UNDER THE BIG TOP: How much (top secret) material did Hillary have?


How about Donald J. Trump? Last week, over at Slate, veteran journalist Fred Kaplan returned to a high-profile theme.

Kaplan returned to the topic of Hillary Clinton's emails. More precisely, he returned to the question of how much top-secret material Hillary's emails contained.

Donald J. Trump was pimping this theme as an instant reaction to the search of Mar-a-Lago. Within a matter of days, complaints about a certain "double standard" began to appear in phone calls to C-Span's Washington Journal.

Allegedly, Clinton hadn't been forced to pay a price for her 30,000 emails. Now, the jack-booted thugs had descended on Mar-a-Lago, beating on Donald J. Trump.

At issue was the amount of "classified material" exposed by Hillary Clinton. Over at Slate, Kaplan recalled what he had reported back in real time, when the endless "Emailgate" scandal helped sent Trump to the White House.

Here was Fred Kaplan, last Friday:

KAPLAN (8/12/22): While we’re on the subject, what about Hillary’s email? Of the 30,000 emails that the FBI examined, eight were found to contain Top Secret information. Seven of them were about CIA drone strikes, which had been reported in the newspapers (but were still technically classified). The other one was an account of a telephone conversation with the president of Malawi. (All conversations with foreign leaders are, by definition, Top Secret.) In other words, she revealed nothing remotely about nuclear weapons, signals intelligence, or anything that might have enlightened a foreign spy.

In that brief paragraph, Kaplan revisited the information he'd presented in real time. To wit:

Under the heroic James Comey, the FBI had indeed examined "30,000 emails" in its pursuit of Emailgate. That said, of the 30,000 emails, only eight (8) contained material technically marked "Top Secret."

According to Kaplan, the whole thing got a great deal dumber from there. Seven (7) of those "Top Secret" emails concerned drone strikes which everyone with access to newspapers already knew about.

The eighth "Top Secret" email included an account of a telephone conversation—a conversation with the president of Malawi. "In other words," Kaplan now said all over again, "she revealed nothing remotely about nuclear weapons, signals intelligence, or anything that might have enlightened a foreign spy."

That's what Fred Kaplan reported again last week. Two days later, the very first phone call to Washington Journal included a complaint about the soft treatment Clinton received concerning her "30,000 emails," followed by the claim that the search of Mar-a-Lago was reminiscent of "Gestapo tactics" and of the East German Stasi.

That first caller voiced a bitter complaint about the "double standard" involved in the soft treatment Clinton received, as opposed to the Gestapo tactics now being employed against one Donald J. Trump.

We're going to take a guess:

We'll guess that the caller, John from New York, had never heard the summary provided by Fred Kaplan. He'd never heard it said that, of Clinton's 30,000 emails, only eight (8) involved "Top Secret" material, and none (0) of the eight revealed "anything that might have enlightened a foreign spy."

How much top secret material did Donald Trump have in his Mar-a-Lago storage areas? As we've noted again and again, we still can't tell you that.

Did he have a lot of top secret material, or did he have just a little? Some day, we'll probably have an answer to that. At present, we rubes don't actually know.

That said, Kaplan was giving a six-year-old assessment of the amount of such material found in those 30,000 emails, and of their fatuous nature. We'll guess that John from New York had never heard that account.

There are several reasons for that. Briefly, one key point:

As with Kaplan, to too here. We're focusing on material classified as "top secret" because of the what Michael Gerson recently said. 

American intelligence circles are famous for so-called "over-classification." According to assessments which were fairly standard when Kaplan wrote his original report, materials classified as "Confidential" are barely worth considering at all as a national security matter, and materials classified as "Secret" aren't worth much more than that.

Only materials classified as "Top Secret" are likely to present a challenge to national security. According to Kaplan, Clinton's 30,000 emails contained only eight (8) which bore such markings, and those eight (8) emails didn't contain anything of interest to any foreign spy.

For the record, Kaplan's inventory largely tracks that provided by FBI director James Comey on July 5, 2016, when he offered his famously ill-advised Overreach Heard Round the World. 

Big-footing his way past his boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Comey had offered a long, remarkably pompous address concerning his view of  Clinton's email. 

According to policy, he shouldn't have made any statement at all. But when he did, he said this:

COMEY (7/5/16): FBI investigators have also read all of the approximately 30,000 e-mails provided by Secretary Clinton to the State Department in December 2014. Where an e-mail was assessed as possibly containing classified information, the FBI referred the e-mail to any U.S. government agency that was a likely “owner” of information in the e-mail, so that agency could make a determination as to whether the e-mail contained classified information at the time it was sent or received, or whether there was reason to classify the e-mail now, even if its content was not classified at the time it was sent (that is the process sometimes referred to as “up-classifying”).

From the group of 30,000 e-mails returned to the State Department, 110 e-mails in 52 e-mail chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight of those chains contained information that was Top Secret at the time they were sent; 36 chains contained Secret information at the time; and eight contained Confidential information, which is the lowest level of classification. Separate from those, about 2,000 additional e-mails were “up-classified” to make them Confidential; the information in those had not been classified at the time the e-mails were sent.

According to the book, Comey shouldn't have been discussing this matter at all. If anyone had discussed this matter in public, it should have been his boss, Attorney General Lynch.

Despite all this, Comey proceeded to offer a long, extremely pompous speech in which he savaged Clinton for her "extremely careless handling of very sensitive, highly classified information."  The very next day—on July 6, 2016—Kaplan presented this alternate report in Slate, making the same points he recalled on Friday last.

In that original report for Slate, Comey agreed with Kaplan's basic count. Of the 30,000 emails (or email chains), only eight included material classified as "Top Secret."

According to Kaplan, those eight emails (or email chains) contained nothing of interest to any spy. They contained "Top Secret" information only in the narrow technical sense. That represents Fred Kaplan's account of Hillary's 30,000 emails. 

By way of contrast, how much top secret material may have been stored at Mar-a-Lago? At present, no one knows outside the Justice Department, except of course for Donald J. Trump (perhaps). 

How much top secret material did Donald Trump have? As a point of basic fairness and basic integrity, we're prepared to wait a while until we all find out. Others have excitedly plowed ahead, offering thrilling accounts.

Meanwhile, though, the obvious occurred:

Donald J. Trump began to shout about Clinton's "30,000 emails." Within a matter of days, John from New York was calling C-Span, speaking with urgency about the double standard on display in the FBI's Gestapo tactics.

We have no reason to doubt the fact that John from New York is a good, decent person. We feel quite sure that he fully believed the various things he said in that call. 

Why does John believe the things he believes? The reason for that tracks back to Trump, but also to a wide range of multimillionaire "corporate liberals," including such widely-trusted tribal leaders as Rachel Maddow.

Comey went all pompous on Candidate Clinton on July 5, 2016. From Day One, it was widely noted that he had gotten way out over his skis by making any statement at all.

The very next day, Kaplan appeared with an inventory of the emails in question. And then, a giant silence settled over the world—the Silence of the Corporate Liberal Lambs.

Gack! From July right through to late October, Maddow never mentioned Comey's name on her nightly program—not once. 

Kaplan appeared on zero MSNBC shows to discuss the taxonomy he had reported. For reasons which have gone unexplained, the corporate lambs of The One True Channel kept their mouths tightly shut.

We discussed this silence again and again back at the time it occurred. Why was Comey granted this pass? Why wasn't Kaplan interviewed on The One True Channel?

To this day, we can't tell you that. That said, that first phone call to Sunday's Washington Journal helps us see where corporate silence of this type has taken us down through the years. 

(We would date this liberal silence at least to early 1992. No one spoke as the bullshit rained down on Clinton and Clinton, and then on Candidate Gore.)

Back in 2016, everyone understood, from Day One, that Comey had been out of line just by making that pompous address—but so what? Until he did it again in late October, Comey was granted a total pass by Maddow and her various "friends" on The One True Liberal Channel, the friendliest place on Earth.

In large part for that very reason, very few people have ever heard the inventory Kaplan presented. He presented it again last Friday. Once again, it disappeared.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But our nation, such as it has been, has started to disappear. 

People like John are being misled. But so are we Over Here, locked inside our own blue tribal lands. 

On cable news, the various stars, and their very good friends, have routinely shown poor judgment down through the many long years. This dates back to the endless liberal silences of the Clinton-Gore years.

In our view, MSNBC's latest recruit has been showing that same poor judgment in the 9 o'clock hour this week. But as we listened to John's phone call on Sunday last, we recalled what Fred Kaplan said.

Kaplan is a veteran reporter. His report about The Hillary 30,000 was met with total silence, back then as well as now.

First in July 2016 and then again in late October, Comey's inappropriate conduct sent Donald J. Trump to the White House. To this day, the pitiful story behind the story has pretty much never been told.

John from New York has never heard it. Neither has anyone else!


  1. Bob is ignoring the difference in treatment. The FBI never secured a broad search warrant on Hillary. The never sent 30 FBI agents to make an unannounced search and spend a whole day rummaging through her an her spouse's belongings, including Bill's clothing, and with an armed guard outside. Leaks never indicated that the FBI was looking for any crime at all to charge Hillary with.

    1. David, they didn't have to do any of that because Hillary cooperated with them, unlike Trump who blew them off.

      And why do you consider clothing to be sacred? The right went after the semen stains on Monica's dress, for God's sake! Do you think that is less invasive than looking in back of Melania's shoe racks?

      If there was no crime involved in examining Hillary's servers, why was everyone chanting "Lock her up" at all those Trump rallies -- and why are they still doing it?

    2. Notice Dave goes to the full Newsmax talking point of the abused wardrobe, attempting to make the FBI agents out as pervs raping the virginal First Lady. (Anon Types seem to need their sexy time fun!!) So Dave starts out as obviously wrong and decends to Magaland.,


    3. MAY 11, 1998 12 AM PT

      A lawyer scoured President Clinton’s White House residence, including the first family’s underwear drawers, as part of a compromise to head off a search warrant in 1996, a magazine reported Sunday.

      The search followed the belated discovery Jan. 4, 1996, of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s billing records for work on behalf of Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan, a failed Arkansas thrift at the center of the Whitewater investigation, the New Yorker said.

      It said John Bates, a deputy to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, had told the White House that Starr was planning to seek a search warrant for the living quarters to look for documents related to the Rose Law Firm of Little Rock, Ark., where Hillary Clinton had been a partner.

      After what the magazine described as heated negotiations, a compromise was reached under which Jane Sherburne, then of the White House counsel’s office, searched the area top to bottom, including the room of the Clintons’ daughter, Chelsea.

      “So Sherburne crawled through every room in the residence, searching everywhere from the bathrooms to the underwear drawers,” the article said. “As required by the agreement with Starr’s office, Sherburne even combed through Chelsea Clinton’s possessions.”

      I am sure David found this very offensive.

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  4. My understanding is that no action was taken against Hillary Clinton because none of the emails contained any classification markings, she did not originate any classified information in them, and because some of the information later considered classified had not been considered such at the time the emails were written -- they upgraded to classified during this controversy (post hoc)

  5. Somerby at once says that this is a false equivalency between Clinton and Trump, but then he goes on to create an equivalency in the sense that we (the public, not the intelligence or justice communities) don't know yet what he did. But is that really true? I don't think so.

    We know that Trump refused to return classified material and unclassified items belonging to the American people to the national archives. We know that Hillary willingly turned over everything and cooperated with the investigations (all of them) to the best of her ability, something Trump has never done. We know from Kash Patel that Trump had plans to declassify and publish previously classified material about Russiagate and that he may have had similar plans for other classified documents in his possession. We know that Trump's attitude toward classified documents was very different than Hillary Clinton's. We know that people had been clamoring to lock up Hillary for years, decades, on the right and that the furor over her emails was not only empty, but was politically motivated, occurring in the middle of her campaign for president, after hacking had revealed other correspondence that was made public by Wikileaks, making her the subject of a vendetta to reveal private info by the right (aided by Russia). The same was not true for Trump, in any sense.

    There is no reasonable equivalency between these two people. Somerby's attempt to convince us that we don't know the extent of similarity between Trump and Clinton is ridiculous, specious, another defense of a man who does not deserve defending from his own crimes. Clinton certainly deserved defending against the depradations of the right during her 2015-16 campaign. The unfairnesses will be a historical scandal and the outrage still burns among those of us who supported Clinton. That makes Somerby's statements today the more outrageous.

    Somerby blames Maddow, but I was here and I didn't hear anything from Somerby either. He has never defended Hillary from any of this, nor did he encourage anyone to vote for her, nor did he examine Trump's lack of qualifications or his wrongdoing (manifest even then). He was too busy claiming that Hillary was wrong when she claimed that Trump stalked her on stage during the debates. And he was busy blaming the left for Comey's actions (which is ridiculous too).

    And today we see that his intent with this essay is to knock Maddow's replacement, not to set any record straight about Hillary's emails or Trump's intentional theft of highly classified material.

    1. Well said. The Obamagate scandal was really the last time Bob really challenged the fruitcake right. Though he often rationalized the stupidest attacks on Obama.

  6. The economically anxious Republican voters are so pissed off about 87,000 IRS agents being hired to audit rich people, you’d think Biden decided only black peoples votes will be counted in elections, moving forward.

  7. Kaplan said: "The other one was an account of a telephone conversation with the president of Malawi. (All conversations with foreign leaders are, by definition, Top Secret.)"

    But note that this was not the transcript of a conversation but "an account" of a telephone conversation. That could be something as simple as "How did it go with the pres of Malawi?" "Good, he talked about crops and I talked about the economy." Should that be top secret? No one thought so except the Republicans, largely because they were looking for something to hang her with.

  8. "The woods are lovely, dark and deep." And here Somerby steals a line from Robert Frost, without attribution. There are all kinds of crimes involving theft of words.

    1. It’s in the public domain.

    2. It still requires attribution or you are a being a literary heathen.

    3. Plus that theft negates any criticism of Rachel Maddow's journalistic malpractice of weirdly not calling out James Comey in real time.

  9. "The Washington Post reported back in February, when the National Archives retrieved 15 boxes of materials from Mar-a-Lago, that Trump retained much of his correspondence, including the “love letters”—as he once described them—with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. The Post attributed this information to “two people familiar with the” documents. This suggests that Trump showed the letters to people. Who were these people? We don’t know. Was he showing the letters in order to show off? It seems likely."

    Today, Frank is making himself seem important by telling Slate what he knows about Trump's documents. It isn't much. He refers to this show and tell as "testosterone-driven" but both men and women can be narcissistic, and there is no actual connection between testosterone and ego. Further, Trump would consider it flattery to imply that his testosterone levels are high, that he is showing alpha male behavior when he breaks the law. The rest of us consider him pathetic because he has no genuine accomplishments to boost his ego, nothing he didn't lie, cheat and steal to attain. He even cheats at golf. And that doesn't make him a big man -- it makes him an idiot, because everyone knows he did it. And this situation is more of the same. What good is it to show off one's possession of documents if he had to steal them?

    I think it is much more likely that he stole the documents to make money and to advance political goals (which always lead to more fundraising).

  10. Somerby keeps pretending that we don't know what Trump took, but the materials were listed on the search warrant and the archives was aware of what was missing and itemized some of those things there. They also certainly know what they retrieved, although that is not itemized for the public, it has been summarized.

    Some of the things itemized include the letter Obama wrote to Trump as Obama left the White House, a tradition for outgoing presidents, correspondence with Kim Jong Un, a document about Macron, highly classified documents about nuclear capabilities, classified documents about the early covid pandemic. There are perhaps some documents that mentioning their titles might consitute intelligence that should not be divulged to the public. For example, how might Putin react if he knew that certain letters to Trump were among his compromised documents?

    But Somerby has an odd notion that if we don't know something for sure, then no one knows it, and it can therefore be ignored as if it doesn't exist. That is a kind of object impermanence found in toddlers, not adults. The DOJ knows what was missing, what was retrieved and what Trump said and did concerning those documents. Today there are reports that the redacted warrant material suggests they are seeking evidence of crime, not just return of archival material. And they KNOW what happened. Just because we don't know, doesn't make Trump innocent. In contrast, no one found anything to charge Hillary with, because she didn't do anything illegal.

    1. Even everyone knowing it doesn’t count for Somerby.
      Everyone knows Republican voters are bigots, including Bob, but that doesn’t mean he’ll cop to that obvious truth.

  11. "Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said that while she was in a wheelchair in 2019, Joe Biden placed his hands on her shoulders and pressed “his forehead to my forehead” for several seconds when he first met her, the Detroit Free Press reports.

    Said DeVos: “If he had done that as a student on a college campus, under his proposed rule, I would have a Title IX sexual harassment allegation to levy against him, because of his conduct.”"

    First, try to picture in your mind how someone would accomplish this move, how awkward that would be for a tall man to actually do.

    Second, remember that DeVos, Trump's appointee to Secretary of Education, changed sexual harrassment investigation rules to protect those accused.

  12. When Bob was in useful mode, he would often point out some dubious conventional wisdom
    pr half true talking point that was being run
    through echo chamber as the writers copied each other. He did this to both sides.
    These times have made doing that harder.
    For a long time Bob embarrassed
    himself trying to let Trump skate from
    awful Trump comment or another by
    damning the libs for not including
    some other statement that supposedly
    qualified the sewer mouthed stuff.
    Since Trump doesn’t qualify his election
    claims and such, Bob has nowhere to
    go. All he has is a grade school version
    of the insanity defense.

  13. Whatever cost Hillary the presidency is a-OK by me.

    1. No Doubt, 1:29.... stupidity and bitterness can have interesting results!!

    2. Hundreds of thousands of people who died because of Trump's mishandling of covid would still be alive if Hillary had been president. It is likely Putin would not have been emboldened to attack Ukraine, saving more lives, had Hillary been in office. We wouldn't have Roe v Wade overturned because Trump appointed 3 conservative judges. And Biden wouldn't have had to undone all over the executive orders plundering our national resources and undoing environmental protections, and we would have made actual progress on climate change and on improving education. And Clinton would have known how to help the economy flourish without selling out workers, because that's what Bill Clinton did best.

      So, what do you suppose makes it A-OK with 1:29 that Trump was elected instead? He doesn't say, but it is hard to imagine what would offset these terrible outcomes produced by the worst president in our nation's history.


  14. Meh. What happened in October 2016, as we understand, is that dembot Comey had to wrestle Anthony Weiner's laptop from the hands of the NYPD to the FBI, taking it under his own control. Which he did, making sure that Anthony Weiner's laptop is sufficiently sanitized.

    ...and this, dear Bob, appears to be the most likely version of events, anyway. YMMV.

    1. "as we understand"... key phrase A hole. But you are well understood here.....

    2. Mao, good analysis from a Goebblesian standpoint.


    3. Huh, this is what triggers your bosses, dear dembots?

      Must be true, then. Thanks for your kind confirmation.

    4. Not 'triggered" by your Goebelsian take - just noting it. No "bosses" involved. I further note the Goebelsian "logic" of your response.

    5. Since Reagan, as we* understand it, Republican voters stopped caring abut anything but bigotry and white supremacy.

      *we, in this case means The Left, the Right, Independents Bob Somerby, Mao, the media, etc.

  15. "“We now have a presidency where the president has delivered the largest economic recovery plan since Roosevelt, the largest infrastructure plan since Eisenhower, the most judges confirmed since Kennedy, the second largest health care bill since Johnson, and the largest climate change bill in history. … The first time we’ve done gun control since President Clinton was here, the first time ever an African American woman has been put on the U.S. Supreme Court. … I think it’s a record to take to the American people.”

    — White House chief of staff Ron Klain, in an interview with Politico."

    Liberals should be talking about Biden's accomplishments, and by and large, they are. But not Somerby -- he is still talking about Hillary Clinton, like the Republicans are doing.

    1. Sounds like a fascist propagandist's cream dream.

      Let's exclusively focus on the views of the president's inner circle!

  16. I have no evidence that makes me think I should believe anything said by TFG or his fans.