CIA shrugs off Clinton’s ‘classified’ email

Michael Isikoff
·Chief Investigative Correspondent
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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a meeting of the Alabama Democratic Conference in Hoover, Ala., on Saturday. (Photo: Mark Almond/AP)

The credibility of the Republican-led Benghazi committee came under fresh attack Sunday after the CIA informed the panel that it does not view a 2011 email forwarded by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as including any classified information. The committee chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., had cited Clinton’s handling of the March 18, 2011, email as a prime example of her misusing her private email server to receive and send highly classified information.

The email was sent by her close friend and adviser Sidney Blumenthal and forwarded by Clinton to an aide. It contained the “name of a human source” for the CIA in Libya and was therefore “some of the most protected information in our intelligence community, the release of which could jeopardize not only national security but human lives,” Gowdy wrote in an Oct. 7 letter.

But late Saturday night, a CIA official informed the committee that the agency does not view that email, among 127 previously undisclosed messages sent by Blumenthal to Clinton that the panel plans to release this week, as having any portions that need to be redacted because they include classified information.

The CIA finding prompted Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the panel’s ranking Democrat, to demand that Gowdy publicly apologize for his “irresponsible” allegation. It was, he charged in a letter released Sunday morning, further evidence that the GOP-led committee is making false charges “in order to attack Secretary Clinton for political reasons.”

Gowdy quickly responded in his own lengthy email, conceding the CIA did not seek any redactions in the Blumenthal email but maintaining that it may still have included information “that ordinarily would be considered highly sensitive.”

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Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Gowdy then released the full text of the March 18, 2011, message from Blumenthal, minus the identity of the supposed Libya intelligence source. But Gowdy included Blumenthal’s full subject line, which did have the name of an individual apparently blanked out in the rest of the email: Mousa Kousa, Libya’s foreign minister (and previously its intelligence chief), who made a highly publicized defection to the United Kingdom that same month.

The email was filled with seemingly inside information about Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s plans to respond to a United Nations resolution authorizing the use of military force against his regime. The information purportedly came from a former top CIA official and a business associate of Blumenthal, Tyler Drumheller. Drumheller, Blumenthal wrote, had obtained this information from the CIA’s source, apparently Mousa Kousa.

After receiving the email from Blumenthal on her private email account, Clinton forwarded it to a special assistant on her staff, Lauren C. Jiloty, with a two-word instruction: “Pls Print.”

The fact that the CIA did not seek any redactions in the email “appears to mean either Mr. Blumenthal conveyed false and unreliable information to Secretary Clinton about Libya, or the review process [by executive branch agencies] is faulty or has been politicized,” Gowdy wrote in a letter Sunday responding to Cummings.

The new flap over the Blumenthal email comes as the committee is preparing for a possibly climactic showdown this Thursday, when Clinton is slated to testify before the panel.

The Benghazi committee has been on the defensive ever since last month when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, during a TV appearance on Fox News’ “Sean Hannity Show,” appeared to gloat about how the committee was responsible for Clinton’s plummeting poll numbers.

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” McCarthy said. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.”

McCarthy has since dropped out of the race for House speaker, and the Clinton campaign, Cummings and other committee Democrats have repeatedly blasted the committee as a “taxpayer-funded” partisan political witch hunt.

Gowdy has pushed back, insisting that the committee is diligently seeking all facts related to the Sept. 11, 2011, Benghazi attacks, which led to the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. Gowdy has contended that the repeated emails from Blumenthal are relevant because they may show that Clinton was relying for policy advice on Libya from an outside political adviser who had no expertise on the country and, at the time, had a business arrangement with Drumheller to help a U.S. company, Osprey Global Solutions, secure medical and security contracts from Libyan rebels fighting Gadhafi.

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Sidney Blumenthal, an adviser to Hillary Clinton, arrives to be deposed by the House Select Committee on Benghazi in the U.S. Capitol in June. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images)

But the committee has so far been unable to point to any examples of Clinton actually acting on Blumenthal’s advice. And Cummings charged Sunday that Gowdy misrepresented a portion of Blumenthal’s March 18, 2011, email relating to the supposed Libyan intelligence source. In his letter, Gowdy had redacted the identity of the source “due to sources and methods” — a standard phrase used by the intelligence community to protect classified information.

But Cummings said the State Department, not the CIA, had requested the committee not reveal the individual’s name publicly over the weekend, “not for classification reasons but to protect the individual’s privacy and avoid bringing additional undue attention to this person.”

“The letter is accurate and reflects our communication with the CIA,” said Alec Gerlach, a State Department spokesman, when asked Sunday about the contents of Cummings’ letter. A CIA spokesman declined comment.