Speculating on the Talking Point Speculation
Saturday, 9 January 2016 :: 12:42:06 (+0400) [0/26] 0.00:1 (1:0)

The slow bleed-out of emails from Hillary Clinton's tenure as United States Secretary of State continues unabated. At least in some circles much turns on the precise classification designations of various emails that found themselves embedded in the Clinton Global Initiative's cloud storage cluster, these facts being, at least in theory, instrumental in determining if various federal statutes regarding the handling of classified information were violated by Secretary Clinton, her aides, neither, or both. And so there is much ado whenever content worms its way into the thin stream of data squeezed though the tight funnel that is the United States Department of State's Freedom of Information Act process. Most recently, Ed Morrissey over at Hot Air hones in on a particular set of emails that may make things look dismal for Madam Secretary.

“If they can’t, turn into nonpaper w no identifying heading and send nonsecure.”

That’s an order to violate the laws handling classified material. There is no other way to read that demand. Regardless of whether or not Sullivan complied, this demolishes Hillary’s claim to be ignorant of marking issues, as well as strongly suggests that the other thousand-plus instances where this did occur likely came under her direction.1

But, "Game, Set, Match," it is not. At least not quite yet. As Morrissey later points out:

There are a few people wondering whether the “TPs” (talking points”) in question in this thread were classified in the first place. There are a couple points to remember in that context:

  • Unclassified material doesn’t need to be transmitted by secure fax; if the material wasn’t classified, Sullivan would have had them faxed normally.
  • Ordering aides to remove headers to facilitate the transmission over unsecured means strongly suggests that the information was not unclassified. On top of that, removing headers to avoid transmission security would be a violation of 18 USC 793 anyway, which does not require material to be classified — only sensitive to national security.
  • State did leave this document unclassified, but that’s because there isn’t any discussion of what the talking points cover. They redacted the subject headers with B5 and B6 exemptions, invoked to note that the FOIA demand doesn’t cover the material (in their opinion).

Ordering the headings stripped, and Sullivan’s apparent reluctance to work around the secure fax system, makes it all but certain that the material was classified at some level — and Hillary knew it.2

But are these "talking points" so mysterious? What clues might be had with respect to their content? And so we begin with a summary of the relevant email transaction (headers edited for clarity):

From: Sullivan, Jacob, J.
Sent: Thursday June 16, 2011 05:51 PM
To: "H"

You'll get tps this eve. They're coming together.

From H [mailto:HDR22@clintonemail.com]
Sent: Friday, June 17, 2011 07:52 AM

I didn't get the TPs yet.

From: Sullivan, Jacob, J.
Sent: Friday, June 17, 2011 08:00 AM
To: 'HDR22@clintonemail.com'

?!!! Checking

From: Sullivan, Jacob, J.
Sent: Friday, June 17, 2011 08:17 AM
To: H

They say they've had issues sending secure fax. They're working on it.

From: H
Sent: Friday, June 17, 2011 8:21 AM
To: 'sullivanjj@state.gov'

If they can't, turn into non paper w no identifying heading and send nonsecure.3

For the uninitiated, Jacob Sullivan was Secretary Clinton's Deputy Chief of Staff. To summarise:

As the evening of Thursday, June 16, 2011 begins Clinton's Deputy Chief of Staff promises Madam Secretary that she will have the "tps" [probably 'Talking Points'] "this eve". And that they are "coming together." One assumes that the points being prepared are important, time sensitive, and complex to assemble.

By Friday, June 17, 2011 at 07:52 AM, one assumes Madam Secretary's morning is well underway with preparations for the day to come.

But Madam Secretary's "TPs" have not yet arrived.

Alarmed ("?!!!") Mr. Sullivan sets to "Checking" within 8 minutes of Madam Secretary's request (07:52 - 08:00). Clearly, Mr. Sullivan was not preparing the material alone, or even at all, an observation confirmed in another 17 minutes (08:00 - 08:17) when he replies that "They say" there were issues "sending secure fax" and that "They're working in it." It would seem clear that "They" would be the team preparing these "TPs."

One can almost feel the irritation in Madam Secretary's reply 4 minutes later (08:17 - 08:21) where she apparently urges Mr. Sullivan to bypass the secure fax to transmit the "TPs" by "turn[ing] into nonpaper w no identifying heading and send nonsecure".

Were the TPs actually completed by Friday Morning? Or was this "secure fax" issue a panicked effort by Madam Secretary's team to buy more time? Could it be that "they" actually had "issues sending secure fax" for 10-14 hours (Thursday evening after 5:51 PM - Friday Morning 07:52 AM)?

It is also interesting to note that Madam Secretary's email address changes at least once [HDR22@clintonemail.com to hrod17@clintonemail.com] between 07:52 AM and 08:21 AM, perhaps a sign of the Secretary switching between desktop and mobile devices as she leaves her residence and meets her security detail to take her to her first set of meetings for the day?

What could be so time sensitive to Madam Secretary that she would seem to order her Deputy Chief of Staff to bypass the secure fax process? Where was Madam Secretary headed the morning of Friday, June 17, 2011?

Fortunately for us, the Secretary's Daily Schedule and the Daily Press Briefing of the United States Department of State might have some clues:

Public Schedule for June 17, 2011

Washington, DC
June 17, 2011
Secretary Clinton has no public schedule.

12:30 p.m. Daily Press Briefing with Spokesperson Victoria Nuland4

Ah, pity. But let us not be discouraged. In fact, classified meetings or meetings with foreign dignitaries are routinely omitted from the public schedule. In fact, the confidential schedule of the Secretary of State itself can be classified material which may or may not become unclassified after the Secretary's meetings.

Well, maybe this press briefing will tell us something?

Victoria Nuland
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 17, 2011


  • U.S. Applauds Historic Adoption of UN Resolution on Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons
  • Appointment of Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed on Iran Human Rights
  • Secretary Clinton's Meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan

  • Delivery of Second U.S. Shipment of Non-lethal Aid to Benghazi / Working Closely with TNC

  • President Saleh / U.S. Deplores Use of Violence Against Protesters / U.S. Call for Peaceful and Orderly Transition / Encourage All Sides to Engage in Dialogue / Acting President Hadi / U.S. Wants to See Yemen Transition to a Democratic Future / GCC Agreement

  • Secretary Clinton's Discussion with Foreign Minister Lavrov / UN Security Council Resolution 1267 / Discussions Ongoing in New York / Syrian Refugees

  • David Hale and Dennis Ross Still in Region / List of Meetings / Goals Outlined in President's Speech

  • Issue of Food Aid to North Korea

  • South China Sea / Call on All Parties to Find a Way to Negotiate Issues Collaboratively

  • U.S. Support for Greece / Prime Minister Papandreou5

Interesting. And what may we learn from the transcript?

12:36 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Friday. We have four announcements, and I hope some pictures, at the top. So let me do those if you can bear with me and then we’ll go to your questions.

First of all, the United States applauds the historic adoption today of the first UN resolution on the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. This landmark resolution makes it clear that no one should face...


QUESTION: On Syria, has Secretary Clinton spoken with her Russian counterpart, Lavrov?

MS. NULAND: She did speak to Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning, and she did discuss Syria with him. She also discussed Middle East peace, Libya, UN Security Council 1267, and Russian-Georgian relations. With regard to Syria, the discussion focused on action in the UN Security Council and how the U.S. and Russia can work together to make sure that we can get to a UN Security Council resolution that supports peace and security in Syria.

QUESTION: Was there any indication that the Russians are softening their animosity towards that resolution at all?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think I want to go further into the substance of her conversation. I would simply say that it was a good conversation.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. What was the resolution they discussed? The Bolivia resolution?

MS. NULAND: This is the UNSC 1267, which is the resolution –

QUESTION: The Bolivia –

MS. NULAND: -- that we’re going to split now with regard to designating terrorists in Afghanistan, Taliban, and al-Qaida. So something that –

QUESTION: Sorry. What was the number of it again?

MS. NULAND: 1267.


QUESTION: So that – it doesn’t have anything to do per se with Syria?

MS. NULAND: No. No. Syria’s separate. Syria is a resolution that is in discussion and negotiation now, so it wouldn’t have a number until it’s passed.

QUESTION: So but they discussed this 1267?

MS. NULAND: Correct. Middle East Peace, Libya, Syria, UNSC 1267.

QUESTION: But they discussed the Syrian resolution?

MS. NULAND: They did.

QUESTION: Yes. And –

MS. NULAND: And she expressed her hope that the U.S. and Russia can work together to come to a resolution.


QUESTION: On 1267 though, that’s terrorism in – terrorists – that’s the list?

MS. NULAND: That’s the resolution that’s under discussion in the UN today. It – that’s the – 1267 is the resolution that allows for the sanctioning of al-Qaida and Taliban, extremists on terrorists list, and we are now working to split that resolution in two so that we can more stringently sanction al-Qaida and so that we can keep the right Taliban on the list but also allow for appropriate reconciliation, assuming former members of the Taliban want to meet the conditions of reconciliation.

QUESTION: So does that – so in effect, this is making it easier to remove people from the list if they are interested in reconciliation?

MS. NULAND: Without getting too far into it, if we need more detail, we will get our UN folk to help you with this. My understanding is that when this was first passed, right after September 11th, all of the extremists were lumped together. And so this is going to – this action in the UN today is going to split the lists. It’s essentially a housekeeping issue, which will allow us to strengthen the al-Qaida sanctions to ensure that those Taliban who remain extremists can stay on a separate list, but that those who are reconciled can come off.

QUESTION: And the Russian view – I mean, there had been some problems before with the Russians and taking specific individuals off the list where they had objected, even though President Karzai and ISAF had kind of signed off and said okay, these people are okay. Is it your understanding that the Russians are prepared to support this now?

MS. NULAND: The conversation was simply about the aspiration to get this one finished in the near future.6 (Emphasis Added)

A meeting or a call with Sergey Viktorovich Lavro, the Foreign Minister of Russia on the topics of Syria, Libya, the effort to split United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267 ("the resolution that allows for the sanctioning of al-Qaida and Taliban, extremists on terrorists list"), and the current vote count on splitting that resolution. A meeting that wasn't on the public schedule, and about which the State Department talking head is reluctant to opine.

Gee, now I wonder if the talking points for that meeting or call would have been classified.