State Dept. Concludes Past Secretaries Of State “Definitively” Handled Classified Information On Private Email

ABC News detailed a final State Department investigation which concluded that past secretaries of state, including Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice's immediate staff, “handled classified material on unclassified email systems.” The findings come as the FBI investigates a private email server used by Hillary Clinton during her time as secretary of state. 

For months, conservative media figures have attacked Clinton, baselessly accusing her of wrongdoing for receiving State Department emails on her private email account while secretary of state. On February 4, reports emerged that Colin Powell and aides to Condoleezza Rice also used private email accounts when they served under former President George W. Bush, and some of their emails similarly contained information that was retroactively classified. 

The March 4 ABC News article reported that “a final memorandum” issued by "[t]he State Department's internal investigation arm" found that former secretaries of state “handled classified material on unclassified email systems.” The State Department found that emails handled on private email accounts associated with Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice contain “information classified at the Secret or Confidential levels.'” Former Secretary Powell responded that those identified emails were not marked "'Confidential at the time and they were sent as unclassified,'" seemingly underscoring Secretary Clinton's defense that “the State Department is classifying documents too aggressively” (emphasis added):

The State Department's internal investigation arm issued a final memorandum today on the email practices of past and current secretaries of state, and it said definitively that past secretaries handled classified material on unclassified email systems.

The same claims were made in an early February memo when the State Department's inspector general first announced it was conducting a records review related to the email accounts of five secretaries of state -- Madeline Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry -- and their immediate staff.

After closely examining a number of potentially sensitive emails with help from State Department and Intelligence Community officials, the State Department's inspector general concluded that 12 emails contain “national security information classified at the Secret or Confidential levels.” Additionally, it was determined none of the emails contained intelligence information, meaning it was classified for other reasons.

The emails in question, as the inspector general has previously stated, came from Secretary Powell's personal email account and personal email accounts of Secretary Rice's immediate staff.

In a recent statements to ABC News, Powell disputed the claims.

“I have reviewed the messages and I do not see what makes them classified.” Powell said. “The emails were from my Executive Assistant and forwarded messages sent by two of our Ambassadors to State Department staff members. My Executive Assistant thought I should see them in a timely manner so sent them to my personal account. Both messages were unclassified. There was no reason not to forward them in this manner. ... The Ambassadors did not believe the contents were Confidential at the time and they were sent as unclassified. That is a fact. While they have not yet clarified this point, the State Department cannot now say they were classified then because they weren't. If the Department wishes to say a dozen years later they should have been classified that is an opinion of the Department that I do not share.”


Hillary Clinton, whose campaign has been dogged by her email controversy, has used Powell's reaction to bolster her own opinion that the State Department is classifying documents too aggressively. She has said she wanted all of her private email to be made public, but the State Department redacted over 2,000 of them after determining they containing classified material. And unlike Powell or Rice, 22 of Clinton's emails were upgraded to “top secret,” the highest level of classification.

Current Secretary John Kerry wasn't mentioned in this new memo, but it was revealed that he too sent classified information directly to Secretary Clinton while he was serving in the U.S. Senate. Two emails from his private account had to be upgraded to “secret” and shielded from public release as they were discovered in the trove of Clinton documents.