Pompeo defends Trump push to release Hillary Clinton emails weeks before election

Trump has criticized his top diplomat, but it's unclear what emails are left.

It's unclear what, if any, emails the department has from Clinton's personal server that aren't among the 35,000 already released. Trump has renewed his attacks on Clinton in the final weeks of the election and offered a rare critique of his top diplomat on the issue.

"They're in the State Department, but Mike Pompeo has been unable to get them out, which is very sad, actually. I'm not happy about him for that reason. He was unable to get them out. I don't know why. You're running the State Department, you get them out," Trump told Fox Business last Thursday.

In the days since, Pompeo has rushed to defend himself, telling Fox News last Friday that his department has "got the emails. We're getting them out." During a news conference Wednesday, he brandished his conservative bona fides on the issue of Clinton's emails while denying that any future releases are tied to politics.

"Releasing emails for the sake of transparency can't possibly be a violation of the Hatch Act. That's a ridiculous question," he told one reporter, referring to the U.S. law that forbids the use of government resources for political campaigning.

"I actually have been involved in these emails for a long time. You'll recall, I previously served as a member of Congress, where Secretary Clinton's use of a personal server containing classified information became a very important issue," he said later, pivoting to attack Clinton's use of the server.

Last year, while Pompeo was secretary, the State Department determined that there was "no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information" by Clinton and her team, but it faulted Clinton's private email with increasing the vulnerability of classified information and cited 38 people with violations.

Under pressure from the president and the right, Pompeo blamed any delay on "lots of challenges in production of documents," including most recently "people out for COVID." Last Friday, he promised, "There'll be more to see before the election."

It's unclear if there are any new emails to be released, but new "releases" could involve removing redactions on emails the department has already published under the Obama and Trump administrations. Pompeo hasn't specified what is to come, except that the department has to "identify material, we look at it, review it and we'll make sure we make the right decisions for the American people in transparency," he said Wednesday.

That puts the agency in something of a bind -- criticizing Clinton for having classified information on a private server, while possibly releasing classified information in any new releases.

Pompeo told Fox News on Friday any release would not give away any sources or methods, even as he blasted Clinton for endangering classified information.

"It's not the kind of thing that leaders do. They don't put that kind of information out," he said.

Pompeo is no stranger to politics, increasingly playing a public role in Trump's reelection push. He addressed the Republican National Convention in August in an unprecedented appearance that may violate the Hatch Act, and throughout the fall, he has visited swing states and met with GOP donors and political leaders -- trips that he has defended as key to keeping the American public informed of the department's efforts.

As he declined to produce State Department documents for House Democrat-led probes, he provided tens of thousands of pages to a Senate Republican-led investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter, and Hunter's role on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. That has earned him the ire of House Democrats, who had floated holding him in contempt of Congress.

"I have worked for nine secretaries of state. I cannot imagine any of them intervening in an election as blatantly as what we are seeing now. Our tradition is that secretaries of state stay out of elections. If they wanted to release Hillary Clinton's emails, they could have done it in 2017, 2018 or 2019. It is an abuse of power by Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo," Nicholas Burns, a retired ambassador, told the New York Times.