The State Department is continuing an investigation of e-mail use among employees who worked for Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state, asking scores of current and former officials to submit to questioning by the bureau overseeing diplomatic security, former officials said Sunday.
The investigation is examining whether employees used secure channels and the proper classification designations for what appeared to be routine e-mails at the time, former officials said. The e-mails were on subjects that were not considered classified at the time, but that have been or are being retroactively marked as classified.
The e-mails were sent to Clinton while she was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, in former president Barack Obama’s administration. They appear to have come to the attention of the diplomatic security bureau during earlier inquiries conducted by the State Department, Congress, and the FBI into Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server.
Although the FBI director at the time, James Comey, said the bureau had found that Clinton did not engage in wrongdoing, those earlier investigations threw a long shadow over the 2016 presidential campaign and are considered by Clinton and many analysts to be a factor in President Trump’s victory.
The renewed focus on the e-mails was reported Saturday by The Washington Post.
Sometime soon after Trump took office and appointed Rex Tillerson as his first secretary of state, the department’s diplomatic security bureau carried out the first stages of an investigation into e-mail use by employees under Clinton, former officials said.
Most of the people being investigated were political appointees who were leaving or had already left the department.
The inquiry focused on the years when Clinton was leading the State Department, even though many of the employees continued to work under her successor, John Kerry, former officials said.
The investigators appeared to want to finish the inquiry quickly and move on, former officials said. At some point during Tillerson’s tenure, people who had heard of the investigation thought it had ended because the diplomatic security bureau no longer appeared to be actively pursuing the question, officials said.
Mike Pompeo took over as secretary of state in April 2018, and in recent months the diplomatic security bureau has been interviewing current and former employees again about their e-mail use under Clinton, former officials said.
Before joining the Trump administration, Pompeo was a Republican member of the House, and served on the committee investigating the deadly raid on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. Pompeo was among those who aggressively questioned Clinton.
The Justice Department inquiry into her use of a private e-mail server had its roots in that congressional investigation, which brought to light Clinton’s e-mail practices.
Former officials who described the current inquiry Sunday did so on the condition of anonymity, given the sensitivity of the matter. The State Department did not reply to a request for comment on the current investigation.
Looking to future prospects of the inquiry, the diplomatic security bureau could decide to make a formal note in a person’s file saying he or she had mishandled classified information, according to former officials. That could lead to that person being unable to get proper security clearances in the future, or the applicant might have to wait a long time for those clearances to be approved.
Former officials said scrutinizing employees over their handling of information that was not classified at the time, and only retroactively classified, was unusual.
Also, many of those e-mails summarize conversations with foreign officials who themselves have no security clearance in the US government, yet are engaged in discussions about topics of interest to US counterparts. In many cases, e-mails that went to Clinton were part of a long e-mail chain created by officials forwarding e-mails to one another.