U.S. Senator from New York
First Lady of the United States
The Hillary Clinton email controversy was a major public controversy arising from the use by Hillary Clinton of her family's private email server for official communications during her tenure as United States Secretary of State rather than official State Department email accounts maintained on secure federal servers. Those official communications included over 100 emails which contained classified information (but did not have classification markings) at the time they were sent, as well as 2,093 emails which were not marked classified but would retroactively be ranked as "confidential" by the State Department. Post-election analyses of media coverage during the 2016 presidential campaign show that the Clinton email controversy received the most extensive coverage of any topic.
The controversy unfolded against the backdrop of Clinton's 2016 presidential election campaign and hearings held by the United States House Select Committee on Benghazi. Some experts, officials, and members of Congress contended that her use of private messaging system software and a private server violated State Department protocols and procedures, as well as federal laws and regulations governing recordkeeping. In response, Clinton said that her use of personal email was in compliance with federal laws and State Department regulations, and that former secretaries of state had also maintained personal email accounts, though not their own private email servers.
After allegations were raised that some of the emails in question contained classified information, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) initiated an investigation regarding the origin and handling of classified emails on Clinton's server. FBI Director James Comey identified 110 emails as containing information that was classified at the time it was sent, including 65 emails deemed "Secret" and 22 deemed "Top Secret". None of these had classification markings. However, as noted in Clinton's non-disclosure agreement, unmarked classified information should be treated the same as marked classified information. An additional three email chains contained "portion markings", simply a "(C)" indicating "Confidential" in front of one or more paragraphs. These were not included in Comey's list of 110 because the State Department failed to confirm they were classified at the time they were sent. Clinton told the FBI she did not know the meaning of "(C)". Nearly 2,100 emails on the server were retroactively marked as classified by the State Department. In April 2018, Comey said that it was possible that his decision to announce the re-opening of the investigation was influenced by the fact that he thought it extremely likely that Clinton would become the next President.
News reports indicated that while some of the emails contained information that the government considered classified to the highest levels, the information was "innocuous" and not "particularly sensitive" because the emails discussed matters that were simultaneously available in the public domain—such as in newspapers—but the government "owning agency" that acquired that same information by secret means maintains and enforces the classification status nevertheless. The Los Angeles Times reported in October 2015, "Critics, including many current and former officials, have argued for years that the government classifies too much information, often for reasons that have little to do with actual security threats."