Another shoddy Clinton smear: Anatomy of the New York Times' epic email screw-up

NYT initially reports Hillary may become target of criminal probe -- and then watches its story fall apart

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published July 24, 2015 6:32PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)
(Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)

Late last night, The New York Times published an anonymously sourced reported, titled "Criminal Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton's Use of Email," that claimed two inspectors general asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into whether the Democratic presidential frontrunner "mishandled" sensitive government information by using a personal email account and server while she was secretary of state. That story quickly fizzled by early Friday morning, with the Justice Department quashing talk of a criminal probe, although a new report claims Clinton sent at least four emails that contained classified intelligence community information from her private server while at the State Department.

A spokesperson for the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that a review of 40 of the 30,000 emails Clinton has released from her time in office found that four “were classified when they were sent and are classified now.” Clinton had previously claimed she never sent classified emails using her personal server, although the State Department has later acknowledged that some information in the messages should be retroactively classified.

“I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material,” Clinton claimed during a press conference on her email use in March. “I’m certainly aware of the classified requirements and did not send classified material.”

But earlier this month, I. Charles McCullough III, the intelligence community’s inspector general, informed the FBI of a “potential compromise of classified information” regarding Clinton’s email. His spokesperson explained that it was a counterintelligence referral and that "office is statutorily required to refer compromises of national security information" because the inspector general's office does not handle comprise cases.

The Journal also published a letter from McCullough that explained at least one email made public by the State Department after a Freedom of Information request contained classified information. "None of the emails we reviewed had classification or dissemination markings," McCullough explained, even though some "should have been handled as classified, appropriately marked, and transmitted via a secure network." The letter does not identify which emails so it is unclear wether Clinton was aware she sent or received classified information.

The Clinton campaign came out forcefully against the news, much swifter than they had with the initial round of New York Times reporting on the use of Clinton's email account, with a campaign spokesman railing against "reckless, inaccurate leaks from partisan sources."  After allegedly receiving complaints on the report's accuracy from the Clinton campaign, The Times changed the article's title to "Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Account,"and most crucially, walked back the claim that Clinton herself was the target of the probe. A spokesman for the campaign released a statement on Twitter early this morning blasting the report:

Contrary to the initial story, which has already been significantly revised, she followed appropriate practices in dealing with classified materials. As has been reported on multiple occasions, any released emails deemed classified by the administration have been done so after the fact, and not at the time they were transmitted.”

But there has been no specific comment from the Clinton campaign on the Wall Street Journal's report, which essentially backs up the original Times report with on the record statements from officials and includes McCullough's letter to Congress. The Journal story, however, includes no claims of a criminal investigation into Clinton as the Times report had alleged. Before delivering remarks on the economy today, Clinton criticized what she described as "a lot of inaccuracies," in recent reports, seemingly referring to the Times story. "Maybe the heat is getting to everybody," she joked before getting serious. "We all have a responsibility to get this right ... We are all accountable to the American people to get the facts right and I will do my part, but I'm also going to stay focused on the issues, particularly the big issues that really matter to American families," she said.

Nevertheless, Republicans in Congress have already jumped on the initial New York Times report to demand that Clinton turn in her server for investigation. “Two inspector generals appointed by President Obama have now called on the Justice Department to investigate Secretary Clinton’s mishandling of classified email. If Secretary Clinton truly has nothing to hide, she can prove it by immediately turning over her server to the proper authorities and allowing them to examine the complete record,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement Friday, citing the faulty report.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said "a full investigation by the Justice Department is not just needed, but required," calling on Clinton to "hand her entire secret server over to an independent third party for further review.”

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Doj Fbi Hillary Clinton Hillary Clinton Emails Media Criticism The New York Times Wall Street Journal