|Colin Powell: I stored my State emails in this vial of Iraqi anthrax.|
Okay, no, he didn't store his emails in a vial of Iraqi anthrax. He was more sensible. He deleted them all.
Appearing on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, Powell responded to revelations that he used a personal email account, rather than a government one, when he was in charge of the State Department. Questions about his email use arose last week when it was disclosed that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used a personal email account during her tenure.
“I don’t have any to turn over. I did not keep a cache of them. I did not print them off. I do not have thousands of pages somewhere in my personal files,” Powell said. “A lot of the emails that came out of my personal account went into the State Department system. They were addressed to State Department employees and state.gov domain, but I don’t know if the servers in the State Department captured those or not.
“When I entered the State Department I found an antiquated system that had to be modernized and modernized quickly,” he said. “I started using [email] in order to get everybody to use it, so we could be a 21st-century institution and not a 19th-century [one]. But I retained none of those emails, and we are working with the State Department to see if there’s anything else they want to discuss with me about those emails.”
The emails he sent were all unclassified, mostly “benign,” he said, and probably not important even if they can be recovered.This news story was in March of this year. And then the press badgered him endlessly. Wait. No they didn't.
Jump forward until this week when Monday the FBI released its investigation notes along with a lengthy memo. What did these show, according to Mother Jones' Kevin Drum?
Most people the FBI talked to used private email accounts all the time; did their best to keep classified information out of these channels; and didn't believe that any of the emails they sent included classified information. Other classification authorities have disagreed, as we all know by now, and the entire discussion gives you a taste of how subjective the classification process is. Basically, we have lots of experienced people who disagree about whether various things really ought to be classified.I got a bit of pushback on this that boiled down to: "Classified is classified. It doesn't matter if you disagree. There are strict rules about how you can handle sensitive information, and you have to follow them whether you like it or not."
True enough. But this only applies to documents that are marked classified at the time they're sent. In this case we're talking about documents created by folks at State that hadn't been classified yet. This doesn't let the originators off the hook: they're supposed to know whether anything in their email is sensitive and take appropriate precautions. But it's still a judgment call, and it's quite possible that ten people will have ten different opinions.
In this case, the originators all believed they were phrasing things in such a way that they were safe to send over an unclassified email account. Years later, classification authorities disagreed in a number of cases. So who's right? There's no way for the public to know. We just know that a lot of high-level State employees made judgments that were apparently uncontroversial at the time but were eventually overruled by classification authorities.
Of course, this doesn't include the three emails that were marked classified in the body of the email. Here's what the FBI report had to say about those:I've pointed this out before, as Josh Marshall has about the Clinton Foundation. In fact, if you read Josh, you'll see that the real scandal are the bribes Donald Trump paid to the attorneys general of Texas and Florida to dissuade them from investigating Trump University. that's a real scandal. But it's not a Clinton scandal? So, bo-o-ring.
The emails contained no additional marketing, such as a header or footer, indicating they were classified. State confirmed through the FOIA review process that one of these three e-mail chains contains information which is currently classified at the CONFIDENTIAL level. State determined that the other two e-mail chains are currently UNCLASSIFIED.So two of them aren't classified at all and shouldn't have been in the first place, while the third is obviously something trivial ("Confidential" is the lowest possible level of classification). If that's your case against Hillary—one trivial email over four years that shouldn't have been sent—then go to town with it. The rest of us will spend our time on stuff that matters.