Clinton email on North Korea, not 'top secret'

Posted at 5:00 PM, Feb 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-29 17:00:35-05

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration settled a long-running dispute over a sensitive email on Hillary Clinton's private account, as intelligence agencies classified part of an exchange on North Korea's nuclear program for containing "secret" information, but no "top secret" material as previously claimed.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said the message will be published Monday in a batch of nearly 4,000 documents, finishing the release of Clinton's work emails from her time as secretary of state. A portion will be censored and classified at the lower, secret level, he said. The intelligence community had argued for months that the email included material at the highest classification level.

"Based on subsequent review, the intelligence community revisited its earlier assessment," Kirby told reporters. He added: "The original assessment was not correct and the document does not contain top secret information."

The announcement comes a day before Clinton competes in 11 Democratic primary contests. She is the front-runner to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

The North Korea email is one of two that Charles I. McCullough, lead auditor for U.S. intelligence agencies, identified last year as particularly problematic. The other concerned the CIA's drone program and led to officials classifying 22 emails from Clinton's private account last month as "top secret." They were withheld from publication.

No emails Clinton wrote or received were marked as classified at the time of transmission, which Clinton has repeatedly cited in her own defense. But some 1,800 emails have since been subsequently classified at some level so far.

Kirby stressed that the North Korea exchange had only been "provisionally" upgraded in classification, suggesting the department doesn't even fully accept the lesser finding. Officials faced a Monday deadline set by a federal judge to release the final documents from the private server Clinton exclusively used while in government.

"The information available to diplomats and the judgments they form do not necessarily need to be classified just because there are parallel intelligence sources," Kirby said.

He also said an unclassified email between Clinton and President Barack Obama would be withheld from publication Monday. The department held back 18 such messages last month to protect the president's ability to receive advice from his aides, saying they'd be released eventually like other presidential records.

Another email on an unidentified law enforcement matter will be withheld. Kirby said that one also is unclassified.