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F.B.I. Begins Review of Clinton Aide’s Emails

Should the F.B.I. find emails that it had never seen before containing potentially classified material, copies would have to be sent to other government agencies to determine their classification — an elaborate and lengthy process.

The emails belong to Huma Abedin, the aide to Mrs. Clinton. Agents discovered them on a laptop seized by the F.B.I. that belongs to Ms. Abedin’s estranged husband, Anthony D. Weiner, who is under investigation on allegations that he exchanged illicit text messages with a 15-year-old girl.

While the hunt for classified information is the bureau’s first priority, it is not the most significant issue for either Ms. Abedin or Mrs. Clinton. Investigators have already determined that Mrs. Clinton and her aides improperly sent classified information on her private email server. The Justice Department concluded, though, that it could not prove they did it intentionally, which would be a crime. Finding more classified information among Ms. Abedin’s emails would not immediately change that conclusion.

The agents will also focus on whether this new material contains any evidence that anyone may have tried to conceal these newly discovered emails or others from investigators, which could amount to a crime. Ms. Abedin has said she turned over all the work-related emails she knew about to the F.B.I. months ago and does not know how her emails ended up on Mr. Weiner’s laptop. Officials have said in the past that there is no indication that Ms. Abedin or Mrs. Clinton tried to conceal information from the authorities.

Ms. Abedin’s lawyer, Karen Dunn, issued a statement late Monday afternoon, her first comments since the disclosure on Friday that Mr. Weiner’s laptop contained her client’s emails, a development that she said Ms. Abedin had learned of from news reports.

“From the beginning, Ms. Abedin has complied fully and voluntarily with State Department and law enforcement requests, including sitting for hourslong interviews and providing her work-related and potentially work-related documents,” the statement said. “While the F.B.I. has not contacted us about this, Ms. Abedin will continue to be, as she always has been, forthcoming and cooperative.”

Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said on Monday that the White House did not have an official position on Mr. Comey’s decision to alert Congress. But Mr. Earnest came close to suggesting that President Obama saw Mr. Comey’s decision as problematic.

Mr. Earnest listed the many powers that federal law enforcement officials have to investigate for potential wrongdoing and then said, “It’s important that those authorities are tempered by longstanding practice and norms that limit public discussion of facts that are collected in the context of those investigations.”

Mr. Earnest added: “And there are a lot of good reasons for that. The president believes that it’s important for those guidelines and norms to be followed.”

Justice Department officials had told Mr. Comey that alerting Congress to the discovery of a new cache of emails would violate department rules and norms against both discussing a continuing investigation and taking any actions in the days before an election that might influence that election.

But Mr. Comey is a “man of integrity” who the president does not believe is intentionally trying to influence the outcome of an election, Mr. Earnest said.

“He’s in a tough spot,” Mr. Earnest said.

A warrant granted on Sunday allowed F.B.I. agents to begin searching the messages. While investigators found hundreds of thousands of emails on Mr. Weiner’s computer, they are focusing on a small portion of the total. The review is being led by the same Washington-based agents who conducted the investigation of Mrs. Clinton’s server.

As part of that inquiry, the agents built a system that allowed them to examine thousands of emails to see whether they contained sensitive national security information. When the agents identified potentially classified materials, they sent copies of the emails to other government agencies to determine their classification.

The emails now being searched by the F.B.I. could well be like scores already made public by the State Department under the Freedom of Information Act, including some of the additional ones uncovered by the bureau’s investigation and turned over to the department this summer.

Among more than 30,000 emails released are at least 10 sent or received by Ms. Abedin that included information the State Department later deemed classified and were made public only with portions redacted.

Ms. Abedin, who also had an address on the Clinton server, communicated with Mrs. Clinton many times a day, often acting as a conduit for other members of her State Department team.

In example in January 2011, Ms. Abedin sent an email to Mrs. Clinton with a note from Jeffrey D. Feltman, then an assistant secretary of state for Middle Eastern affairs.

The subject line read “AG points from Jeff,” possibly referring to the foreign minister of Egypt at the time, Ahmed Aboul Gheit. The entire body was redacted before being released, and the information in it was classified as “confidential.” Mrs. Clinton replied to Mr. Feltman, and he in turn replied again, each adding information that was later redacted, with Ms. Abedin copied.

In three emails that were subsequently redacted on the ground that they contained information classified as “secret,” Ms. Abedin was merely cc’d, but having any classified information on a private computer or server would have raised security concerns, even if she was not the author.

Two of those emails included the names of C.I.A. officers — one on Mrs. Clinton’s daily schedule. The third involved the notes of a conference call held after a North Korean ballistic missile test in July 2009, which became a subject of debate between the State Department and the intelligence community.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which gathers data through satellite images, argued that information in that email should have been classified at the highest level, “top secret,” but the State Department disputed that. It argued that the information — about the possible trajectory of future missile tests — was available from public sources.

The State Department and some of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters have argued that the classification of information is imprecise and often a judgment call, and said the redactions made before the emails were released did not necessarily mean the information was classified at the time they were sent.

Source: NYT > Politics

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