A Comprehensive Guide To Myths And Facts About Hillary Clinton, Benghazi, and Those Emails

On October 22, Hillary Clinton will testify before the House Select Committee on Benghazi regarding the September 11, 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi and her use of a personal email address while secretary of state. In their relentless drive to find a scandal that doesn't exist, media have spent the last three years pushing numerous myths surrounding Clinton's alleged role in the attacks and her legal use of her personal email account.

FACT: There Is No Evidence That Clinton Personally Signed Off On A Cable Reducing Security In Benghazi 

FACT: The State Department Did Not Watch The Benghazi Attacks Unfold In Real Time 

FACT: Hillary Clinton Was Not Unaccounted For During The Attacks, She Was In Continuous Contact With Administration Officials 

FACT: Contrary To Conservative Conspiracies, Clinton Missed A Scheduled Benghazi Hearing After Being Injured

FACT: Clinton's “What Difference, At This Point, Does It Make” Comment Was Referring To The Administration's Post-Attack Talking Points, Not Tragic Consequences Of Attack

FACT: Intelligence Community, The Suspected Attackers, And Eyewitnesses All Linked The Inflammatory Anti-Islam Video To The Attacks

FACT: There Is No Proof Clinton's State Department Scrubbed, Altered, Or Covered Up Any Benghazi Documents

FACT: Benghazi Witnesses Spoke To Federal Officials And Congress, And Were Not Blocked From Coming Forward By Clinton

FACT: Contrary To Consevative Media Smears, Clinton Said She Took Responsibility For The Benghazi Attack

FACT: While Conservatives Claimed She Was Silent, Clinton Spoke Extensively About Benghazi Following Attack 

FACT: Clinton's Use Of A Personal Email Account Was Legal And Did Not Violate State Department Policy

FACT: Clinton Is Not The Subject Of A Criminal Investigation Over Her Emails

FACT: Clinton Did Not Receive Any Emails Labeled As “Classified” Or “Top Secret” At The Time They Were Sent 

FACT:Clinton's Use Of A Private Server Did Not Raise Additional Questions About The Retroactive Classification Of Her Emails 

FACT: Conservative Comparisons Of Clinton To Petraeus Ignore The Fact That Unlike Petraeus, There's No Evidence Clinton Knowingly Emailed Classified Information 

FACT: CIA Says Clinton Did Not Expose Classified Information About Libyan Intelligence Source With Email Contrary To Conservative Claims

MYTH: Clinton Personally Signed-Off On Order To Reduce Security At U.S. Diplomatic Facilities In Benghazi

Fox's Catherine Herridge: “Mrs. Clinton Personally Signed Off On Reducing Security” In Benghazi, According To Letter From House Republicans. On the July 31, 2014 edition of Fox's America's Newsroom, chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge hyped House Republicans' accusation that Clinton's signature on an April 2012 State Department cable proved that the then-secretary of state “personally signed off on reducing security” in Benghazi:'

CATHERINE HERRIDGE: And while the State Department and Mrs. Clinton have said the security decisions were made by mid-level managers, this letter to the president from the five chairmen of the House committees investigating Benghazi describes a cable, which Fox News understands was never produced to the intelligence committee, where Mrs. Clinton personally signed-off on reducing security. And that letter reads, in part, quote, “An April 19, 2012, cable bearing Secretary Clinton's signature acknowledged requests for additional security but nevertheless ordered the withdrawal of security assets to proceed as planned.” [Fox News, America's Newsroom7/31/14]

FACT: There Is No Evidence That Clinton Was Personally Aware Of That Cable, As Secretary's “Signature” Appears On All Washington Cables

Wash Post Fact Checker: “Absurd” To Claim Clinton's Signature On Cable Shows She Personally Approved Security Reduction. Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler awarded four Pinocchios to the claim -- made in 2013 by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Fox News -- that Clinton's signature is evidence that she had personal knowledge of the security reduction. He dismissed the notion as a “whopper” (emphasis added): 

[E]very cable from an embassy bears the “signature” of the ambassador -- and every cable from Washington bears the “signature” of the secretary of state. 


[E]very single cable from Washington gets the secretary's name at the bottom, even if the secretary happens to be on the other side of the world at the time.


At this point, Issa has no basis or evidence to show that Clinton had anything to do with this cable -- any more than she personally approved a cable on proper e-mail etiquette. The odds are extremely long that Clinton ever saw or approved this memo, giving us confidence that his inflammatory and reckless language qualifies as a “whopper.” [The Washington Post, Fact Checker, 4/26/13]

MYTH: Clinton's State Department Watched Benghazi Attacks Unfold In “Real Time”

Fox's Hannity: “Somebody At The State Department” Was Watching The Attack “In Real Time.” On the October 15, 2012 edition of Fox News' Hannity, host Sean Hannity claimed that “somebody at the State Department [was] watching [the attack] in real time”:

HANNITY: Also, this is the problem they have with their story. It's falling apart because they said that this was spontaneous, a mob uprising, but we had somebody at the State Department watching in real time. [Fox News, Hannity, 10/15/12, via Nexis]

FACT: The State Department Did Not Have Access To Live Feed Of Attacks In Real Time 

The State Department Did Not Have Access To “Real-Time Video” Of Benghazi Attacks. During an October 2012 congressional hearing, State Department employee Charlene Lamb noted that she had been following the developments in Benghazi that night through a series of telephone calls “almost in real-time.” According to an administration official, the Benghazi compound did have closed-circuit video surveillance, but it could not be monitored from outside the facility, and Clinton confirmed during her congressional testimony that no one at the State Department was watching real-time video of the attacks as they unfolded. [Media Matters1/24/13]

MYTH: Clinton Was Unaccounted For During The Attacks

Laura Ingraham: “We Know That The Secretary Of State Had Not A Single Conversation With The Commander In Chief.” During a May 7, 2013 interview with Rep. Peter King (R-NY) on her radio show, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham said, “We know that the secretary of state had not a single conversation with the commander-in-chief. Not one during this attack”: 

LAURA INGRAHAM: We know that the secretary of state had not a single conversation with the commander-in-chief. Not one during this attack. Not one conversation? That just seems bizarre to me. I mean that's just one point, but that's a pretty darn good question. Why?

REP. PETER KING: Absolutely, it's an excellent question, and to me it's one that, it's unfortunate that it even has to be asked. I mean you would think they would have been on the phone, or in contact, continually.

INGRAHAM: My God. [Courtside Entertainment Group, The Laura Ingraham Show5/7/13]

Fox's Crowley: Obama And Clinton “Unaccounted For” On The Night Of The Attack. Fox News contributor Monica Crowley claimed in 2013 that Obama and Clinton -- “the two leaders of the U.S. government” --were “unaccounted for that night. We have no narrative of where they were or what they were doing.” [Fox News, America's Newsroom5/9/13]

FACT: Hillary Clinton Was In Continuous Contact With Administration Officials Throughout The Night

Clinton Spoke With Obama, Military Officials, And National Security Advisor During Attack. Congressional testimony has confirmed Clinton was in close contact with military officials and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon throughout the night of the attacks. The former deputy chief of mission in Libya testified in 2013 that Clinton called him during the attack to be briefed on developments. Clinton also testified in 2013 that she spoke with administration officials and President Obama from her office at the State Department throughout the night. [Media Matters5/8/13Media Matters5/9/13]

MYTH: Clinton Faked Health Issues To Delay Testifying Over Attack

Fox's Guilfoyle: Clinton Did A “Duck And Cover” To Get Out Of Testifying To Congress By Claiming She Had A Concussion. On the December 19, 2012 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle accused Clinton of running “a duck and cover” after suffering a concussion, which caused her to delay her first scheduled hearing to testify before Congress about Benghazi. Co-host Greg Gutfeld went on to ask, “How can she get a concussion when she has been ducking everything [related to Benghazi]?” [Fox News, The Five12/19/12]

Fox's Bolton Suggested Clinton Was Faking “Diplomatic Illness” To Avoid Testifying About Benghazi. During the December 17, 2012 edition of Fox News' On the Record, Fox News contributor John Bolton told host Greta van Susteren that when foreign service officers “don't want to go to a meeting or conference or event,” they have “a diplomatic illness. And this is a diplomatic illness to beat the band.” He continued: 

JOHN BOLTON: I mean, I certainly hope it's nothing serious. But this was revealed in a way that I think was not transparent, and I think there is an obligation here, especially if Secretary Clinton decides to run for president, to indicate what happened. She may beat testifying this week, but she's not going to escape it forever.

Van Susteren noted after Bolton spoke that “it has been reported prior to the concussion that she had the flu. ... She reported that she was dehydrated, and if you fall and hit your head and get a concussion, that is a brain injury.” [Fox News, On the Record, 12/17/12]

FACT: Clinton Suffered A Concussion And Has Fully Recovered

George Washington University Hospital: Clinton Suffered A Concussion, But Made A Full Recovery. In a statement released by the State Department on behalf of two of Clinton's doctors, her doctors said Clinton had a clot “in the vein that is situated in the space between the brain and the skull behind the right ear.” Clinton subsequently recovered and testified on Benghazi in a congressional hearing in early 2013. [CBS News, 1/1/13Media Matters5/13/14]

MYTH: Clinton Dismissed The Deaths In Benghazi By Saying, “What Difference, At This Point, Does It Make?” 

Fox Claimed Clinton Was Referring To Deaths of Four Americans When She Asked, “What Difference ... Does It Make?” During her January 2013 congressional testimony, Clinton was asked a question about the State Department's role in editing National Security Advisor Susan Rice's talking points to remove a reference to the attackers' motive. Clinton's response -- in particular, her comment, “What difference, at this point, does it make?” -- was frequently cited out of context by figures on Fox News, who falsely claimed she was dismissing the deaths of the four Americans killed that night. [Media Matters9/16/14]

FACT: Clinton Was Referring To The Administration's Post-Attack Talking Points, Not Tragic Consequences Of Attack

Clinton's Remarks Were Focused On The Irrelevance Of Media Talking Points. Clinton was asked during her 2013 testimony by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) about the talking points Susan Rice used for her Sunday show appearances, not the attacks themselves (emphasis added):

SEN. RON JOHNSON: Yes. The point I'm making is a very simple phone call to these individuals, I think, would have ascertained immediately that there was no protest prior to this. I mean this attack started at 9:40PM Benghazi time and it was an assault. And I appreciate the fact that called it an assault. But I'm going back to Ambassador Rice, five days later going to the Sunday shows and what I would say purposefully misleading the American public.

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, since -

JOHNSON: Why wasn't that known? And again I appreciate the fact that the transparency of this hearing. But why weren't we transparent at that point in time?

CLINTON: Well, first of all, Senator, I would say that once the assault happened and once we got our people rescued and out, our most immediate concern was number one taking care of their injuries.


JOHNSON: No, no. Again. We were misled that there were supposedly protests and then something spread out of that - an assault sprang out of that. And that was easily ascertained that that was not the fact ... And the American people could have known that within days and they didn't know that.

CLINTON: With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest? Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they would go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator. Now, honestly I will do my best to answer your questions about this, but the-the fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information. The I.C. has a process, I understand, going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came out. [Media Matters9/16/14; CNN.com, 1/23/13]

MYTH: Clinton's Mention Of Controversial Anti-Islam Video Was A “Diversion Tactic” 

Fox's Hannity: Clinton “Chose ... To Rant About A Phantom Movie That May Or May Not Exist.” On the September 13, 2012, edition of Fox News' Hannity, host Sean Hannity attacked the Obama administration for citing an anti-Islam video posted on YouTube as a catalyst for the attack in Benghazi. Hannity said that Obama administration officials “now appear to be buying into a narrative that the trailer for a low-budget anti-Muslim film is actually responsible for the chaos in the streets in the Middle East.” He then said that Clinton “rant[ed] about a phantom movie that may or may not exist.” [Fox News, Hannity, 9/13/12, via Nexis]

FACT: Intelligence Community, The Suspected Attackers, And Eyewitnesses All Linked The Inflammatory Anti-Islam Video To The Attacks

Senate Select Committee On Intelligence: Intel Reports Linked Inflammatory Video To Benghazi Attack. A Senate Select Committee on Intelligence review of the Benghazi attack found that “some intelligence suggests” an inflammatory video linked to violent protests around the region led terror groups to conduct “similar attacks with advanced warning”:

It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attacks or whether extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. Some intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day's violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video, suggesting that these and other terrorist groups could conduct similar attacks with little advance warning. [Review Of The Terrorist Attacks On U.S. Facilities In Benghazi, Libya, September 11-12, 2012, U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 1/15/14]

NY Times: Suspected Benghazi Ringleader Told Witnesses The Benghazi Attack Was In Response To Inflammatory Anti-Islam Video. According to The New York Times, Ahmed Abu Khattala, who was captured in June 2014 by U.S. military on an indictment for murder in connection with his role as a suspected ringleader of the Benghazi attack, “told fellow Islamist fighters” on the night of the attack “and others that the assault was retaliation for the same insulting video” mocking Islam that inspired demonstrations in Cairo: 

During the assault on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, Mr. Abu Khattala was a vivid presence. Witnesses saw him directing the swarming attackers who ultimately killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.


On the day of the attack, Islamists in Cairo had staged a demonstration outside the United States Embassy there to protest an American-made online video mocking Islam, and the protest culminated in a breach of the embassy's walls -- images that flashed through news coverage around the Arab world. 

As the attack in Benghazi was unfolding a few hours later, Mr. Abu Khattala told fellow Islamist fighters and others that the assault was retaliation for the same insulting video, according to people who heard him. 

In an interview a few days later, he pointedly declined to say whether an offensive online video might indeed warrant the destruction of the diplomatic mission or the killing of the ambassador. [The New York Times6/18/14]

NY Times: “The Attackers” In Benghazi “Did Tell Bystanders That They Were Attacking The Compound Because They Were Angry About The Video.” The New York Times reported that on the night of the Benghazi attack, attackers “did tell bystanders that they were attacking the compound because they were angry about the video” (emphasis original):

What do eyewitnesses say about the events in Benghazi? Were they related to the insulting video, or is that a red herring? And was the assault planned for the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, or was it spontaneous?

According to reporting by David D. Kirkpatrick and Suliman Ali Zway of The New York Times, eyewitnesses have said there was no peaceful demonstration against the video outside the compound before the attack, though a crowd of Benghazi residents soon gathered, and some later looted the compound. But the attackers, recognized as members of a local militant group called Ansar al-Shariah, did tell bystanders that they were attacking the compound because they were angry about the video. They did not mention the Sept. 11anniversary. Intelligence officials believe that planning for the attack probably began only a few hours before it took place. [The New York Times10/17/12]

MYTH: Clinton's State Department Scrubbed Key Benghazi Documents

Attkisson Hyped Baseless Claim That Clinton's State Department Covered Up Damaging Benghazi Documents. On September 15, 2014, in a post on The Heritage Foundation's The Daily Signal blog, discredited reporter Sharyl Attkisson highlighted disgruntled former State Department employee Raymond Maxwell's unsupported allegation that “Hillary Clinton confidants were part of an operation to 'separate' damaging documents before they were turned over to the Accountability Review Board (ARB) investigating security lapses surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.” According to Attkisson, Maxwell claimed to have observed an “after-hours” document sorting session at which a State Department office director “close to Clinton's top advisers” told staff to separate out Benghazi documents “that might put anybody in the Near Eastern Affairs front office or the seventh floor in a bad light.” [The Daily Signal, 9/15/14]

FACT: There Is No Proof Any Documents Were Scrubbed Or Altered

Maxwell Did Not Claim Documents Were Withheld, Just That He “Couldn't Help But Wonder” If They Were. Attkisson's report noted that Maxwell didn't stay to observe the full document sorting process, but simply reviewed a separated stack of documents that “included pre-attack telegrams and cables between the U.S. embassy in Tripoli and State Department headquarters” and later “couldn't help but wonder” if the ARB investigation had been skewed. From Attkisson's report:

In May 2013, when critics questioned the ARB's investigation as not thorough enough, co-chairmen Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Adm. Mike Mullen responded that “we had unfettered access to everyone and everything including all the documentation we needed.” 

Maxwell says when he heard that statement, he couldn't help but wonder if the ARB -- perhaps unknowingly -- had received from his bureau a scrubbed set of documents with the most damaging material missing. [The Daily Signal, 9/15/14

Rep. CummingsSecond Witness, Who Maxwell Claimed Would Back Up His Story, Denied Maxwell's ClaimsIn a November 2014 letter published by Mother Jones, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, wrote to Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), the head of the Select Committee on Benghazi, that Maxwell had identified to the committee's Republican staff a “second witness that he claimed was present during this document review” who could “corroborate his allegations,” but that the “second witness” denied Maxwell's claims when interviewed by Republican staff. Cummings further alleged Republican staff deliberately hid this information from Democratic staff. [Media Matters1/27/15]

MYTH: Clinton Blocked Benghazi Whistleblower From Coming Forward

Fox's Doocy Claimed Benghazi Witnesses “Threatened” By Clinton's State Department. On the April 30, 2013 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy cited allegations from two Republican lawyers to claim that unnamed Benghazi witnesses have been “threatened” by the Obama administration and are scared of speaking out. An on-screen graphic from Fox implied that the State Department was preventing witnesses from giving testimony about the attacks. [Fox News, Fox & Friends4/30/13]

FACT: Benghazi Witnesses Spoke To Federal Officials And Congress

Benghazi Witnesses And Officials Have Repeatedly Spoken To State Department, The FBI, And Congress. The U.S. deputy chief of mission in Libya, Gregory Hicks, spoke with congressional investigators after the 2012 attack and was interviewed twice by State Department officials as part of the agency's independent internal investigation. Other witnesses have also spoken to the FBI and Congress, and Congress received redacted transcripts of their interviews. [Media Matters4/30/13Media Matters5/9/13]

MYTH: Clinton Never Took “Any Kind Of Responsibility” For Attacks

Fox's Kirsten Powers: Clinton Seems Not To Be “Taking Any Kind Of Responsibility” For Benghazi. During the December 22, 2012 edition of Fox News' Fox News Watch, Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers said, “I think Hillary Clinton has said the buck stops with her. The president says the buck stops with him, and yet, they're the only two people who don't seem to be really taking any kind of responsibility.” [Fox News, Fox News Watch, 12/22/12, via Nexis]

FACT: Clinton Said She Took Responsibility For The Attack

WSJ: “Clinton Accepts Blame For Benghazi.” More than two months earlier, on October 16, The Wall Street Journal quoted Clinton as saying she “take[s] responsibility” for the attack:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she takes responsibility for security at the American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, where Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died in an attack last month.

“I take responsibility,” Mrs. Clinton said in a recent interview in her office. “I'm the Secretary of State with 60,000-plus employees around the world. This is like a big family...It's painful, absolutely painful.” [The Wall Street Journal10/16/12]

MYTH: Clinton Was Silent On Benghazi Following Attack

Fox's Krauthammer: Clinton “Didn't Say A Word” For Months Following Benghazi Attack. On the January 8, 2013 edition of Fox News' Special Report, Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer said, “The first thing [Clinton] has to explain is why for three months after the event -- two months after the event, and before her injury she didn't say a word. She is the head of the department. The ambassador worked for her. He didn't work for Susan Rice. And she said the buck stops here and then she said nothing.” [Fox News, Special Report, 1/8/13, via Nexis]

FACT: Clinton Spoke Extensively About Benghazi Following Attack

September 11: Clinton Condemns Benghazi Attack. On the day of the Benghazi attacks, Clinton released a press statement condemning the events and coordinated additional security for Americans in Libya. [State.gov, 9/11/12]

September 12: Clinton Pays Respects To Ambassador Stevens And Sean Smith. In remarks at the State Department, Clinton again condemned the attacks on Americans in Benghazi and paid respects to Ambassador Chris Stevens and U.S. foreign service officer Sean Smith. [State.gov, 9/12/12]

September 14: Clinton Pays Respects To Four Dead Americans. During a ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, Secretary Clinton paid respects to the four deceased Americans and thanked their families for their service to the country. [State.gov, 9/14/12]

October 12: Clinton On Benghazi: “To This Day We Do Not Have A Complete Picture.” In remarks made on October 12, Clinton said that the details of the attack were still being investigated and that “there is much we still don't know.” [ABC News, 10/12/12

October 15: Clinton Takes Responsibility For Benghazi Attack. In an October 15 CNN interview, Clinton said that she was responsible for the security of diplomats abroad and committed to bringing those responsible to space justice. [CNN, 10/15/12]

October 16: Clinton Speaks In-Depth About Attacks. In a lengthy interview with CBS News, Clinton emphasized that the information about the details of the attacks would evolve beyond what was immediately known. [CBS News, 10/16/12]

MYTH: Hillary Clinton May Have Committed A Crime In Her Use Of A Personal Email Account 

NY Times: “May Have Violated” Federal Law With Email Use. In its initial report on Clinton's use of a personal email account as secretary of state, the Times accused Clinton of possibly having “violated federal requirements that officials' correspondence be retained as part of the agency's record” with her use of personal email for official government business during her time at the department, specifically citing the Federal Records Act. The paper's public editor Margaret Sullivan subsequently acknowledged that the article “was not without fault,” and subsequentTimes reports walked back the initial allegation. [Media Matters, 3/13/15]

FACT: Clinton's Use Of A Personal Email Account Was Legal And Did Not Violate State Department Policy

The National Law Journal: Clinton “Obeyed The Law.”  In a March 9 article on Clinton emails, The National Law Journal explained that according to legal experts, Clinton “technically obeyed the law” with her use of email. The Journal explained: 

“There's not any blanket prohibition on any federal employee from using a personal email account to conduct government business,” said Potomac Law Group partner Neil Koslowe, a former Justice Department special litigation counsel who has worked on cases involving the Federal Records Act.

If it turns out that Clinton destroyed documents or mishandled classified information, that would be another story -- such violations can be criminal. However, the State Department has said there are “no indications” that Clinton improperly used her email for classified information.

The New York Times on March 2 reported that Clinton relied on her personal email account exclusively when she ran the State Department between 2009 and 2013, thwarting government record-keeping procedures.

National Archives and Records Administration regulations require emails to be “preserved in the appropriate agency recordkeeping system,” but when Clinton was in government there was no specified deadline for turning them over.

In 2013, David Ferriero, who heads the archives, testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that the agency “discourages the use of private email accounts to conduct federal business, but understands that there are situations where such use does occur.”

Following that hearing, according to a statement from the archives, Congress amended the Federal Records Act and the Presidential Records Act in November 2014 -- 21 months after Clinton left government -- to “prohibit the use of private email accounts by government officials unless they copy or forward any such emails into their government account within 20 days.” [The National Law Journal, 3/9/15]

CNN: State Department Rules Allowed Clinton To Use Private Account. Citing a State Department source, CNN reported that “Clinton was not automatically in violation of State Department policy when she exclusively used a private email during her four years as America's top diplomat.” CNN further reported that 2005 guidelines insisting that employees use government-provided email “were filled with exemptions that could allow Clinton to use a private account.” [CNN, 3/6/15

MYTH: Clinton Is The Subject Of A Federal Criminal Investigation 

NY Times Reported That Federal Officials Were Seeking A Criminal Investigation Into Clinton's Email Use. On July 23, The New York Times published a report headlined “Criminal Inquiry Sought In Clinton's Use Of Email” which reported that two inspectors general are seeking a criminal investigation into Clinton's use of personal email while at the State Department, according to anonymous “senior government officials.” The Times later issued corrections indicating that the referral was not criminal and did not “specifically request an investigation into” Clinton. Times public editor Sullivan termed the original story “a mess.” [Media Matters7/27/15]

Fox's Chris Stirewalt: Clinton Might Be “The Subject Of A Federal Criminal Investigation.” On the August 12 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, digital editor Chris Stirewalt claimed that Clinton might become “the first major party nominee that is the subject of a federal criminal investigation.” [Fox News, America's Newsroom8/12/15]

FACT: IG Referral To Justice Department Was Not Criminal, And FBI Isn't Targeting Clinton

Joint Statement From The Two Inspectors General States That Only One Of Them Made A Referral And That It Was A Security, Not Criminal, Referral. In a joint statement releasedJuly 24, the Inspectors General of the Intelligence Community (IG IC) and the Department of State explained that the IG IC -- not both IGs -- had made “a security referral,” not a criminal one:

IC IG made a referral detailing the potential compromise of classified information to security officials within the Executive Branch. The main purpose of the referral was to notify security officials that classified information may exist on at least one private server and thumb drive that are not in the government's possession. An important distinction is that the IC IG did not make a criminal referral- it was a security referral made for counterintelligence purposes. The IC IG is statutorily required to refer potential compromises of national security information to the appropriate IC security officials. [Statement from the Inspectors General of the Intelligence Community and the Department of State Regarding the Review of Former Secretary Clinton's Emails, 7/24/15]

Wash. Post: Officials Say Clinton “Is Not A Target” Of FBI Probe. The Washington Post reported that government officials said Clinton is “not a target” of the FBI's investigation:

Hillary Rodham Clinton's attorney has agreed to provide the FBI with the private server that housed her e-mail during her four years as secretary of state, Clinton's presidential campaign said Tuesday.


The inquiry by the FBI is considered preliminary and appears to be focused on ensuring the proper handling of classified material. Officials have said that Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, is not a target.

The FBI's efforts have included contacting the Denver-based technology firm that helped manage the Clintons' unusual private ­e-mail system. [The Washington Post8/11/15]

MYTH: Clinton Received Emails Marked As “Top Secret”

Fox's Bret Baier: "'Top Secret' Was Marked On The Emails" Sent To Clinton. During the August 11 edition of Special Report, host Bret Baier claimed that "'top secret' was marked on the emails" that Clinton received during her time as secretary of state:

MIKE EMANUEL: The breaking news of the hour is that the intelligence inspector general has told top lawmakers on Capitol Hill that two of those four classified emails from Hillary Clinton's personal server were top secret in nature. And they're still studying the other two to figure out what the relevant classification should be. Bret?

BRET BAIER: 'Top secret' marked on the emails. FBI inquiry obviously already ongoing to classified information improperly stored, they said, on her private server. And also, Mike, a thumb drive held by her attorney?

EMANUEL: Well that's absolutely correct. All of her emails have been stored by her personal attorney. And a lot of folks on Capitol Hill have been asking, why is that still out there? Why is that not controlled by the intelligence community or by the State Department, this existing in the possession of a personal attorney? And so lots more questions on Capitol Hill and throughout the intelligence community this evening. [Fox News, Special Report8/11/15]

FACT: None Of The Emails Sent To Clinton Were Labeled As “Classified” Or “Top Secret” 

Government Officials: None Of The Emails Were Marked As “Classified” When They Were Sent. The Washington Post reported that when the ICIG first “found information that should have been designated as classified” in four emails from Clinton's server -- two of which he now says contain “top secret” information -- government officials acknowledged that the emails were not marked as classified when they were sent (emphasis added):

The Justice Department said Friday that it has been notified of a potential compromise of classified information in connection with the private e-mail account that Hillary Rodham Clinton used while serving as secretary of state. 

A Justice official said the department had received a “referral” on the matter, which the inspector general of the intelligence agencies later acknowledged came from him.

The inspector general, I. Charles McCullough III, said in a separate statement that he had found information that should have been designated as classified in four e-mails out of a “limited sample” of 40 that his agency reviewed. As a result, he said, he made the “security referral,” acting under a federal law that requires alerting the FBI to any potential compromises of national security information.


Officials acknowledged that none of the e-mails reviewed so far contain information that was marked classified when they were sent. But a new inquiry would prolong the political controversy Clinton is facing over her un­or­tho­dox e-mail system. [The Washington Post7/24/15]

MYTH: Emails Weren't Marked As “Classified” Because Clinton Used A Private Server Instead Of State Dept. Email 

Fox & Friends' Steve Doocy: Emails “Were Never Classified” Because Clinton Used A Private Server Rather Than The State Department's Email System. Throughout the August 12 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy repeatedly blamed the lack of classification on Clinton's use of a private server instead of “the State Department email system,” arguing the emails “were never classified because she never submitted it” (emphasis added):

STEVE DOOCY: The problem here is the fact that she didn't want her bosses at the White House to know what she was writing about, it is perceived. 

ANDREW NAPOLITANO: She also didn't want her colleagues in the State Department to know.

DOOCY: Right. So she had her own server, which is, you know, against protocol. Her spokespeople, and she herself has said, you know, it wasn't classified at the time. But that ignores how the process works. The reason you use the State Department email system is so that it is classif - it is vetted before you hit 'send.'

NAPOLITANO: She is probably going to argue that because the phrase, boom, 'top secret' was not stamped on each document, it wasn't top secret. That's not what the law says. Before every person in the federal government, from the president to a file clerk, gets a national security clearance, they have a 30 minute in-person interview with an FBI agent who explains, if there's doubt about whether it's classified or not, it's classified.

DOOCY: Let me just add this one thing. It was never classified because she never submitted it. [Fox News, Fox & Friends8/12/15]

FACT: Emails In Question Originated From State Dept. System, And Questions About Retroactive Classification Would Have Occurred Regardless Of Clinton's Server Use

Emails Originated With State Department Employees And Were Forwarded To Clinton. The State Department's statement on the retroactive “top secret” designation made clear that the emails at issue originated with State Department employees, not Clinton herself:

The following is attributable to Spokesperson John Kirby:

"The State Department takes seriously its obligations to protect sensitive information, holding its employees to a high standard of compliance with regulations and procedures.

"The Intelligence Community has recommended that portions of two of the four emails identified by the Intelligence Community's Inspector General should be upgraded to the Top Secret level. Department employees circulated these emails on unclassified systems in 2009 and 2011 and ultimately some were forwarded to Secretary Clinton.  They were not marked as classified. 

“These emails have not been released to the public. While we work with the Director of National Intelligence to resolve whether, in fact, this material is actually classified, we are taking steps to ensure the information is protected and stored appropriately.” [Twitter.com, 8/11/15

Clinton Campaign: Emails Originated From “Unclassified .Gov Email System.” A fact sheet released by the presidential campaign for the former secretary of state explains that the emails at issue originated on “the unclassified .gov email system”: 

Would this issue not have arisen if she used a state.gov email address?

Even if Clinton's emails had been on a government email address and government device, these questions would be raised prior to public release.

While State Department's review of her 55,000 emails brought the issue to the Inspectors Generals' attentions, the four emails were on the unclassified .gov email system. They were not on the separate, closed system used by State Department for handling classified communications. [hillaryclinton.com, “Updated: The Facts About Hillary Clinton's Emails,” accessed 8/12/15]

Vox: Whether Or Not Emails Should Have Been Marked Classified Is Part Of “Bureaucratic Turf War.” Vox pointed out how the intra-agency disagreement over whether the emails were appropriately categorized “is a bureaucratic fight about how the State Department has handled the emails, not about Hillary Clinton” (emphasis added): 

The State Department has been ordered by a federal judge to make public the 55,000 pages of emails Clinton turned over to the agency. So the State Department has Freedom of Information Act experts sifting through the documents to make sure that no information will be released that is either classified or sensitive (meaning not technically classified but also not covering material that the government doesn't want in the public domain).

This has caused a bureaucratic turf war between the department and the intelligence community, which believes at least one email that's already been released contains classified information and that hundreds of others in the full set may also have material that's not ready for public consumption. For a couple of months, the inspectors general of the State Department and the combined intelligence community agencies have been battling Patrick Kennedy, the lead State Department official, over who has access to the documents and the authority to release or withhold them.

Now, according to the Times and other publications, the IG team is asking the Justice Department to get involved in reviewing whether State has mishandled the emails. If Clinton was sending information that was, or should have been, classified -- and knew that it was, or should have been, classified -- that's a problem. But no one has accused her of that so far. Given the anodyne nature of what she sent in the emails we've already seen, it's entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that any sensitive information was sent to Clinton, not by her (though it's not clear whether forwarding such emails would constitute a legal issue for her). [Vox, 7/28/15]

MYTH: Hillary Clinton's Email Use Is Comparable To David Petraeus' Crimes

Fox's Doocy: Clinton's Email Use Is “The Same Thing That David Petraeus Pleaded Guilty To.” On the August 12 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy hyped the debunked claim that Clinton's email use was similar to Gen. David Petraeus' illegal mishandling of confidential information:

DOOCY: Big question is will this Department of Justice go ahead and fully prosecute? Because, keep in mind, she had unauthorized, for a home server, top secret documents, which was a direct violation of the U.S. laws. It's the same that David Petraeus pleaded guilty to. He had the same stuff at his house. She had at it at her house. He got, you know, they ran him up the flag(one word)pole, will they do the same for her? [Fox News, Fox & Friends8/12/15]

FACT: Unlike With Petraeus, There's No Evidence Clinton Knowingly Emailed Classified Information

Director Of Project On Government Secrecy: “There's No Comparison Between The Clinton Email Issue And The Petraeus Case.” Steven Aftergood told The Washington Times that "[e]veryone agrees that there was no information in the Clinton emails that was marked as classified," and therefore Clinton's actions bear no resemblance to Petraeus':

While officials combing tens of thousands of emails that moved through Mrs. Clinton's server have pointed to the presence of “hundreds” of pieces of classified information -- apparently none of the messages had any official classification markings on them.

It's a situation that has triggered heated debate over the extent to which such information wasn't necessarily classified at the time Mrs. Clinton was emailing it.

“To the best of my understanding, there is no comparison between the Clinton email issue and the Petraeus case,” says Steven Aftergood, who heads the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. “Everyone agrees that there was no information in the Clinton emails that was marked as classified. So it would be difficult or impossible to show that those who sent or received the emails knowingly or negligently mishandled classified information.” [The Washington Times8/2/15]

MYTH: Clinton Exposed Classified Information About Libyan Intelligence Source

Gowdy Said Clinton Sent Email Containing “Some Of The Most Protected Information In Our Intelligence Community” Concerning A “Human Source” In Libya. On October 7,  Gowdy sent a letter to Cummings that said Hillary Clinton “apparently received classified information” at her personal email address from confidant Sidney Blumenthal while she was secretary of state. Gowdy said Clinton forwarded the email in question to a State Department employee, thus “debunking her claim that she never sent any classified information from her private email address.” Gowdy claimed that Clinton's action “could jeopardize not only national security but also human lives.” [House of Representatives Select Committee on Benghazi, 10/7/15]

Joe Scarborough Repeated Disproven Claim On Morning Joe: It's “Ridiculous” That Hillary Clinton Sending Information On Intelligence Asset “Is Not Marked Classified.” On the October 19 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough parroted the debunked claim that Hillary Clinton had disseminated “classified information” regarding “the source of a human intelligence agent on the ground in a war zone in Libya.” Scarborough made no mention of Cummings' evidence debunking this claim:

JOE SCARBOROUGH: But also, she says something that is just, it is just so misleading and it's so wrong, that I know you, of course, as much as anybody would know -- when she talks about, and I can't believe they're still saying this. After the intelligence community has knocked this down. She says, “Well nothing was marked classified at the time.” That is the most ridiculous, inane justification --

BOB WOODWARD: It really is --

SCARBOROUGH: -- it really is! Because what happened when the FBI found out what went through her server, and the CIA found out, the State Department, they immediately said, “Oh my god, we have to mark this classified, and they backdated it to the moment she typed some of these statements down. Because no, if she's creating -- if she's generating a document at that moment that has classified information in it and she sends it, of course it's not going to be stamped ”classified"! If Sidney Blumenthal reveals the source, I think it was him -- if somebody reveals the source of a human intelligence agent on the ground in a war zone in Libya, and it's not marked classified? That doesn't somehow make it right that its passes [sic] through her server and then it gets passed onto someone else, it's ridiculous! [MSNBC, Morning Joe10/19/15]

FACT: CIA Says Clinton Did Not Expose Classified Information With That Email

Cummings' Response To Gowdy's Accusation: “You Failed To Check Your Facts Before You Made It, And The CIA Has Now Informed The Select Committee That You Were Wrong.” In an October 18 reply to Gowdy, Cummings wrote that Gowdy's claim that Clinton sent classified information from her private email address was wrong and that the CIA had informed the committee that the information in Blumenthal's email was not classified:

On October 7, 2015, you sent me a 13-page letter making a grave new accusation against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Specifically, you accused her of compromising national security and endangering lives.

The problem with your accusation--as with so many others during this investigation--is that you failed to check your facts before

you made it, and the CIA has now informed the Select Committee that you were wrong. I believe your accusations were irresponsible, and I believe you owe the Secretary an immediate apology.


To further inflate your claim, you placed your own redactions over the name of the individual with the words, “redacted due to sources and methods.” To be clear, these redactions were not made, and these words were not added, by any agency of the federal government responsible for enforcing classification guidelines.

Predictably, commentators began repeating your accusations in even more extreme terms, suggesting in headlines for example that “Clinton Burns CIA Libya Contact.”

Contrary to your claims, the CIA yesterday informed both the Republican and Democratic staffs of the Select Committee that they do not consider the information you highlighted in your letter to be classified. Specifically, the CIA confirmed that “the State Department consulted with the CIA on this production, the CIA reviewed these documents, and the CIA made no redactions to protect classified information.” 

Unfortunately, you sent your letter on October 7 without checking first with the CIA. Now that we have done so, we have learned that your accusations were incorrect. [Select Committee on Benghazi, 10/18/15]