State Dept. Shuts Down Fox's Anonymous Speculation Of Clinton Aides Stripping Email Classification Markings

Fox News spent much of August 13 running with speculation from an anonymous State Department official that aides to Hillary Clinton had “stripped” the classification markings from emails that she received in her private email server, going so far as to state the claim as fact and speculate on who had done the alleged deed. Later that day, the State Department said there was no evidence any stripping of classification markings had occurred.

State Dept.: No Evidence Classification Markers Were “Stripped” From Emails

Intelligence Community Inspector General Says Two Emails From Clinton's Server Contain “Top Secret” Information. The inspector general for the Intelligence Community (ICIG), I. Charles McCullough, reportedly informed leaders of key congressional oversight committees that two classified emails previously discovered on Clinton's server contain top secret information. As McClatchy reported:

The inspector general for the Intelligence Community notified senior members of Congress that two of four classified emails discovered on the server Clinton maintained at her New York home contained material deemed to be in one of the highest security classifications - more sensitive than previously known.

The notice came as the State Department inspector general's office acknowledged that it is reviewing the use of “personal communications hardware and software” by Clinton's former top aides after requests from Congress. [McClatchy DC, 8/11/15]

State Department: Emails Were “Not Marked As Classified” And May Not Actually Have Been Classified At The Time. The State Department's statement on the retroactive “top secret” designation made clear that the emails at issue originated with State Department employees, not Clinton herself, that they were not marked as classified at the time, and that it is unclear whether the material in question “is actually classified”:

The following is attributable to Spokesperson John Kirby:

"The State Department takes seriously its obligations to protect sensitive information, holding its employees to a high standard of compliance with regulations and procedures.

"The Intelligence Community has recommended that portions of two of the four emails identified by the Intelligence Community's Inspector General should be upgraded to the Top Secret level. Department employees circulated these emails on unclassified systems in 2009 and 2011 and ultimately some were forwarded to Secretary Clinton. They were not marked as classified.

“These emails have not been released to the public. While we work with the Director of National Intelligence to resolve whether, in fact, this material is actually classified, we are taking steps to ensure the information is protected and stored appropriately.” [, 8/11/15, emphasis added]

State Department Spokesperson: “No Indications” That Classification Markings Were “Stripped” From Emails. State Department spokesman Adm. John Kirby said during his August 13 briefing that the State Department has “no indications” that classification markings were stripped from the emails:

QUESTION: John, thank you. I have two quick questions on Secretary Clinton's server. Has the State Department been able to determine whether each of the four classified emails sent to Secretary Clinton's server originated within the State Department or whether they originated within another agency?

MR KIRBY: I don't have any updates for you in terms of original sourcing on those emails.

QUESTION: And secondly, has the State Department been able to determine whether any classification markings may have been stripped from any of those documents from anyone within the State Department?

MR KIRBY: We have no indications that there were any - that there was at all any stripping of classification markings on these. [U.S. Department of State, 8/13/15]

Megyn Kelly First Hyped “Big News” From Anonymous Source To Speculate That “A Clinton Insider” Stripped Classification Markings From Emails

Megyn Kelly: An Unnamed State Source Claimed A “Clinton Insider May Have Removed 'Top Secret' Markings.” During the August 12 edition of The Kelly File, host Megyn Kelly claimed that an “unnamed State Department official” suggested that “a Clinton insider must have been the one to actively strip classification marking off” the emails. Fox senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano added that it was “possible, but extremely unlikely” that this was just an error in the Intelligence Community:

MEGYN KELLY: Big news in Hillary Clinton email scandal. Just before we came to air tonight, an unnamed State Department official telling Fox News that some of the nation's most sensitive, top secret information was communicated on Mrs. Clinton's server. It was highly classified at the time, contradicting one of the key arguments in team Clinton's defense. Also, another big development, this State Department source suggesting to Fox that a Clinton insider must have been the one to actively strip the classification markings off of the information before sending it, which is a felony, potentially punishable by serious prison time. Judge Andrew Napolitano is our Fox News senior judicial analyst, and Judge, I just want to clear it up for the viewers -- so this State Department official is saying, we now know at least one email was top, top, top, top secret, that the State Department doesn't have the capability to mark a document that way. So it had to come to State from someplace else in the Intelligence Community. 


KELLY: Why are they so sure that happened? Why couldn't it be someone in the Intelligence Community screwed up, and didn't mark the documents classified.  

ANDREW NAPOLITANO: Possible, but extremely unlikely. The reason it is unlikely is because the Intelligence Community knows their members can go to jail for simple negligence by exposing a top secret document. [Fox News, The Kelly File8/12/15

Fox Wildly Speculated About Anonymous Source's Claim Throughout The Next Day

Brian Kilmeade: “Logic Would Tell You” A Clinton Insider May Have Illegally Removed The Markings. During the August 13 edition of Fox & Friends, host Brian Kilmeade suggested that “logic would tell you” that only a Clinton insider would put “their career on the line” for Clinton, which led Doocy to speculate that it was someone in Clinton's “inner circle” who “stripped off the 'top secret' from the documents”: 

DOOCY: We know that Hillary Clinton has turned over to the FBI her home server which was unsecured and that's really a problem because as it turns out she had top secret documents on there. But now we're learning from a cover memo from the Intel community's Inspector General that apparently classified and secret -- “top secret” documents came into the State Department and were headed for Hillary Clinton but somebody at the Department of State, and it is presumed not to be a career employee of the state department -- 

KILMEADE: Because logic would tell you why would someone put their career on the line for somebody that is going to be termed out. 

DOOCY: Exactly, so probably somebody in her inner circle, somebody stripped off the top secret from the documents and then sent it on her way. So that is a problem because Judge Napolitano says that is two felonies. It's altering a “top secret” document and it's placing top secret documents in unsafe places. [Fox News, Fox & Friends8/13/15]

Napolitano Wondered “If Someone Removed The Markings To Help Hillary.” During the August 13 edition of Fox & Friends, Napolitano speculated that “if someone removed the markings to help Hillary have plausible deniability, that is a criminal conspiracy to violate the espionage laws of the United States”: 

STEVE DOOCY: Yesterday, you were with us talking about how Hillary Clinton's campaign has turned over, suddenly out of nowhere, the email server. You said yesterday, 24 hours ago, that the situation for her was grave. Now there's new information. How would you depict it? 

NAPOLITANO: The new information is that the top secret email was satellite views of a foreign country. The State Department does not have its own satellites, therefore that email came into the State Department from the Intelligence Community. If the Intelligence Community failed to mark it top secret, they lose their jobs, they can get prosecuted. It was marked top secret. If it was not marked Top Secret when Mrs. Clinton got it, which she claims, then someone removed the markings. If someone removed the markings, that's a felony. If someone removed the markings to help Hillary have plausible deniability, that is a criminal conspiracy to violate the espionage laws of the United States. Twenty-four hours ago I characterized Mrs. Clinton's legal situation in this respect as grave. Today, worse than grave. 

STEVE DOOCY: Ok, let's say somebody who was working for her, so that she could say 'I never got anything top secret,' somebody back at the shop at the State Department took off the designation “top secret,” “secret,” “classified”. [Fox News, Fox & Friends8/13/15, emphasis added]

Kilmeade Suggested Clinton Aide Huma Abedin Was Responsible For Stripping Emails Because She “Lawyered Up.” Later during Fox & Friends, Steve Doocy reported on “a story out there” that “sounds like what they're saying is, somebody who was working for Hillary” stripped the emails. Kilmeade responded by speculating that the individual in question was longtime Clinton aide Huma Abedin because she “has lawyered up” and “people feel it was probably her” who did it. 

DOOCY: It's a Hillary Clinton email bombshell. Yesterday we told you that she had turned over her email server that had been in her barn up in Chappaqua to the feds. Well now, it turns out, there's a story out there, that it sounds like what they're saying is, somebody who was working for Hillary, before she got email, classified and top secret stuff would come into the State Department. Somebody at the State Department stripped those designations of the classifications off and sent it to the boss, and she wound up with top secret stuff that didn't say a top secret. 


KILMEADE: Politico magazine says, Politico writes that Huma Abedin has lawyered up, that is the shadow of Hillary Clinton. Because evidently, a lot of people feel, she's going to have to submit to questioning. That it was probably her, I don't know on whose behest, that did it. Will she be the fall guy?  [Fox News, Fox & Friends8/13/15]

Fox & Friends Brings In Discredited Conspiracy Theorist Ed Klein To Speculate That Abedin Or Cheryl Mills Could Have Stripped Classification Markings. On the same edition of Fox & Friends, the hosts turned to discredited conspiracy theorist Ed Klein to talk about the email story and how this relates to the “blood feud” between the Clintons and Obamas who “hate each other's guts.” After Doocy suggested that “somebody who worked for [Clinton] may have stripped the classification” from the emails, Klein suggested that Clinton aides Abedin or Cheryl Mills could have been responsible. [Fox News, Fox & Friends8/13/15]

Reporter Peter Doocy: “We Now Know ... Someone On [Clinton's] Staff Or Someone From Her Inner Circle Must Have Altered The Messages.” During the August 13 edition of America's Newsroom Peter Doocy asserted that “we now know” that “someone on [Clinton's] staff or someone from her inner circle must have altered the messages” to remove the classification markings:

PETER DOOCY: We now know at some point between the time the State Department first received these top secret files and the time those files were forwarded to Secretary Clinton's home server, someone on her staff or someone from her inner circle must have altered the messages so they didn't say top secret right on the top. A State Department official tells us the messages would have been marked classified “top secret” by someone at an intel agency, because they contained satellite imagery and signals intelligence and that's not stuff that diplomats can go out and get themselves. But a diplomat or a member of the secretary's staff could have taken the “top secret” markings off if things went the way the State Department continues to say they did. [Fox News, America's Newsroom8/13/15, emphasis added]  

Karl Rove Claims Either Clinton “Knowingly Violated The Law Or Somebody On Her Staff” Did By “Stripping The Classification Off.” During the August 13 edition of America's Newsroom, Karl Rove claimed that either Clinton violated the law by having emails on her server that were marked classified or one of her staffers “knowingly violated the law by stripping the classification off.” From the segment:

BILL HEMMER: I'm going to work from Judge Napolitano's analysis of this, OK? He says if “top secret” was on [the emails], we know she lied and committed a felony. If “top secret” was not there, we will know that someone removed it, which would still constitute a felony. How do you now see this cutting, Karl?

ROVE: Well, look,this is an enormous problem for her and it's going to get simply worse. Think about what the judge has got there. It's either she knowingly violated the law or somebody on her staff knowingly violated the law by stripping the classification off. [Fox News, America's Newsroom8/13/15

Anchor Bill Hemmer: Someone “Inside Of [Clinton's] Inner Circle” Could Have Removed Classification Label. Bill Hemmer, host of Fox News' America's Newsroom spoke with Bret Baier about the newest developments with Hillary Clinton's emails. Hemmer says that it is likely that classification labels were stripped from Hillary Clinton's emails by someone in her “inner circle,” with which Baier agrees:

HEMMER: Okay, now Hillary Clinton, OK? This is what the Judge Napolitano says about it. You have two issues. If 'top secret' was on that email, he says, you know, she lied and committed a felony. If 'top secret' was not on that original email, we know that someone removed that information. Marry that to what James Rosen is reporting from the State Department officials suggesting that a career employee at the Department of State would not have done this. So if it happened, it was most likely done by someone inside of her inner circle. Is that how she escapes this ultimately? By putting the blame on someone else? Go.

BAIER: I mean I'm sure that that's part of the plan here, Bill, and it's being set up that way, about how it was marked. But understand that you have a very serious situation here in the handling of classified material, period. If it was marked, if it wasn't marked. This is the secretary of state, who has spent her life in politics, in and around politics. She knows, and she even said this publicly, what the classification system is. If she doesn't know that satellite intelligence and signals intelligence that she's getting in her own personal email is highly classified, whether it's marked or not, that is another issue. People have gone to prison for handling classified information -- mishandling it. They have been fined significantly. They have lost their jobs. We are talking the top of the top as far as classification and sensitivity. So I think that no matter how it's marked, and how the whole thing comes down, and who took the marking off, you have a big problem here. [Fox News, America's Newsroom8/13/15]

Sandra Smith Cites Anonymous Source To Claim “Top Secret Designation Was Somehow Removed On Some Emails.” On the August 13 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered, co-host Sandra Smith claimed, “Stunning new accusations in the Hillary Clinton email scandal ... Investigators saying the intelligence sent to Clinton's email was highly sensitive but that the top secret designation was somehow removed on some emails before reaching the private server.” [Fox News, Outnumbered8/13/15]

And Even Continued To Run With The Story After State Dept. Denied It

Special Report Noted State Dept.'s Denial After Pushing Anonymous Source's Speculation. On Special Report, senior political correspondent Mike Emanuel reported, “A senior State Department source expressed concern to Fox that it is possible someone might have stripped the classification markings before it was sent to Clinton's personal email,” before airing Kirby's statement that there was no evidence this had occurred. [Fox News, Special Report, 8/13/15, via Nexis]

Kelly File Aired Denial After Suggesting “The Concern” Is That Classifications Were Stripped. On The Kelly File, correspondent Trace Gallagher said that “because Hillary Clinton maintained she never received or sent emails marked classified, the concern is that someone might have stripped the classifications before they were sent to Clinton's private server” before airing State's denial. [Fox News, The Kelly File, 8/13/15, via Nexis]

Julie Alderman contributed research to this report.