server. The FBI discovered 820 emails, some of which were classified, still sitting in the Gmail account more than two years after Combetta used it.

The Gmail address—carterheavyindustries@gmail.com—ended up in the metadata of all but four of the emails Clinton handed over to investigators. The peculiar name of the account raised an alarm after an Intelligence Community Inspector General investigator, Frank Rucker, looked up the name on Google and came up with results for a Chinese company with a similar name. Grassley’s staff couldn’t find any proof of a connection between Combetta and the Chinese company.

Combetta was granted immunity during the FBI investigation and refused to be interviewed by Grassley’s staff.

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