State Department Spox: We’re Not ‘Lax’ with Information, No Comment on FBI’s ‘Extremely Careless’ Clinton Conclusions

The State Department continues to hold off on administrative evaluation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of sensitive information. During a Tuesday press conference, Spokesman John Kirby repeatedly asserted that the department is not “lax” with classified information but would not weigh in on the FBI’s determination that “there is evidence of potential violations” by Clinton.

Kirby was asked about the FBI investigation that found Clinton “extremely careless” and chose to respond, “We take it very, very seriously” in reference to his larger department’s handling of classified information. He further dismissed the suggestion that the State Department was “extremely careless with how it dealt with classified and otherwise sensitive information.”

FBI Director James Comey revealed earlier on Tuesday that the FBI will not recommend an indictment of Clinton. He did, however, say, “There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position … should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that information.”

Kirby told reporters:

The department will determine the appropriate next steps following a decision by the Department of Justice. We’re not gonna get ahead of that. The department has, as you know, an administrative process to evaluate cases where information may have been mishandled. As we’ve said previously, at the request of the FBI the department has not moved forward with that process to ensure that we did not interfere with the investigation.

He said that there were no further updates on the process.

Kirby was adamant that he would not comment on the findings of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State and the recommendation that Clinton not be charged in the case. Kirby asserted that commenting on the FBI’s findings and recommendation would be “inappropriate.”

Kirby emphasized the administrative process in place that applies to the evaluating of potential mishandling of information. “We didn’t move forward with that process so as not to interfere with their investigation. We also don’t believe it is appropriate at this time, given that there … that the matter is now before the Department of Justice to determine their next step. To make decisions or not to make decisions.”

He said he didn’t have any update on the “timing or scope” of that review process.” Kirby wouldn’t comment on moving forward, asserting that the wait is due to the DOJ process.

Asked whether administrative sanctions only apply to those still employed with the Department of State or not, Kirby said, “I don’t know.”

Kirby was asked about whether those associated with this case such as Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan, and Huma Abedin will retain or have their security clearances reviewed. Kirby would only respond with a broad general comment on security clearances.

“The way it typically works as I understand is the department that issues a security clearance if there is, if it’s determined that that clearance needs to be reviewed, for whatever reason, it’s up to that, it’s up to the department that issued it to review it, regardless of whether the employee is still at the, is still employed by the agency. The agency has that responsibility,” Kirby said.

One reporter referencing Kirby’s assertion that the State Department does not have a culture of lax security, asked, “If it’s not lax how can the top official of the department go off and set up their own system that isn’t subject to the normal procedures here?”

Kirby replied:

Look I’m not gonna re-litigate the investigation. As I said I’m not going to speak to the findings and recommendations. The FBI Director spoke spoke to that earlier today and to what they found in terms of the practices back then and how those practices were, were followed. Um, what I’ll just tell you, broadly speaking, we don’t share the assessment that as an institution, an entire institution, that the State Department has in the past or does today take lightly the issue of sensitively classified information. We absolutely don’t.

Referencing the disagreement over the term “laxity,” the follow-up question was asked, “Do you feel your systems were sufficient to safeguard classified information sent by or to the Secretary of State?”

The spokesman reiterated, “Again, I think the FBI Director addressed that as well as part of their investigation. I am simply not going to discuss or comment on their findings or recommendations with respect to this case.” Kirby continued:

As he said himself, his assessment of the State Department’s culture was not part of this investigation, and that’s why I’m comfortable addressing that. That as a whole, in the main, we absolutely do not share the broad assessment that the entire culture here at the State Department is lax when it comes to protecting sensitive and classified information. And what I’m basing that on Brad is the longstanding, and I don’t just mean recently, the longstanding training and indoctrination that one goes through before you get employed here and their periodic reviews of the training and sensitive handling of information that you have to go through all the time. I’ve been here little bit more than a year, I’ve already had to go through it several times myself, that you, we have two networks for email traffic that are deliberately set up to handle various degrees of sensitive information and that the work of diplomats all around the world is by its very nature sensitive, but it’s also outward facing and it has to be. And there’s a role here at the State Department to be communicative, to have dialogue, to foster communication. That’s a big part of who we are. And I can tell you that everybody involved in that understands the risks and the opportunities of it and takes it very seriously. So to say that the culture here is lax, that’s a pretty broad brush and again we wouldn’t use it. We don’t believe it.

Kirby was challenged that the “indoctrination … didn’t work when it came to the past Secretary or the hundred or so officials who all contacted her during the course of her tenure. Or the dozens of officials who would have known that she wasn’t using a state.gov address or would have known that information that was at least on the borderline was going to a non-government account. So that failed across the board, right?”

Kirby said he would “not make a qualitative assessment.” He asserted a line of distinction between “assessment of email practices under Secretary Clinton’s tenure and how they were implemented and saying that the culture here at the State Department is lax.”

Video of the press conference is available at CSPAN.

Follow Michelle Moons on Twitter @MichelleDiana 


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