Other Secretaries Handled Classified Material on Private Email, State Dept. Concludes

PHOTO: US Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice look on as US President George W. Bush meets with Chilean President Ricardo Lagos in the Oval Office of the White House 19 July 2004 in Washington, DC.PlaySTEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images
WATCH Hillary Clinton's Email Investigation Distraction

The State Department’s internal investigation arm issued a final memorandum today on the email practices of past and current secretaries of state, and it said definitively that past secretaries handled classified material on unclassified email systems.

The same claims were made in an early February memo when the State Department's inspector general first announced it was conducting a records review related to the email accounts of five secretaries of state -- Madeline Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry -- and their immediate staff.

After closely examining a number of potentially sensitive emails with help from State Department and Intelligence Community officials, the State Department's inspector general concluded that 12 emails contain “national security information classified at the Secret or Confidential levels.” Additionally, it was determined none of the emails contained intelligence information, meaning it was classified for other reasons.

The emails in question, as the inspector general has previously stated, came from Secretary Powell’s personal email account and personal email accounts of Secretary Rice’s immediate staff.

In a recent statements to ABC News, Powell disputed the claims.

"I have reviewed the messages and I do not see what makes them classified." Powell said. "The emails were from my Executive Assistant and forwarded messages sent by two of our Ambassadors to State Department staff members. My Executive Assistant thought I should see them in a timely manner so sent them to my personal account. Both messages were unclassified. There was no reason not to forward them in this manner. ... The Ambassadors did not believe the contents were Confidential at the time and they were sent as unclassified. That is a fact. While they have not yet clarified this point, the State Department cannot now say they were classified then because they weren’t. If the Department wishes to say a dozen years later they should have been classified that is an opinion of the Department that I do not share."

A representative for Condoleezza Rice also issued a statement to ABC News, saying that the secretary never used a private email account during her tenure and that the focus here was on her staff. The statement said the emails in question were sent to her assistant and covered diplomatic conversations, not intelligence information.

Today’s memo makes recommendations for securing the archived records of the past secretaries. The State Department has replied and has agreed to keep the records in secure places. Once proof is provided that these steps have been taken, the IG's office said it will consider the matter closed.

Hillary Clinton, whose campaign has been dogged by her email controversy, has used Powell's reaction to bolster her own opinion that the State Department is classifying documents too aggressively. She has said she wanted all of her private email to be made public, but the State Department redacted over 2,000 of them after determining they containing classified material. And unlike Powell or Rice, 22 of Clinton's emails were upgraded to "top secret," the highest level of classification.

Current Secretary John Kerry wasn't mentioned in this new memo, but it was revealed that he too sent classified information directly to Secretary Clinton while he was serving in the U.S. Senate. Two emails from his private account had to be upgraded to "secret" and shielded from public release as they were discovered in the trove of Clinton documents.

It's unclear what effect all this information could have on the current FBI investigation into the handling of sensitive information on Clinton's private email server.

Mark Zaid, a national security lawyer in Washington, D.C., said it could go either way. One the one hand, indicting Clinton on charges of mishandling classified material while other secretaries appear to be doing similar things could create a slippery slope of litigation. On the other hand, arguing that other people did the same thing is not a real defense, Zaid said.