FBI Director Comey: Emails Were Not Properly Marked as Classified

Jul 7, 2016
Press Release

FBI Director Comey: Emails Were Not Properly Marked as Classified


“Reasonable Inference” for Clinton to Infer “Immediately” That Emails Were Not in Fact Classified



On Tuesday, FBI Director James Comey stated with respect to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails:  “Only a very small number of the emails containing classified information bore markings indicating the presence of classified information.”

Republicans immediately pounced on this statement to accuse Secretary Clinton of lying when she stated previously that she did not send or receive any information marked classified.

At today’s Oversight Committee hearing, Director Comey provided significant new information about these emails that debunked this Republican conspiracy theory.

First, Director Comey explained that he was talking about only three emails out of the 30,000 his office reviewed, or 1/100 of 1% of the emails.

Second, Director Comey explained that these three specific emails were not properly marked as classified pursuant to federal guidelines and manuals.  They did not have a classification header, and they did not list the original classifier, the agency and office of origin, the reason for classification, or the date for declassification.  Instead they included only a single “(c)” for “confidential” on one paragraph lower down in the text.

Finally, Director Comey explained that it would have been a “reasonable inference” for Secretary Clinton to “immediately” conclude that these emails were not in fact classified.  Here is the exchange between Director Comey and Rep. Matthew Cartwright:

Rep. Cartwright:  Those three documents with the little “c”s on them, were they properly documented?  Were they properly marked according to the manual?

Director Comey:  No.

Rep. Cartwright:  According to the manual, and I ask unanimous consent to enter this into the record, Mr. Chairman.  According to the manual, if you’re going to classify something, there has to be a header on the document, right?

Director Comey:  Correct.

Rep. Cartwright:  Was there a header on the three documents that we’ve discussed today that had the little “c” in the text someplace?

Director Comey:  No, there were three e-mails.  The “c” was in the body in the text, but there was no header on the email or in the text.

Rep. Cartwright:  So if Secretary Clinton really were an expert at what's classified and what’s not classified and we're following the manual, the absence of a header would tell her immediately that those three documents were not classified.  Am I correct in that?

Director Comey:  That would be a reasonable inference.

In addition, the State Department spokesperson made clear yesterday that these emails, which discussed call information for the Secretary, included these “c”s by mistake, and the information was not in fact classified:

“Generally speaking, there’s a standard process for developing call sheets for the Secretary of State.  Call sheets are often marked – it’s not untypical at all for them to be marked at the confidential level - prior to a decision by the Secretary that he or she will make that call.  Oftentimes, once it is clear that the Secretary intends to make a call, the department will then consider the call sheet SBU, sensitive but unclassified, or unclassified altogether, and then mark it appropriately and prepare it for the secretary’s use in actually making the call.  The classification of a call sheet therefore is not necessarily fixed in time, and staffers in the Secretary’s office who are involved in preparing and finalizing these call sheets, they understand that. … Those markings were a human error.  They didn’t need to be there.”


114th Congress