A major concern hanging over Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy diminished on Friday, as U.S. intelligence officials backed off claims that two of four messages in the former secretary of State’s personal server held top-secret information.
An anonymous source told Politico that after reviewing the messages, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declared they didn’t merit the highest level of classification, despite a previous analysis by the Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General.
The two messages were part of a set of four flagged by intelligence officials earlier this year that allegedly contained classified information about North Korea.
"The initial determination was based on a flawed process," the source said. "There was an intelligence product people thought [one of the emails] was based on, but that actually postdated the email in question."
While the determination may sound like bureaucratic hair splitting, the IG’s original decision prompted a formal referral for the FBI to launch an investigation of Clinton’s “homebrew” arrangement and was one in a marathon of bad headlines for the then-presumed frontrunner that prompted Democrats to wonder if she should drop out of the 2016 race.
Clinton has argued for months that she didn’t transmit emails with top secret info, nor were any messages she received on her personal server given that designation at the time. She claimed that the ongoing inquiries were turf wars between government agencies.
It remains to be seen what whether the other two emails in question are deemed classified, and whether the alleged two missing months of emails that are apparently still available on the infamous server that the FBI now has yields other problems for Clinton.
But if the outstanding messages are likewise downgraded, the entire episode could wind up looking like nothing more than an intra-government squabble over secrecy and could exonerate Clinton, who many voters still view as untrustworthy.
The timing couldn’t be better for Clinton, who is set to take the stage Friday night with her rivals for the Democratic nomination – Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley – for a forum moderated by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.
Sanders, who benefited the most from the email controversy, surging past Clinton in the crucial early voting states of New Hampshire and Iowa, could bring up the issue.
In the first Democratic presidential debate last month Sanders declared voters were tired of hearing about Clinton’s “damn emails.” But he changed his tone this week, telling the Wall Street Journal that questions about them were “valid.”