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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Clinton’s Email Falsehood

Hillary Clinton wrongly claimed that FBI Director James Comey found her public statements about not sending or receiving classified email on her private server to be “truthful.”

On “Fox News Sunday,” Clinton had been asked about her public statements that “there is no classified materials” among the emails she sent and received using a personal email account and server while she was secretary of state. Clinton claimed Comey “said my answers were truthful.”

To the contrary, Comey told Congress, “There was classified material emailed,” when he was specifically asked about Clinton’s statements.

Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, is parsing Comey’s words. The FBI director did say in a congressional hearing that “we have no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI.” But when asked whether Clinton had been truthful with the American public, Comey responded, “That’s a question I’m not qualified to answer. I can speak about what she said to the FBI.”

In that same hearing, however, Comey clearly contradicted Clinton’s public statements, and that’s what she was asked about on Fox News.

Here’s the exchange on “Fox News Sunday” between Clinton and host Chris Wallace, who began by playing a clip of Clinton speaking on three different occasions in 2015:

Wallace, July 31: I want to ask about one aspect, what you told the American people.

Video clip, Clinton: I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified materials.

I am confident that I never sent nor received any information that was classified at the time.

I had not sent classified material nor received anything marked classified.

(End video clip)

Wallace: After a long investigation, FBI Director James Comey said none of those things that you told the American public were true.

Clinton: Chris, that’s not what I heard Director Comey say, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity, in my view, clarify. Director Comey said my answers were truthful, and what I’ve said is consistent with what I have told the American people, that there were decisions discussed and made to classify retroactively certain of the emails. I was communicating with over 300 people in my emailing. They certainly did not believe and had no reason to believe that what they were sending was classified. Now, in retrospect, different agencies come in and say, well, it should have been, but that’s not what was happening in real time.

Wallace: But in a congressional hearing on July 7th, Director Comey directly contradicted what you had told the public.

Video clip, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.: Secretary Clinton said there was nothing marked classified on her emails either sent or received. Was that true?

James Comey, FBI director: That’s not true. …

Gowdy: Secretary Clinton said, “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email.  There is no classified material.” Was that true?

Comey: There was classified material emailed.

(End video clip)

Clinton told Wallace that “there were decisions discussed and made to classify retroactively certain of the emails.” That’s true, but hardly the whole story. As we have written before, here’s what we know about Clinton’s emails and classified material from the FBI investigation and Comey’s statements:

  • More than 2,000 of the 30,490 emails Clinton gave to the State Department in December 2014 contained classified information — most of it classified retroactively.
  • But 110 emails in 52 email chains contained classified information at the time they were sent or received.
  • Three emails included classified markings, but weren’t properly marked.

As the clip of the July 7 House Oversight Committee hearing shows, Comey was asked by Rep. Trey Gowdy whether it was true, as Clinton said, that there was “nothing marked classified” in her emails. Comey responded, “That’s not true.” He went on to say that “there were a small number of portion markings on, I think, three of the documents.”

In that hearing, Comey also said that those three emails weren’t properly marked and could have been missed by Clinton. State Department spokesman John Kirby said in press briefings on July 6 and 7 that the department believes two of the emails were wrongly marked as confidential. Kirby said that the emails were “call sheets” — information to be used when talking to foreign leaders — and a portion of those are marked as “confidential” until a secretary of state decides whether or not to call the leaders in question. Kirby said that it appears Clinton had made the decision to place those two calls, so the “confidential” markings should have been removed. (For more on those emails, see our July 7 story “Revisiting Clinton and Classified Information.”)

We don’t know anything about the third email that was marked classified, and there were many more emails that were classified at the time they were sent or received, even though they weren’t marked, Comey has said.

In fact, Comey said in his statement on the FBI investigation: “Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of the classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”

On “Fox News Sunday,” Clinton pinpointed one statement by Comey and ignored others in wrongly claiming the FBI director had backed up her assertions to the American public that she never sent or received classified material.