Ruh-roh, Hillary. The State Department told the Associated Press on Friday that Hillary Clinton’s private email server contained “top secret” material—the first time the Obama administration has publicly stated that the Democratic front-runner had highly classified material on her off-the-books email setup.
The State Department is set to release its latest monthly batch of Clinton’s emails later Friday, but the AP reports seven email chains—totaling 22 individual emails—will be “withheld in full because they contain information deemed to be ‘top secret’ ”:
The 37 pages include messages recently described by a key intelligence official as concerning so-called “special access programs”—a highly restricted subset of classified material that could point to confidential sources or clandestine programs like drone strikes or government eavesdropping.
While the State Department has previously redacted sensitive information in a number of Clinton’s emails before releasing them, none of those messages were deemed “CLASSIFIED” or “TOP SECRET,” two of the highest levels of government classification. (The test for top-secret material is whether the information could pose “exceptionally grave” danger to national security.) But these new emails will be. “The documents are being upgraded at the request of the intelligence community because they contain a category of top secret information,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told the AP, though he cautioned that the decision to withhold documents in full in and of itself is “not unusual.”
Department officials did not go into detail about the emails being withheld, including whether Clinton sent any of them or if they were classified at the time they were transmitted—though the AP reports the agency’s Diplomatic Security and Intelligence and Research bureaus will now investigate those questions. (Update 6:05 p.m.: At a press conference, Kirby later said that none of the emails in question had been marked classified at the time they were sent through Clinton’s home sever. The review, he said, was “focused on whether they need to be classified today.”)
Hillary has maintained from the beginning that she never knowingly sent or received classified information on her private account. On Friday, a Clinton spokesman did his best to brush off the news by suggesting the fault lies with the government’s system of classifying information. “This appears to be over-classification run amok,” campaign press secretary Brian Fallon said in a statement. “We will pursue all appropriate avenues to see that her emails are released in a manner consistent with her call last year.”
We’ll have to wait for the State Department to finish its investigation to know just how big of a deal this is. But regardless, the news couldn’t come at a worse time for Clinton. The controversy over her private email had died down considerably in recent months, particularly on the left. At the first Democratic debate back in October, Bernie Sanders memorably declared that, “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about [Clinton’s] damn emails.” But with three days to go until the Iowa caucus, Democratic voters will now spend their weekend being reminded that the issue isn’t going away and would almost certainly continue to dog Hillary through November if she were to win her party’s nomination.
Read more of Slate’s coverage of the 2016 campaign.
This post and headline were updated when additional information became available.