Accuracy in Media

The Washington Post Fact Checker took Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to task for claiming that FBI Director James Comey said that her answers about her private email server and the sending of classified materials were “truthful.”

“Director Comey said my answers were truthful, and what I’ve said is consistent with what I have told the American people, that there were decisions discussed and made to classify retroactively certain of the emails.”
—Hillary Clinton, interview on “Fox News Sunday,” July 31, 2016

“Clinton made these remarks after ‘Fox News Sunday’ host Chris Wallace played a video of her saying: ‘I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified materials. I am confident that I never sent nor received any information that was classified at the time. I had not sent classified material nor received anything marked classified.’

Wallace replied to Clinton by telling her that FBI Director Comey said none of those things that she told the American public were true, and he then played a video of an exchange between Comey and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), chair of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, in which Comey said that classified material was emailed.

The Fact Checker said that Clinton is “cherry-picking statements by Comey to preserve her narrative about the unusual setup of a private email server,” which allows her to “skate past the more disturbing findings of the FBI investigation:”

“For instance, when Clinton asserts ‘my answers were truthful,’ a campaign aide said she is referring to this statement by Comey to Congress: ‘We have no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI.’

But that’s not the whole story. When House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) asked whether Clinton had lied to the American public, Comey dodged: ‘That’s a question I’m not qualified to answer. I can speak about what she said to the FBI.’

At another point, Comey told Congress: ‘I really don’t want to get in the business of trying to parse and judge her public statements. And so I think I’ve tried to avoid doing that sitting here. … What matters to me is what did she say to the FBI. That’s obviously first and foremost for us.’

Comey was also asked whether Clinton broke the law: ‘In connection with her use of the email server? My judgment is that she did not,’ Comey said.

As for retroactive classification of emails, Comey did say many emails were retroactively classified. But he also said that some emails were classified at the time—and Clinton and her aides should have been aware of that.

In her response to Wallace, Clinton at one point appeared to deflect responsibility to her aides: ‘I relied on and had every reason to rely on the judgments of the professionals with whom I worked. And so, in retrospect, maybe some people are saying, well, among those 300 people, they made the wrong call.’

Testifying before Congress, Comey said it was possible Clinton was not ‘technically sophisticated’ enough to understand what the classified markings meant. But he said a government official should be attentive to such a marking.

The Pinocchio Test

As we have seen repeatedly in Clinton’s explanations of the email controversy, she relies on excessively technical and legalistic answers to explain her actions. While Comey did say there was no evidence she lied to the FBI, that is not the same as saying she told the truth to the American public—which was the point of Wallace’s question. Comey has repeatedly not taken a stand on her public statements.

And although Comey did say many emails were retroactively classified, he also said that there were some emails that were already classified that should not have been sent on an unclassified, private server. That’s the uncomfortable truth that Clinton has trouble admitting.”

It’s that aversion to the truth that has contributed to her very high untrustworthiness numbers, and which could derail her quest to become the first female U.S. president.

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