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Former State Department Officials Face Questioning Over Emails On Clinton Server


Meanwhile, in the maelstrom of Ukraine whistleblower impeachment news, the Trump administration is also finding time to focus on Hillary Clinton's emails again. Former top State Department officials who worked with then-Secretary of State Clinton are facing questions about emails they sent which ended up on Clinton's private server. It was the Washington Post that first broke this story. NPR's Michele Kelemen has been talking today to some of the former officials caught up in it. Hey there, Michele.


KELLY: So how many people are affected by this, and what is the administration looking for?

KELEMEN: I'm told that about 150 former and current State Department officials have received letters. And I talked to a few of the diplomats today who didn't want to be named, and what they described was kind of two rounds of this - that in December of 2017 or January of 2018, they got formal letters about potential security violations, and it included the redacted emails that they had sent. And one person said it was so redacted it was blank, basically. And if you wanted to go contest it, you have to go back to diplomatic security, read the actual emails and then try to clear your name. They thought it was all over then, but then in August of this year, a new round of letters came about other emails.

KELLY: Do we know what was in these emails? What were they about?

KELEMEN: It was basically a whole range of emails - the fast-moving events of the Arab Spring, Afghanistan, the war in Syria. One person told me that emails in question were summaries of cell phone conversations with foreign ministers that wanted to get urgent messages passed along to Hillary Clinton. So, you know, remember, it's cell phone conversations, so not on a very secure line.

KELLY: One key point to tease out here is that the material here was not classified at the time the emails were sent, right? They were - it was retroactively classified.

KELEMEN: That's right, and that's the big question that a lot of these diplomats have. You know, they were a dinner conversation with a bunch of foreign officials or with a bunch of foreigners, and they were writing back to this. Why would that be classified now? And that's a question that a lot of these people are having - why they were retroactively classified. And by the way, I should mention that some were told that they were retroactively classified in 2015, 2016, before the Trump administration came to office. Others didn't know when theirs were retroactively classified.

KELLY: That's an important point. Another important point - you mentioned timing, that this picked up again last month. Do we know why? I mean, and I'll just come out and ask. Do we know if this is in any way linked to everything going on with Ukraine and the whistleblower?

KELEMEN: Well, the people that received the letters certainly think that it all is politically motivated. The State Department wouldn't comment to me about that today.

KELLY: What are the stakes here? For those of us trying to follow along with everything else going on, why does this matter? What's the potential consequence here?

KELEMEN: Well, there is a potential consequence for officials who are steeped in foreign policy knowledge to be able to come back to a government job. So this is going to affect their security clearances in the future or their future nominations if they ever are nominated to become a State Department official.

KELLY: It could be a black mark on their record.

KELEMEN: That's right. And one person sent me the letter that he wrote back to the State Department on this, and it said, with hindsight, I resent that the private email server - that is, Hillary Clinton's server - ended up putting so many scrupulous, professional and effective foreign service officers at risk of so many security violations.

KELLY: NPR's State Department correspondent Michele Kelemen. Thanks, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.