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WASHINGTON — U.S. officials first found classified information among Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails last May, far earlier than known publicly, and it’s not clear what she and her lawyer did over the following weeks to fully secure the sensitive data, people familiar with federal inquiries into the matter said Thursday.
The inspectors general for the U.S. Intelligence Community and the State Department have disclosed over the last week that at least five emails, routed through a private server that Clinton used throughout her tenure as secretary of state, contained classified information, including two emails whose content is now deemed to be “Top Secret.”
Now newly emerging details about Clinton’s handling of the more than 30,000 official emails stored on the server could underscore concerns about whether she adequately guarded state secrets over a six-year period.
The recent situation provoked enough concern that in early July, State Department officials finally delivered a safe to the Washington law office of Clinton’s attorney, David Kendall, to secure a thumb drive he held containing all of the emails, according to the individuals with knowledge of the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to its sensitivity.
In an attempt to quell the controversy that has weakened her leading bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton announced Tuesday she would turn over to the Justice Department the thumb drive and a server that has stored her email traffic since she left her Cabinet post in early 2013. On Wednesday, a Colorado technology company that operated the server transferred it from a site in New Jersey to Justice Department custody, the officials said.
As federal investigators have been told previously, the server is no longer active and had been erased of all data, the officials said. Clinton turned over all of her official emails to the State Department on Dec. 5, 2012. She said at a news conference in March that she simultaneously deleted more than 31,000 of personal emails. Clinton did not receive a federal directive to retain the emails until early March, the officials said.
In a sworn affidavit signed last Saturday in response to a public records lawsuit, Clinton disclosed that a key State Department confidante, Huma Abedin, also sent emails over an account on her private server.
It’s not been disclosed whether the Denver firm that managed the server, Platte River Networks, operated a backup server that also stored the files, and if so, whether it too was wiped clean. Company officials have declined to comment.
On Aug. 6, the thumb drive was transferred a few blocks from Kendall’s office at the prestigious Washington law firm of Williams & Connolly, to a secure facility in the Justice Department, the officials said.
Left unclear was what, if any, special precautions were taken since May 22, when intelligence officials first declared one or more of Clinton’s emails to be classified, to ensure the data was secure. It also appeared likely that Kendall first took possession of the thumb drive in December of last year.
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wrote Kendall in late July to inquire about what precautions were taken to secure the thumb drive. A committee spokeswoman declined to comment on whether Kendall had responded to the inquiry.
Clinton campaign officials also declined comment.
State Department officials have released three batches of Clinton emails since late May, including nearly 300 messages relating to a Sept. 11, 2012, attack on U.S. diplomatic and CIA compounds in Benghazi, Libya, that cost the lives of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others. Prior to the release of each batch, each email went through a classification review.
But it was apparently not until late June or early July that Clinton’s team consulted with the State Department about whether greater security was needed to safeguard any classified information on the emails.
With revelations about the emails continuing to flow, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee arose to Clinton’s defense on Thursday.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California issued a statement emphasizing that none of the emails was marked as classified at the time Clinton received them and that “it is clear that Secretary Clinton did not write emails containing classified information.”
Yet to be determined, she said, is “whether information in those emails should have been classified in the first place.”