Hillary’s June 17, 2011 email message to advisor Jake Sullivan already is being called a “smoking gun” by her critics. A better way to describe it is like a puzzle piece: while it is by no means a final piece, it is a single piece that immediately shows you what the overall picture really looks like as soon as it snaps into place.
Just released by the State Department, the message is part of an email string between Hillary and adviser Jake Sullivan dated June 16-17, 2011. The emails involve a set of talking points that Hillary was waiting on from her staff (the actual talking points were redacted). The talking points had been drafted in hard copy, on a document that was labeled as “classified”. Because of its classified status, Hillary’s staff had tried to send it to her by secure fax, but there was a delay encountered with the attempts to transmit the document to her by those means. In response, Hillary gave the following soon-to-be-infamous instructions in reference to this “classified” hard copy document:
“…turn into nonpaper w no identifying heading and send nonsecure”
On its surface, this email appears to be a self-contained, one-stop-shopping kind of admission that should result in an indictment against Hillary. After all, she gives explicit instructions to remove a classified designation from a document and then to send the document over what she admits is a non-secure transmission.
But under further scrutiny, the email by itself is not the kind of iron clad admission that results in a prosecution, especially once the Clinton camp begins its creative attempts to explain it. Hillary defenders already have been pointing out that although Hillary gave instructions to alter the document and then send it non-secure, there is no evidence that actually happened. Also, it is certainly possible that Hillary had made a judgment that the talking points were not classified, such that her instructions to remove the “classified” designation were consistent with her judgment as to the status of that information. This explanation would be consistent with Hillary’s general strategy of “plausible deniability”, i.e., Hillary’s strategy to deny actually knowing that any particular email contained classified information so long as it was not marked “classified”. While this document was marked “classified”, Hillary will argue that the content of the talking points did not qualify as “classified” information, and therefore her instructions to remove the designation were appropriate.
In fact the bumbling GOP and other Clinton critics should not be debating whether Hillary could plausibly deny knowing that particular emails were classified. Rather, they should focus on the practical question of how Hillary possibly could have executed the job of Secretary of State without accessing classified information by a personal email device; that is, without immediate and convenient access to classified information on a 24/7 basis, no matter the time or location?
A related question: what are the odds, with the demands of this position and the volume of emails involved, there was not even a single situation that was so urgent that it required Hillary to review a document marked “classified” on her personal email device? If one were to ask an experienced auditor, she would likely express serious concerns of fraud if she did not find at least a couple of instances where a document marked classified was sent to Hillary by mistake, or in an emergency when there was no other option. A small number of deviations in a process like this are in fact expected, whereas zero deviations raises the possibility of fraud.
Even before the Sullivan email, all indications were that Team Hillary had developed a work-around process to enable Hillary to review classified information on her email device when absolutely necessary, while still being able to argue that Hillary never knowingly sent or received anything classified. The answer of what work-around process they were using became clear as more Hillary emails have been released by the government.
It turns out that thousands of emails — NONE OF THEM MARK CLASSIFIED — had been sent to Hillary and are now designated as classified based on the government’s retrospective review. The most likely explanation is that some or even most of this classified content originated from a document that in fact was marked “classified.” At the point when there was a need to transmit such information to Hillary by email, the sender would extract the necessary information, omit the designation, and hit “send.” Of course this was being done systematically, likely as an unwritten rule that you only send Hillary classified information by email if you first protect the future President of the United States by removing any “classified” designation.
It may have been the obvious explanation, but it was still going to be difficult to prove. This is why the Jake Sullivan email is so important. It the first hard evidence that Team Hillary had a work-around for what seemed to be an impossibly-difficult situation of a Secretary of State that cannot do classified business by email. The email shows Hillary’s willingness to follow this process in one instance, and it serves as the only reasonable explanation in what is now thousands of other instances.
When viewed as a key piece of the larger puzzle, the Sullivan email suggests a scheme to circumvent government email protections that is so plainly deceptive, so obviously criminal, that it will be hard for most people to accept. Yet if one puts aside the shock and dismay about having this level of corruption present in the U.S. government, and the reluctance to believe our public officials have sunk this low, then the picture of Hilary’s mindset about following the rules for classified information becomes extremely clear.