There has been substantial media coverage of President Biden and former Vice President Pence both removing marked classified documents outside the White House after they left the vice presidency (and, in the case of Biden, also including after he was a U.S. senator). Both insist they did so inadvertently.
Of course, the word “inadvertent” does not apply to former President Trump’s behavior. As we now know from Mr. Trump’s own admission, he knew documents he took to Mar-a-Lago were classified because, he said, he had the right to declassify them. And unlike Mr. Biden and Mr. Pence, who immediately notified the Department of Justice and the National Archives when they found the documents and have fully cooperated since, Mr. Trump resisted and forced a federal judge to issue a search warrant to retrieve dozens of conspicuously marked classified documents.
Recently, pro-Trump/MAGA Republicans and even many in the mainstream media have inaccurately reported that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton transferred identifiable classified information in her emails to her private server.
This is false. Indeed, former FBI Director James Comey, not exactly remembered as helpful to Clinton, confirmed this in congressional testimony.
On July 7, 2016, Comey testified before the House Oversight Committee. He agreed under questioning that the FBI, after reviewing individually the 33,000 Clinton emails in the spring and early summer of 2016, found only three e-mails that had any identifiable classified marking at all. Comey told Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) that only three e-mails contained a lower-case “c” in the middle of a paragraph. (Shortly after the hearing, the actual number was corrected from three to one.) And he stated that even classification experts would not recognize that little “c” as a classified marking.
Asked Cartwright: “So if Secretary Clinton really were an expert at what’s classified and what’s not classified and were following the [Classified Requirements] manual, the absence of a header would tell her immediately that those three documents were not classified. Am I correct in that?”
Replied Comey: “That would be a reasonable inference.”
That’s right: James Comey said under oath that not even one out of 33,000 Hillary Clinton emails would be recognized by a classification expert as classified.
He made this admission, finally, despite more than a year in 2015-16 of multiple accusations by partisan Republicans about Clinton “mishandling classified information” in her emails, tens of thousands of mainstream media mentions and running cable news chyrons about Clinton “mishandling” classified information in her emails while secretary of State; from when the story broke in the New York Times in March 2015; to Comey’s July 5, 2016, improper public description of Clinton’s handling of emails as “extremely careless” — which polling data proved substantially politically harmed her; through Comey’s improper Oct. 28 letter to Congress, 11 days from the presidential election, announcing a “new” “criminal investigation,” in violation of long-standing Department of Justice policies; and, finally, through Comey’s virtual whisper in his Nov. 6, 2016, late Sunday evening letter to Congress, two days before the election, stating, in effect, “Oops— no ’there’ there.”
After all this time and misreporting in the media, once again we need a reminder that, in fact, the FBI found that not one of Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails they reviewed contained any recognizable classified information marking.
It would be nice if members of the mainstream media, who have recently referred to Secretary Hillary Clinton’s emails as including marked classified information, would correct the record and apologize. But don’t hold your breath.
Lanny Davis served as a special counsel to President Bill Clinton in 1996-98 and on a post-9/11 privacy and civil liberties panel appointed by President George W. Bush. He is a co-founder of the Washington law firm Davis Goldberg Galper PLLC, specializing in legal crisis management in support of litigation and other legal issues and Trident DMG, a public relations and strategic communications firm. His most recent book, published in 2018, was “The Unmaking of the President 2016 — How FBI Director James Comey Cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency” (Simon & Schuster).