FBI Director Explains Why The “Marked Classified” Clinton Email Discrepancy Is Overblown

A day after a State Department spokesperson explained that two emails that were sent to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and bore classified markings were, in fact, classified in error, FBI Director James Comey testified to Congress that it would be reasonable to assume that even “an expert at what is classified” would not have realized these emails were “marked classified.”

Media outlets have reported on Comey's July 5 statement that a small number of the former secretary’s emails turned over to the State Department contained a marking suggesting the “presence of classified information,” saying it contradicts Clinton’s past statements that no emails “marked classified” were sent from or received on her private email account. On July 6, State Department spokesperson John Kirby provided an explanation for the discrepancy: Two emails with a “(C)” notation -- indicating that their information about a future Clinton phone call was “confidential” -- had been marked classified in error.

On July 7, the FBI director, called by congressional Republicans to testify as to why he had concluded “no charges are appropriate” against Clinton for her use of a private server, provided more details about his statement that a few emails “bore markings indicating the presence of classified information," further undermining media efforts to scandalize that comment.

Without commenting on the substance of the emails, which Kirby had already explained were inappropriately marked “confidential,” the director further clarified that this mistaken attempt to mark the emails classified was incorrectly performed. In fact, Comey agreed with Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) that without a required header indicating the email with a "(C)" notation was “marked classified,” it would be a “reasonable inference” that even an “expert at what is classified and what's not classified” would not have realized the email was classified. From the director’s July 7 testimony:

REP. MATT CARTWRIGHT (D-PA): All right, you were asked about markings on a few documents. I have the manual here, Marking Classified National Security Information, and I don't think you were given a full chance to talk about those three documents with the little c's on them. Were they properly documented? Were they properly marked according to the manual?


CARTWRIGHT: According to the manual -- and I ask unanimous consent to enter this into the record, Mr. Chairman -- according to the manual, if you're going to classify something, there has to be a header on the document, right?

COMEY: Correct.

CARTWRIGHT: Was there a header on the three documents that we've discussed today that had the little c in the text someplace?

COMEY: No, there were three emails, the c was in the body, in the text, but there was no header on the email or in the text.

CARTWRIGHT: So, if Secretary Clinton really were an expert at what's classified and what's not classified, and were following the manual, the absence of a header would tell her immediately that those three documents were not classified. Am I correct in that?

COMEY: That would be a reasonable inference.

CARTWRIGHT: Alright. I think you for your testimony, Director. I yield back.