During a press briefing on Friday, White House press secretary Joshua Earnest said that reporters should ask the FBI about what led the agency to retroactively classify some of Hillary Clinton’s emails.
The State Department released 296 pages of Clinton’s emails related to Libya and Benghazi on Friday. The Associated Press reported shortly after the release that some of the emails had been classified only recently. Clinton and the State Department have maintained that she did not send or receive classified documents on her private email account.
Asked about the classified documents, Earnest twice referred reporters to the FBI, which made the determination to classify some of Clinton’s records.
“The fact is that when these kinds of emails are reviewed for public release, consistent with [Freedom of Information Act] standards, it’s not uncommon for the materials included in the review to be classified based on current events,” Earnest said.
He said that “upon later review and based on changing events in the world,” some documents can be retroactively classified and that the FBI makes that determination.
“For questions about [the FBI’s] decision to make this classified I would refer you to them,” Earnest said. “What is also true and what we know about the contents of the materials is that they do not change in any way anyone’s understanding about the events of that tragic evening.”
Asked in a follow-up question whether Clinton’s emails should have been classified sooner than they were, Earnest again deferred to the FBI.
“This is a judgment made by the FBI recently in light of more recent events, even though the email was, as we know, nearly three years old. But for why they made the decision and what led them to that conclusion, I’d refer you to them,” Earnest said.
Technically speaking, Clinton could have been in possession of materials that the federal government would have deemed classified information. Clinton kept her emails on a private server registered to her Chappaqua, N.Y. home.
But the FBI and State Department had no way of knowing whether the information should have been classified because Clinton didn’t turn over her records until December 2014. She left the State Department in Feb. 2013.
In his remarks, Earnest said that he still accepts Clinton’s and the State Department’s assurances that she did not handle classified material through the email account.