The Latest Clinton Email ‘Smoking Gun’ May Be All Smoke
Policy + Politics

The Latest Clinton Email ‘Smoking Gun’ May Be All Smoke


Opponents of leading Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton believe they have found (another) smoking gun in the most recent batch of the former Secretary of State’s emails – this one proving that Clinton directed a member of her staff to have sensitive documents sent over a non-secure system.

Interestingly, while most of the focus of investigations into Clinton’s handling of classified material has been her use of a personal email system while running the State Department, the most recent eruption appears to be over the use of a non-secure fax machine.

Related: Here’s Why the Benghazi Investigation Has Become a Political Sideshow

In emails released late yesterday, Clinton exchanges messages with aide Jake Sullivan in June 2011. The topic is unclear because of redactions, but Clinton is plainly anxious to get her hands on a set of talking points being developed for her.

“You’ll get tps this eve. They’re coming together,” Sullivan wrote at 5:51 p.m. on June 16.

At 7:52 the next morning, Clinton replied, “I didn’t get the TPs yet.”

Sullivan informs his boss that the Department has had trouble sending the talking points through its system for secure fax messaging.

“If they can’t, turn into nonpaper w no identifying heading and send nonsecure,” Clinton replied.

Related: The Benghazi Investigation Reaches a Dubious Milestone

The reaction among Clinton critics was quick and fierce. On its face, the former Secretary of State appears to be directing her staff to take material that they plainly believed ought to be sent via a secure method, and send it via a method that might make it susceptible to interception by unintended recipients.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) said in a statement, “Once again it’s clear Hillary Clinton prioritizes her personal convenience over national security. It’s as if she thinks the rules just don’t apply to her and is hypocrisy of the highest order. Any other federal employee found acting in such a manner would likely have their clearance revoked, employment terminated, and could face prosecution. Instead, Hillary Clinton is in the running for a major promotion. It’s likely the more our enemies learn about her disregard for classified material, the more they are hoping she wins the presidency.” 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), also in a press release, said,

“The State Department’s latest Freedom of Information Act release contains a disturbing email that appears to show the former Secretary of State instructing a subordinate to remove the headings from a classified document and send it to her in an unsecure manner. 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.  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?  President Obama’s State and Justice Departments owe the American people swift and accurate answers to these questions.   The former Secretary of State needs to finally come clean and be transparent about the email practices she used during her tenure at the department.” 

Related: Trump Gives Clinton a Boost as He Takes Aim at Gowdy on Benghazi

However, it’s not clear that the request was quite the smoking gun Clinton’s critics think it was. In her email, the former secretary directed staff to turn the talking points into “non-paper” before sending it through non-secure channels. In the State Department, the term “non-paper” appears to have a pretty specific meaning.

As about 30 seconds on Google will reveal, the Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual defines non-paper as, “A written summary of a demarche or other verbal presentation to a foreign government. The non-paper should be drafted in the third person, and must not be directly attributable to the U.S. Government. It is prepared on plain paper (no letterhead or watermark). The heading or title, if any, is simply a statement of the issue or subject. (For example: ‘Genetically-Modified Organisms.’)”

If what Clinton was doing in that email was specifying that the talking points were to be turned into an anodyne statement of facts that the department felt comfortable sharing with a foreign government – and that seems pretty likely given the context – it’s probably a stretch to suggest that the FBI will be opening a criminal inquiry about it anytime soon.