Even as Hillary Clinton tries to put questions about her private email server behind her, the FBI has stepped up inquiries into the security of the former secretary of state’s home-made email system and how aides communicated over email, POLITICO has learned.
The FBI’s recent moves suggest that its inquiry could have evolved from the preliminary fact-finding stage that the agency launches when it receives a credible referral, according to former FBI and Justice Department officials interviewed by POLITICO.
“This sounds to me like it’s more than a preliminary inquiry; it sounds like a full-blown investigation,” said Tom Fuentes, former assistant director of the FBI. “When you have this amount of resources going into it …. I think it’s at the investigative level.”
The FBI declined to respond to questions about the scope of its ongoing work.
But POLITICO learned that around early October, the FBI requested documents from a company involved in the server arrangement after Clinton left State. It also interviewed a former high-ranking policy official at State about the contents of top Clinton aides’ emails.
The official, who spoke to POLITICO on condition of anonymity, said the questions explored whether anyone at State was concerned about classified information being put at risk by communicating via email. The source did not know of any such concerns.
Confirmation of the interview and document requests is the first public indication that the agency is moving ahead with its inquiry – and possibly expanding it.
The former State official interviewed by the FBI, for example, had little to do with the Clinton server set-up or any approval process allowing her to use personal email for work — suggesting the FBI’s initial inquiry about the actual physical security of Clinton’s home-made server now also includes looking at the content of messages shared by staff.
Former FBI and Justice officials familiar with the investigative procedures on such matters said the agency must determine two main things: whether the use of an outside email system posed any risks to national security secrets and, if so, whether anyone was responsible for exposing classified information.
FBI Director James Comey acknowledged in October that his agency was probing the server matter generally and believed it had the resources to look into the issues, though he didn’t give specifics.
Over the summer, the Department of Justice said it received a referral from the Intelligence Community Inspector General about potentially exposed classified information on Clinton’s home-made email server. The referral, Justice said at the time, was not criminal in nature but focused on the counterintelligence law governing national security secrets.
The matter at the time was considered a “preliminary” inquiry.
Clinton’s campaign and lawyers have said they are cooperating, turning over her server and a thumb drive backup of her messages to the FBI. They’ve also said they’re encouraging everyone who worked on the server issue to do the same. Platte River Networks, the Denver-based company that housed her server since she left State in 2013, for example, has said it’s cooperating; so has Datto, another tech company that provided a cloud backup of Clinton’s messages.
But exactly who they’re talking to at the staff level has been unclear. For example: Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s former chief of staff at State and lawyer who helped determine which of her emails were personal and work related, wouldn’t say in a recent Washington Post interview whether she had been contacted due to confidentiality surrounding the FBI’s work.
Read more: Politico