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Some Clinton Emails Were Retroactively Classified

Updated at 3:40 p.m. ET

Emails released Friday by the State Department appear to confirm Hillary Clinton's assertion that she received no classified information on her personal email account while she served as secretary of state. Still, some of the emails were classified at the FBI's request after the fact — something the White House says is not uncommon.

The 296 emails — spanning a two-year period from Jan. 1, 2011, to Dec. 31, 2012 — highlight the U.S. concerns over the security situation in Libya in the run-up to the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi. The attacks killed four Americans, including Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to the country. The documents also show Clinton's State Department responding to the attacks and to their political fallout at home.

In one email, sent at 11:38 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2011, Clinton writes to her State Department colleagues: "Cheryl [Mills] told me the Libyans confirmed his death. Should we announce tonight or wait until morning?"

Another from Mills, Clinton's chief of staff, sent at 6:23 a.m. the next day, says: "We recovered both bodies overnite and are looking at getting at statement out at 7am."

Much of the controversy that surrounded the attacks in Benghazi centered on what Clinton and the rest of the Obama administration knew and when they knew it. In one of the emails, dated Sept. 24, her aide Jacob Sullivan sends Clinton her remarks on Benghazi. He writes:

"You never said spontaneous or characterized the motives. In fact you were careful in your first statement to say we were assessing motive and method. The way you treated the video in the Libya context was to say that some sought to *justify* the attack on that basis."

Screenshot of website
Screenshot of website

In a statement Friday, the State Department said these emails — the first batch to be released — were provided to the House Select Committee on Benghazi in February.

"The emails we release today do not change the essential facts or our understanding of the events before, during, or after the attacks, which have been known since the independent Accountability Review Board report on the Benghazi attacks was released almost two and a half years ago," the statement said.

Speaking Friday in New Hampshire, where she is campaigning, Clinton said she welcomed the release of the emails.

"I'm glad that the emails are starting to come out," she said. "This is something that I've asked to be done."

But Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who heads the Select panel, said in a statement:

"It is ... important to remember these email messages are just one piece of information that cannot be completely evaluated or fully understood without the total record. The Committee is working to collect and evaluate all of the relevant and material information necessary to evaluate the full range of issues in context. We will not reach any investigative conclusions until our work is complete, but these emails continue to reinforce the fact that unresolved questions and issues remain as it relates to Benghazi."

The State Department is expected to release the complete set of Clinton emails from her tenure — all 55,000 pages — by January 2016. Clinton handed the emails to the department last year.

The issue of her emails gained importance when it was revealed that she used a personal email account during her entire tenure at the State Department. That, as Bill has previously noted, kept the emails out of the government's control and circumvented archival practices.

NPR's David Welna, who is reporting on the emails released Friday, tells our Newscast unit that many of the emails are from Sidney Blumenthal, a former Clinton White House aide with business dealings in Libya. Many are news articles forwarded by colleagues, he says.

Among the redacted documents is one dated Sept. 27, 2012, on revised talking points on Benghazi for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. That hearing was held less than three weeks after the attack.

The White House said after the release that the FBI had determined that previously unclassified material in the emails needed to be classified on later review; spokesman Josh Earnest said such a decision isn't uncommon.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.