As First Lady, Hillary Did Not Have Security Clearance But Received Classified Information Anyway
When Hillary Clinton was first lady, she did not have a security clearance, but she was “often provided” classified information, she told her longtime friend and ABC News host George Stephanopoulos in a long-forgotten Dec. 30, 2007 interview rediscovered by The Daily Caller.
It was just weeks before the 2008 Iowa caucuses and Clinton was out touting her foreign policy experience, both as a senator from New York and as first lady. She wanted to be seen as the strong and experienced choice in contrast to upstart Barack Obama, then a senator from Illinois.
But during the interview, video of which is no longer online, Stephanopoulos pointed to a New York Times article published that same month which downplayed Clinton’s foreign policy credentials.
But during those two terms in the White House, Mrs. Clinton did not hold a security clearance. She did not attend National Security Council meetings. She was not given a copy of the president’s daily intelligence briefing. She did not assert herself on the crises in Somalia, Haiti and Rwanda.
Clinton shot down the report in her interview with Stephanopoulos, telling the former Bill Clinton aide that her experience in the White House was “unique” and that she was a “part of making history.”
And to bolster her bona fides, Clinton bragged that she handled classified information — even without the security clearance.
“I had direct access to all of the decision-makers. I was briefed on a range of issues, often provided classified information,” she told Stephanopoulos, while acknowledging that she did not attend National Security Council meetings.
“I can imagine what the stories would have been had I attended a National Security Council meeting,” she said.
“And often when I traveled on behalf of our country, I traveled with representatives from the DOD, the CIA, the State Department,” she continued. “I think that my experience is unique, having been eight years in the White House, having, yes, been part of making history, and also been part of learning how to best present our country’s case. And now, seven years on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.”
The interview resurfaces as Clinton faces intense scrutiny over how she handled classified information when she was secretary of state on her home-brew email system, which involved the use of a personal email account. While Clinton certainly had a security clearance for the highest levels of classified information when she was in office, she has been heavily criticized for displaying a cavalier attitude towards the handling of sensitive government intelligence and information during her tenure.
More than 1,500 emails on Clinton’s server have been retroactively classified by the State Department. The Intelligence Community’s inspector general has said that two emails on Clinton’s server contained information that was classified as “Top Secret” when sent. And last week, the State Department said it was withholding 22 emails that traversed Clinton’s server in their entirety because they contained “Top Secret” information. The agency has not yet determined whether the information in those emails was classified when the emails were sent and received.
Whether or not Clinton’s handling of classified information as first lady was appropriate for her position depends upon how she obtained the information and who provided it to her, according to Bradley Moss, a national security expert and attorney who handles security clearance and Freedom of Information Act cases.
“Although a first lady does not have a security clearance, per se, I think most of us expect that married people will discuss professional matters with each other in private, even if they are the president and first lady,” Moss told The Daily Caller, adding that as the “ultimate Original Classification Authority,” the president “can, technically speaking, choose on his own authority to disclose to his spouse certain classified information.”
“If that is what she is claiming occurred…and the information is solely provided verbally, then this is an interesting but ultimately minor insight into White House operations,” said Moss, noting that Clinton did not clarify the source of the information in her interview with Stephanopoulos.
It is also noteworthy that when Clinton bragged that she received classified information as first lady, she mentioned it in the context of having “direct access to all the decision-makers.”
The Clinton campaign did not respond to TheDC’s request for comment.
But if Clinton was indicating in her 2007 interview that she was given access to classified documents or that officials other than her husband were giving her access to classified information, “then there are numerous questions and concerns that would obviously be raised about the appropriateness of that having happened,” says Moss.
“The first lady is not a constitutional officer and the position does not require access to classified information,” he said, adding that he struggles to imagine a scenario where it would be appropriate for anyone other than the president to provide such information to their spouse.
Clinton has brushed off the email scandal and accusations that she mishandled classified information ever since the news first broke in March. The Democratic presidential candidate at first said that there was no classified information in her emails. But when the State Department began retroactively classifying many of the emails found on Clinton’s server, she adopted a new position — she said that the emails weren’t classified when they were sent. And when the Intelligence Community discovered emails that were classified upon origination, Clinton shifted again, claiming that the emails weren’t “marked” classified.
The defense was undermined as well when it was revealed that Clinton signed a non-disclosure agreement when she took office at the State Department which established that classified information is classified regardless of if it is “marked” or “unmarked.”
She was finally asked about that in an interview with Stephanopulos last week and offered a brand new defense.
“When you receive information, of course, there has to be some markings, some indication that someone down the chain had thought that this was classified and that was not the case,” she argued. (RELATED: Hillary Is Finally Asked About Non-Disclosure That Obliterates Her Classified Email Defense)