Hillary Clinton's campaign has repeatedly pushed back on the idea that any of the emails she sent using her personal email system while serving as Secretary of State were classified top secret.
Back in November, for example, campaign spokesperson Brian Fallon tweeted out a link to a Politico report suggesting that early findings that some of her emails contained highly classified material were wrong. Maybe Fallon was just sharing, not endorsing, and the exclamation points he included in his tweet were just there to demonstrate his surprise at the story.
In any case, it turns out that the report was wrong, and Clinton did indeed send at least 22 emails classified as top secret, according to an Associated Press report this afternoon.
These emails were classified as "special access programs," according to Politico, which means they were compartmentalized within the top secret designation; even top secret clearance wouldn't necessarily be enough to get someone access to these communications.
The State Department has slowly making Clinton's emails public over the last few months, following a court order, but not complying with it fully: A federal judge had ordered the emails to be completely released by the end of today, but instead, only about 1,000 of the 9,000 remaining pages of email will be released later tonight.
So far, about 1,300 of Clinton's emails have been labeled classified at some level. Today was the first time, however, that any had been confirmed to be classified top secret. So far, classified emails have been redacted for release. The top secret emails revealed today won't be released in any way; they'll simply be withheld.
On the campaign trail, both Clinton and her team have sought to downplay the importance of the issue and her responsibility for the matter.
"I did not send classified material, and I did not receive any material that was marked or designated classified," Clinton said. Fallon, her communications aide, has defended Clinton by saying she "was, at worst, the passive recipient of unwitting information that subsequently became deemed as classified."
That remains to be seen. As the Associated Press reports today, the State Department "wouldn't disclose if any of the documents reflected information that was classified at the time of transmission, but indicated that the agency's Diplomatic Security and Intelligence and Research bureaus have begun looking into that question."
And whether or not the emails were marked as classified is not the entire issue. As a Reuters report noted in August, "the government's standard nondisclosure agreement warns people authorized to handle classified information that it may not be marked that way and that it may come in oral form."
Previous reports have suggested that Clinton's emails contained top secret information, based on information from the inspector general for the intelligence community. But up until now, as The Washington Post notes, the State Department had not agreed that any of the emails should be classified as top secret, and her campaign had relied on the difference to suggest that the classification of her emails was largely a dispute between agencies.
What continues to be most revealing about this story is not the particular contents of any of the emails, but the way that Clinton and her team have handled it.
At virtually every turn, she and her campaign staffers have misled and dissembled, repeatedly making statements that later turn out to be false. In general, her attitude is one of disdain and dismissiveness, as if transparency and truthfulness about her unorthodox decision to conduct her State Department email business exclusively on a homebrew email server was unnecessary, or beneath her. She has displayed both a willful disregard for the truth and as a generalized resistance to public scrutiny and oversight. And that may tell us more about her, and what kind of president she might be, than any email she's sent.