The Hillary Clinton campaign, in an unusual late-afternoon conference call, touted an exclusive Fox News report on the origin of the FBI probe into the candidate’s server in a bid to argue it proves she did nothing wrong -- though a top government watchdog pushed back on the campaign's claims.
The report by Fox News’ Catherine Herridge, for the first time, identified emails that helped kick-start the current investigation. The emails were from top Clinton advisers and had earlier been released to the Benghazi select committee.
On the conference call Wednesday reacting to the report, top Clinton campaign aides said those emails were not marked classified at the time they were sent.
However, despite the Clinton campaign’s claims, a spokeswoman for the intelligence community inspector general reiterated to Fox News that the information in the emails was in fact considered classified at the time it was sent.
An aide to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, also issued a statement defending the intelligence community's concern. "Just because the State Department may not think information is or should be classified, it does not have the authority [to] make that decision if it received the information from another agency," a Grassley spokesperson said.
Campaign Press Secretary Brian Fallon acknowledged Wednesday they have a disagreement on that point with the intelligence community inspector general. Clinton campaign officials said on the call that, at worst, this is a dispute between two agencies, as the State Department also maintains the emails were not classified.
Fallon said the campaign previously did not know which emails originally had been flagged, and called the Fox News report a “watershed” moment in understanding what led to the review. Calling the report “fortuitous” and saying they have no reason to doubt its veracity, the aides also emphasized the emails were not written by Clinton herself.
“We again would like to see the government agencies involved in this process to proceed as quickly as possible in conducting a review of the emails,” Fallon said. “We think it will vindicate all the points we made today on this whole matter.”
The emails identified by Fox News as helping spur the referral both pertained to Benghazi.
The first was forwarded by Clinton adviser Huma Abedin. The 2011 email forwards a warning about how then-deputy chief of mission Chris Stevens was "considering departure from Benghazi" amid deteriorating conditions in a nearby city. The email was mistakenly released by the State Department in full, and is now considered declassified.
The second was sent by Clinton aide Jake Sullivan. The partly redacted November 2012 email detailed how Libyan police had arrested "several people" with potential connections to the terror attack.
Abedin and Sullivan now work for the Clinton presidential campaign
Fox News understands those two emails were separate from four other emails that the inspector general flagged in July as containing classified information.
A statement from the IG’s office last month, though, referenced one of the two emails, pointing to an “inadvertent release of classified national security information” by the State Department through its FOIA process. That statement also acknowledged the disagreement between the two agencies, saying the department denies the “classified character” of the information “despite a definitive determination from the IC Interagency FOIA Process.”
Aside from that disagreement, the two emails also represent just a fraction of the hundreds of emails that the IG and State Department have since flagged for containing potentially classified material.
The Clinton campaign argued Wednesday that this whole experience speaks to the government’s tendency toward classification.
“We think that this says more about the bent towards secrecy within some corners of the government. It says more about that than it does about Hillary Clinton’s email practices,” Fallon said.
Fox News’ Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.