Lawyers Reviewed Classified Clinton Communications Without Clearance

FBI files show Williams & Connolly partner admitted emails viewed by non-cleared attorneys

Hillary Clinton / AP
October 17, 2016

Lawyers without security clearances viewed emails from Hillary Clinton’s personal server that included classified communications, according to files released by the FBI.

The revelation comes in a batch of interview summaries released by the bureau on Monday in connection with its investigation into Clinton’s use of personal email to conduct government business during her time as secretary of state.

Attorneys representing Clinton and Cheryl Mills, her chief of staff at the State Department, admitted to investigators during a meeting on August 17, 2015 that emails from Clinton’s private server "had been viewed by attorneys who did not have a security clearance at the time they reviewed the material."

The meeting involved Katherine Turner, a partner at law firm Williams & Connolly, as well as another attorney from the firm and legal counsel for Mills from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, whose names have been redacted. They met with FBI officials to discuss handing over six laptops used to review Clinton’s communications, which were "known to contain Top Secret classified information."

During the August 17 meeting, Turner "acknowledged that these laptops contain Top Secret email communications" but said that attorneys who viewed them "were not aware that they were classified at the time" because the messages did not contain classification markings.

"Both [Mills’ counsel] and TURNER admitted that the emails contained on these laptops had been viewed by attorneys who did not have a security clearance at the time they reviewed the material," the FBI documents state. "TURNER said the emails did not contain classification markers and thus they were not aware that they were classified at the time."

FBI Director James Comey told a House panel in July that Clinton granted individuals without security clearances access to classified information, though he could not confirm that those individuals, particularly her lawyers, had read the classified material.

At the time, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign insisted that "the lawyers who sorted through Clinton’s emails had Top Secret-level clearance."

Both David Kendall, Clinton’s personal attorney at Williams & Connolly, and Turner, his partner, had previously received top secret security clearances from the U.S. government. The files released Monday indicate that other lawyers without proper clearances also viewed Clinton’s emails.

The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Of the six laptops, one was in possession of Mills’ lawyer, whose name was redacted and who "admitted that the computer in his possession has been connected to the Internet on numerous occasions subsequent to being loaded with the classified email communications," the FBI documents state.

This particular laptop was used by Heather Samuelson, a lawyer and 2008 Clinton campaign staffer, who worked under Mills to review Clinton’s 60,000 emails and delete half of them deemed personal.

The remaining work-related communications were eventually turned over to the FBI.

The FBI announced in July that it would not recommend charges in the case, though Comey faulted Clinton and her aides for being "extremely careless" in their handling of classified information.

Clinton has repeatedly stated that she never sent or received classified information on her personal system. However, the FBI found 113 emails on Clinton’s server that contained classified material at the time they were sent or received, including some communications that were top secret.

The bureau on Monday released nearly three dozen summaries of interviews in connection with its investigation into Clinton’s use of private email at the State Department. The FBI, which has previously published declassified documents related to the investigation, released the summaries under pressure from congressional lawmakers.

Clinton’s personal email use was first revealed by the New York Times in March 2015 and quickly became a flashpoint of the 2016 presidential election.