2:15 p.m. EDT
MS HARF: Good afternoon. Welcome to the daily briefing.
QUESTION: Thank you. Happy –
MS HARF: You’re welcome.
QUESTION: — Memorial Day to you.
MS HARF: Happy Memorial Day weekend. I just have one item at the top, and then I’m happy, Matt, to turn it over to you. As you all know, today the State Department made publicly available online 296 emails from former Secretary Clinton, which were previously provided to the Select Committee on Benghazi on February 13th, 2015. We used Freedom of Information Act standards for this public release, as we have always said we would. The State Department provided these emails to the select committee three months ago. They were provided with significantly fewer redactions under an agreement that the committee would not make any information public that is sensitive and inappropriate for release.
Regarding Benghazi, these 296 emails, some of which hopefully some of you have been able to see despite some of the website issues, do not change the essential facts that have been known since the independent Accountability Review Board report came out almost two and a half years ago. They do not change our understanding of what happened before, during, or after the attack. And just to remind people, in the spirit of cooperation we have consistently engaged with and been responsive to the select committee. Since the select committee’s formation less than a year ago, the Department has provided seven briefings, witnesses at each of the committee’s three hearings, 21 witness interviews since February, and provided over 45,000 pages of documents to the committee as well.
Now that the front row has filled out, including with two Fox reporters, I’m happy to start the briefing off. Matt.
QUESTION: Yeah, so let’s –
MS HARF: Happy Friday.
QUESTION: Thank you. Happy Friday to you, too. On the emails –
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — I want to talk about the redactions generally.
MS HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: But first, specifically, the one redaction that appears to have been made because it involves classified or what has now been determined to be classified information.
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Can you explain to us what exactly this is?
MS HARF: Yeah. So first, the email and the information in this email you’re referring to was not classified at the time it was sent. And I would remind people it was sent to Secretary Clinton. This very small portion of information, less than two sentences, was subsequently upgraded today at the request of the FBI. It is routine to upgrade information to classified status during the FOIA process. This happens frequently about several times every month. This is part of the process.
Executive Order 13526, which governs classification, provides that information that was previously unclassified such as this can be reviewed to determine whether its classification should be upgraded prior to public release under the FOIA. Again, this information was sent to her in 2012. There are a variety of reasons, in general – I’m not going to speak specifically to why the FBI requested this redaction – but that information could be upgraded to classified prior to its public release. I’m just going to outline a few so people have a general sense for how the process works.
First, it’s possible that the degree of sensitivity of certain information could have evolved over time due to changing world events or national security interests. It’s also possible the details of our cooperation with other countries would be upgraded if their public disclosure could negatively impact U.S. foreign relations, and it’s possible that a candid exchange of views among officials, if publicly released, could have a negative impact on foreign relations. Those are general. I’m not referring specifically to this sentence and a half that was upgraded today. But there are a variety of reasons in the regular FOIA process that this can happen.
QUESTION: But that all refers to being upgraded from unclassified to some form of classification – some level of classification –
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: — for candid exchanges between officials included?
MS HARF: If it could impact – if there’s a judgment made by FOIA experts that it could negatively impact foreign relations, yes.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what it was upgraded to, these –
MS HARF: It was upgraded to secret.
QUESTION: Okay, which is the lowest of the –
MS HARF: That’s – well, there’s confidential, which is lower.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, more generally, there are a lot of other redactions.
MS HARF: Correct. And we tried to set expectations that there would be.
QUESTION: Do you – right. Do you have – are you able to tell us what the majority of those redactions were for? Did they – what was the reason –
MS HARF: I don’t have a breakdown. Next to each redaction there is a code for the FOIA exemption that’s specifically cited, and on our FOIA website you can take a look at all those codes. I don’t know them all by heart, and I haven’t done a numerical breakdown of how many apply where. But as I noted, these were provided with very few redactions to the committee. When this one email that we’ve referenced that has now been upgraded was provided to the committee, it was provided un-redacted and unclassified.
QUESTION: And so the committee has –
MS HARF: Because there are different standards for public release –
QUESTION: The committee has –
MS HARF: — under FOIA.
QUESTION: The committee has the un-redacted version?
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. And they have un-redacted versions of all of this, or was there stuff that was sent to them that was redacted?
MS HARF: There were very small – there were some redactions, but they were very, very limited. This was an agreement we made with the committee that we would provide them in that form and they would not release them publicly.
QUESTION: Despite the fact that this information was not, as you say, classified at the time –
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: — it was sent to her –
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: — is it at all troubling or problematic for the Department that this kind of information, which is clearly sensitive, even if it wasn’t classified at the time, was being passed around on a private server?
MS HARF: Well, I think we’ve spoken more broadly to this issue in the past, in terms of the fact that there was no prohibition from using private email as a public official. We’ve spoken about this in the past. I don’t have much more to add than that. I would again note that this information was not classified at the time.
QUESTION: Was it – what was it considered at the time? Do you know?
MS HARF: Unclassified.
QUESTION: But not even, like, sensitive but unclassified?
MS HARF: It had no markings on it.
QUESTION: It had no –
MS HARF: And again, when it got sent to the Hill, it also went in an unclassified form. This – again, as part of the FOIA process, this happens about several times a month on average where, for a variety of reasons under the FOIA law, something that has been previously unclassified is for public release deemed to be classified.
QUESTION: Last one from me on this. When did – when was it that the FBI asked for this to be upgraded?
MS HARF: Well, there’s been an ongoing interagency process. Every agency that has equities in these emails has at some point in the review process – is part of it, as will be the case with the 55,000.
QUESTION: So some time in –
MS HARF: So there’s been an ongoing discussion with the other agencies throughout the last several weeks that we’ve been doing this.
QUESTION: But is that since they were turned over to the committee, or since it became public knowledge that there was the – that this private server existed?
MS HARF: Right. So there – when they – they went through an interagency process when they went to the committee as well, but using the standards of going to members of Congress who have clearances, not using FOIA standards. So when we made the decision to release these publicly under FOIA standards, a new interagency process started. So we can work backwards; I’m sorry, I don’t remember the date. But when we decided to release all of them publicly, we started the new FOIA process, which is a separate process with different standards for public release. They went back to the interagency then, and that’s when all of these discussions took place.
QUESTION: All right. Then just remind me: Did you guys decide to make all of these public – it was only after it became public knowledge – of the private server became public knowledge –
MS HARF: No.
QUESTION: — that you decided to release them all, right?
MS HARF: It was when – well, I can go back and look at the chronology. It’s – when she turned them all over to us, I think we very quickly said – even before the server issue was discussed, if I remember correctly – that we would undertake using FOIA standards review to release these publicly. On Tuesday we’ll be making a court filing, following up on ours last week, I think, on the 55,000, outlining a – how we will be undertaking rolling production – so periodic production of the remaining 55,000. And that’s something we’re committed to.
QUESTION: And just one last question. Just – and you may have said this already, and forgive me, but –
MS HARF: It’s okay.
QUESTION: — to be clear, because the email and the contents of it was not classified at the time it was sent to her –
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: — it’s the State Department’s opinion that she did not violate any policy. Is that correct?
MS HARF: What kind of – I mean, what policy are you referring to?
QUESTION: Well, like something within the FAM or something that would suggest she should not be –
MS HARF: That anyone mishandled classified information?
MS HARF: It wasn’t classified at the time, and the –
QUESTION: Therefore –
MS HARF: — occurrence of a subsequent upgrade does not mean that anyone did anything wrong, just to be very clear here.
QUESTION: On that point, is there in the FBI’s request that this now be classified, embedded within that request, the suggestion that it should have been classified on the date in which it was sent?
MS HARF: I have not heard of that. I mean, I don’t – the answer is I don’t know. I haven’t heard that in any of the discussions. As I said, this happens pretty regularly that something is –
QUESTION: But you would concede –
MS HARF: — this process happens pretty regularly.
QUESTION: You would concede as part of that regular occurrence it’s quite plausible that in some instances something is upgraded in its classification from unclassified to some measure of classification because it should have been at the time and was not – correct?
MS HARF: That’s not –
QUESTION: That happens, yes?
MS HARF: That has happened. But in this case, what we’re talking about is something not – I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about something that, again, when it went to the Hill was sent unclassified; it went through an interagency review process then when technically it also could have been upgraded. It’s my understanding that this was purely using the FOIA standards for public release that the FBI – and again, I don’t want to speak for them, but that the request was made. And ultimately the State Department writes the upgrade memo and signs off on it. So that decision ultimately lies here to do that. But it was at this request, so we decide to do this using the FOIA standards, that for public release this is permissible.
QUESTION: Is it the working supposition of the Department right now that it was from source associated with the Benghazi committee that The New York Times obtained the large trove of emails that it put online?
MS HARF: Honestly – I said this the other day – I’ve given up guessing where leaks like this come from. As I said, the Department certainly didn’t provide the emails that were alleged to be part of that trove, which I’m still not going to confirm are actually a part of it. But we certainly didn’t, and I’m just not going to guess about that.
QUESTION: Do you know whether –
MS HARF: It’s a game, I think, that gets you nowhere.
QUESTION: Do you know whether there is an investigation underway to determine how those documents came into the possession of The New York Times?
MS HARF: I do not know. I’m happy to check, but I don’t know.
QUESTION: Do you happen to know whether if we were to compare specific documents that appear to be the same ones from the New York Times trove to those that were officially released today, we would observe different redactions because one was sent to the committee and the other was redacted under the FOIA process, as you’re making clear?
MS HARF: Well, without commenting on the specific documents that were posted on The New York Times website, if people had in their possession – which they shouldn’t – documents that were sent to the committee – and I’m not saying that those are they, okay? I’m not. But the documents that went to the committee would look different than the ones that were released under FOIA because we use different standards. In order to be as transparent as we possibly could with the committee, we agreed to do very minimal redactions so they could see as much information as possible. FOIA standards are more restrictive for public release.
QUESTION: One of the documents released today included an exchange of emails between Cheryl Mills and Matt Olsen, who at the time was the head of the National Counterterrorism Center.
MS HARF: Of NCTC.
QUESTION: And it was in the fall of 2012, and Mr. Olsen was reporting confidentially to Ms. Mills on how he thought congressional hearings about Benghazi were going at that time – “Fine,” he said, from his perspective; and also reporting on his debriefing or his interrogation by the ARB, the Accountability Review Board, saying that it was an excellent session; and lastly, telling Ms. Mills that the intelligence community, or at least the NCTC, is continuing to fend off questions about the unclassified talking points.
Do you agree that I’m correctly characterizing the correspondence?
MS HARF: I have read all the emails. I remember that one, broadly speaking.
MS HARF: I don’t remember the last point about the talking points. I just don’t remember seeing that in his email.
QUESTION: It’s in there.
MS HARF: I’m happy to go back and check.
QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts as to the propriety of a senior intelligence official carrying on that kind of correspondence with the Secretary of State’s chief of staff? What’s the reason for it?
MS HARF: When you say what kind of correspondence, what are you – how are you characterizing it?
QUESTION: Reporting back to her on how he thinks congressional hearings are going, reporting back to her on how his ARB session went, telling her that he’s continuing to fend off requests for information about the unclassified talking points?
MS HARF: So on the third piece, I just honestly, James, don’t remember that being in the email. I’m happy to take a look at the email. I’m sure you would walk it up here if you could; we’re not going to do that. I’m happy to take –
QUESTION: I’m not going to pull a Lazio on you, but –
MS HARF: I’m happy to take a look at it. (Laughter.) But I’m not going to have you read it either. But in general, why would – why would sort of saying it went fine, why would that be inappropriate?
QUESTION: I’m just not clear on the necessity of a senior intelligence official communicating with the Secretary of State’s chief of staff about these things. I don’t understand why.
MS HARF: Well, I’m not – I’m not clear why you’re suggesting there’s impropriety, I guess.
QUESTION: I don’t know why he’s reporting to her on how his debriefing by the ARB went.
MS HARF: Maybe it was just a casual conversation. It went well. I’m not sure what the harm in that is.
QUESTION: Well –
MS HARF: Again, I’m not going to parse every single email or get into the head of what people were thinking at the time –
QUESTION: Two more.
MS HARF: — and not having the email in front of me. But –
QUESTION: Two more questions.
MS HARF: I’m not entirely sure what you’re getting at here, but go ahead. Continue.
QUESTION: I think you have some rough idea of what I’m getting at.
MS HARF: I actually sort of don’t, but go ahead. Continue.
QUESTION: Well, let me ask it before you do your other two.
QUESTION: Okay. Certainly, Matt.
QUESTION: Do you – does the Department believe that there was any kind of impropriety in this exchange that he’s talking about?
MS HARF: Again, I don’t have the exchange in front of me. But I –
QUESTION: Do you believe that there is any impropriety evidenced in any of the emails –
MS HARF: I do not.
QUESTION: — that were sent?
MS HARF: I do not.
MS HARF: I do not.
QUESTION: One of the emails appears to indicate that on the 15th of September 2012, Secretary Clinton was to receive the presidential daily brief at her home at 9:30 in the morning. And as the set of emails makes clear, including one from the Secretary to her aides, she says, she types at 10:43 a.m., “I just woke up so I missed Dan,” who was supposed to deliver the PDB.
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Putting aside the Secretary’s sleeping habits –
MS HARF: And yet you felt the need to raise them in the briefing.
QUESTION: As you felt the need to begin the briefing by stating that there were two Fox reporters here today.
MS HARF: I thought I was being welcoming.
QUESTION: My point to you is, aside from the fact that she slept through the PDB – (laughter).
MS HARF: Putting aside that, go ahead.
QUESTION: Is it – was Secretary Clinton a regular consumer of the PDB?
MS HARF: Well, I didn’t – I wasn’t here when Secretary Clinton was here. I am happy to get more details for you. It is my understanding that she was a regular, intense consumer of intelligence in a variety of forms, one of which was the presidential daily briefing. There are other – many ways that secretaries of state have intelligence information at their fingertips as well. It is certainly my understanding that she was – used intelligence quite a bit and very much valued it as one of her sources of information.
QUESTION: Last question. This is somewhat toward the personal side of things. But I wonder if it’s – I wonder if it’s been a concern for you and your other colleagues who do these press briefings at the podium that in having to answer for Secretary of State Clinton’s conduct with respect to her private emails and the disposition of those emails, the deletion of some of those emails, that you and you colleagues are, in effect, being forced to serve as surrogate spokespeople for the Clinton campaign. Is that a concern for you?
MS HARF: I certainly don’t feel that way, James. We take it very seriously here, that we defend former secretaries of state, their policies, certainly. That is completely independent from any political campaign that may or may not be going on. As I’ve often said, I am happy in this job to not have to worry about political campaigns. That’s why when we talk about these things we are very factual. We talk about the – what this Department has done, did do in the past to our – to the extent that we can, and quite frankly stay out of all the politics, as much as some of you try to drag us into it.
QUESTION: Well, you defend all former secretaries of state? On Tuesday I’ll ask you to defend Seward.
MS HARF: Former secretaries of state in the administration in which we serve. And their –
QUESTION: When what they do is defensible.
MS HARF: And when they’re – well, look, when we talk about the policies of this Administration, that includes policies under Secretary Kerry and under Secretary Clinton. But we keep it in a very nonpartisan and nonpolitical lane. We, including myself, feel very strongly about that – incredibly strongly about that, that this podium is a nonpartisan and a nonpolitical one. And yes, she is running for president, and that is a fact. But that’s why when you ask me questions about her, I keep it based on the facts. We keep it based on what the Department does as a whole, what Secretary Kerry’s doing today in terms of all of these issues, whether it’s FOIA or getting things released.
QUESTION: Do you defend her sleeping through the PDB?
MS HARF: I think I’m going to move on.
QUESTION: All right.
MS HARF: Any more on this?
QUESTION: Oh, I just would like to ask, when’s the next batch coming?
MS HARF: So I think when we make the court filing on Tuesday, I expect that we may hopefully be indicating when the first rolling production will be. Secretary Kerry is very focused, as are all of us, on doing this as quickly as possible, and that’s certainly a goal. We’re going to be expediting more resources to both the congressional production side, because we have a number of outstanding congressional production document requests, but also to reviewing the 55,000 emails for public release. So this is a huge undertaking, certainly, but we are working as quickly as we can. And hopefully we’ll be able to say soon when the first rolling production will be.
QUESTION: And how many would those be?
MS HARF: We’re trying to determine that right now. It may not be the same every time. We’re just – as many as we can get done, basically by that date. And given – some of these emails won’t have other agency equities involved, so those will probably be done a little quicker. But when you have all these other agencies, it’s just a process that takes a little longer.
QUESTION: Yeah. Going back to the change in the classification level of the redacted – the upgrade.
MS HARF: The upgrade. It wasn’t classified to begin with. Yes.
QUESTION: You had said that this is a fairly regular thing or a routine process.
MS HARF: It happens about several times a month in FOIA requests.
QUESTION: Would the fact that this is as routine as that kind of highlight the flaw in the policy of allowing people to send emails on personal servers, if there’s routinely information that is then upgraded in classification a little bit?
MS HARF: Well, but you’re, I think, assuming something about the reason for upgrade. And oftentimes the reason for upgrade is because it’s not appropriate to be released publicly under FOIA. That’s different than it being unclassified and being sent around on an unclassified email.
MS HARF: So those are just different standards. So I think you’re just making an underlying assumption about why things are necessarily upgraded, which is not necessarily the case.
QUESTION: But private servers – probably almost in every instance are probably less secure than government servers. And if there’s information that’s routinely upgraded in classification because it’s determined that it’s actually not something that you want released –
MS HARF: But those – well, go ahead. Sorry, you can finish and then I’ll let you continue.
QUESTION: Well, in that case wouldn’t – doesn’t that highlight a potential security threat with the way that information is handled or has been handled in the past in this building?
MS HARF: I mean, I think you’re making a broad statement. There’s a variety of reasons that things can be upgraded.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. But if one of those reasons is that that information is too sensitive to be seen in the public.
MS HARF: But that doesn’t mean that if it wasn’t being released publicly it would’ve been upgraded. Do you see what I’m saying? Independent of public release that doesn’t mean it would’ve been classified.
QUESTION: You said –
QUESTION: But there are other ways it could get out, especially if it’s on a private server.
MS HARF: I understand the question, but I think I’ve answered it.
QUESTION: When you say – talking about these retroactive –
MS HARF: It’s not retroactive. It doesn’t go back. It just starts going forward.
QUESTION: All right, okay. Wrong word. Sorry. When you’re talking about –
MS HARF: It’s okay. Just a key point.
QUESTION: — changing the classification or making –
MS HARF: Upgrading.
QUESTION: — something classified, you say it happens often several times a month.
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But does it happen several times a month with people’s private emails, or are these within the state.gov emails?
MS HARF: It happens – I mean, it happens several times a month in FOIA requests. I don’t have more details than that.
QUESTION: But normally, FOIA requests cover just state.gov emails, right?
MS HARF: That’s true. Yeah.
QUESTION: So you have no way of knowing on private email server – on private email accounts how many times this has happened or how many times –
MS HARF: I just don’t have those kinds of details.
QUESTION: Okay. Can I go back to the Blumenthal emails?
MS HARF: You can.
QUESTION: Not the ones that were in the – that The New York Times published yesterday, but the ones – and there are quite a few of them –
MS HARF: Mm-hmm. There are.
QUESTION: And I think that despite the fact that you don’t want to confirm that the ones that were published yesterday are the ones here, it’s pretty clear that they are.
MS HARF: Well, I’m happy to talk about the ones we released today.
QUESTION: Right. So just confining ourselves to the ones that were released today, does the Department think it’s appropriate for some kind of outside political – former political advisor to be sending the secretary this kind of stuff, and for the secretary then to be passing it on, even when such – even when the information is deemed by – occasionally deemed to be dubious or without merit?
MS HARF: Well, I think secretaries of state often hear from a variety of outside voices. They often get advice or information from a variety of places, and as I think people have now seen, hopefully, in the documents, sometimes the secretary passed these on; sometimes they made judgments that they didn’t seem credible; didn’t do much, it appears, beyond that. But again, this is – secretaries often get information from a variety of sources.
QUESTION: Many of these emails that were – that the secretary then passed on to Jake Sullivan, her deputy chief of staff, who then circulated them as he saw – are you aware of any – among people who are still in the building who were there, were there any senior officials who were kind of annoyed by the fact that they kept getting emails from Jake saying, “A friend of HRC says this”?
MS HARF: I don’t know. I haven’t heard that, Matt. I haven’t heard that. But I would note most of the people on those emails, or many of them, I think – many of them aren’t here anymore. But I haven’t heard that.
QUESTION: Well, but they were sent to a variety of –
MS HARF: Some. Yeah, some are. I just –
QUESTION: — of career staffers.
MS HARF: I just haven’t heard that. Again, we get – the number of emails that I get, that all of us get, from people on the outside who we know or have known for a long time or are friends with who have some information that they think is interesting to share happens quite a bit. It’s certainly not unusual.
QUESTION: Sure, but not everyone has the secretary’s private –
MS HARF: That’s true.
QUESTION: — personal email –
MS HARF: That is true. That is very true.
QUESTION: — account. So you can say without a doubt that the information, or alleged information, that Mr. Blumenthal was sending to Secretary Clinton on a regular basis didn’t get any more weight than did actual intelligence coming from the INR in this building or –
MS HARF: Well, I think she or her team – I think she or her team could probably speak – I just – I have – I can’t speak to that.
QUESTION: All right.
MS HARF: I wasn’t here.
Yes, anything else on this issue? Go ahead.
MS HARF: Cuba.
QUESTION: I just spent a week in Cuba and I talked with a lot of anti-LG – or LGBT rights advocates critical of the government, and one of them told me that the Cuban Government is out to, quote, “destroy them.” So I wanted to ask you, Marie, if with the fourth round of talks about normalizing relations that just wrapped up today, did – and I haven’t seen the readout or anything yet because it just happened – but have – was human rights at all part of this specifically? And if so, can you give a little sense of – because that’s still, obviously, a huge concern.
MS HARF: It’s still a huge issue.
MS HARF: And just a little bit of a readout: We did make significant progress on a number of substantive issues in this round. This round of talks has – was a productive one. As you know and everyone knows, we’ve met regularly, have been in constant communication. We will continue to discuss with the Cubans the practical conditions needed to implement this new policy that the President outlined. And I can find out some more if human rights was raised today. The answer is I actually don’t know, but I do know that it is an issue we continually raise with the Cubans, that even while we are working to normalize relations and open an embassy and reestablish diplomatic relations, we know we will still have very serious concerns with what is happening on the human rights front, and that that – certainly, if we are – if and when we are able to reestablish relations, that certainly won’t be unique to Cuba.
MS HARF: Many countries we have relations with, certainly, we raise concerns about human rights, so we’ll keep raising those concerns. But let me find out if it was raised today.
QUESTION: Yeah. And just as a quick –
MS HARF: I just don’t know.
QUESTION: And as a quick follow-up to that, I just was made aware by my colleague at the White House, who said that – I’m reading what Josh Earnest just told him – concern for human rights of LGBTQ humans is among reasons for policy change to reopen U.S.-Cuban relations.
MS HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: Is there any thought on that?
MS HARF: Absolutely. It’s one of those areas where we believe that if there is more ability for Cubans to have access to the outside world and contact with Americans or others from the outside world, if there’s more back-and-forth travel between America and Cuba or other countries and Cuba, if Cuba is more open to the world on all of these issues, including LGBT issues, we think that’s a net positive because there will be more outlets to express some of these issues, to discuss them, to hopefully change them. And I think that certainly underpins a lot of the new policy.
QUESTION: And then my final question: Do you have any possible timeline as to when an announcement might – we might hear something –
MS HARF: I –
QUESTION: — about embassies reopening –
MS HARF: I don’t.
QUESTION: — to allow further diplomats to travel outside Havana to meet with some of these folks who criticize the government?
MS HARF: Yeah. I really don’t. I wish I could give you a timeline. I really – believe me, I wish I could, but I really don’t.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Thank you very much.
MS HARF: You’re welcome.
QUESTION: Marie –
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — can I ask a follow-up question?
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: In their comments earlier today, both Jacobson and Vidal referenced what they called the functioning of embassies as being one of the issues that was broadly discussed over the past two days. Is that an indication that one of the remaining sticking points is the level of freedom that diplomats would have to move around in Cuba or move around in the United States?
MS HARF: I think, generally speaking, it’s – excuse me, these allergies. I think, generally speaking, those are ongoing issues of discussion, yes, but there’s a number of issues.
QUESTION: Saudi Arabia?
MS HARF: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the explosion in Saudi Arabia today?
MS HARF: I do. We condemn today’s attack on a mosque in Saudi Arabia that killed more than a dozen individuals and left dozens wounded. We have seen reports that ISIL has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but we cannot confirm those details. I know the Saudis are doing an investigation right now.
QUESTION: Also on Saudi Arabia?
MS HARF: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: In the President’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg yesterday, he said that there was no indication that Saudi Arabia was looking to become a nuclear state. Is that the view of the State Department as well?
MS HARF: It is. Saudi Arabia’s a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It’s committed never to acquire nuclear weapons. This is something we attach great importance to, to their continued implementation of these commitments. As you know, we’ve consulted regularly with them as we’ve talked with the Iranians on the nuclear negotiations, so this is something I think we’ll continue doing.
QUESTION: But there’s no concern about recent meetings with Pakistani authorities talking to Saudi authorities, presumably about becoming a nuclear state?
MS HARF: Well, I’m not sure I would presume that was the topic of discussion, and I don’t think we have concern about it.
QUESTION: Marie –
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — on the explosion, do you think that it would increase the tension between Sunni and Shia, especially that ISIL targeted a Shia mosque?
MS HARF: I think we’re going to wait and see what some more of the facts are given we can’t confirm that it was ISIL. Obviously, no matter who the perpetrators were, this is a very bad thing.
Let’s go in the back. Yes.
QUESTION: Can I return to ISIL?
MS HARF: You can.
QUESTION: We talked about it yesterday, Marie, and the –
MS HARF: We did.
QUESTION: — U.S. strategy. Today the Iraqi deputy prime minister and the Iraqi deputy president have said it’s time for a change in strategy, that what the U.S.-led coalition is doing simply isn’t working. What’s your view on that –
MS HARF: Well, I –
QUESTION: — and is it time for a rethink, even though you were very staunch in your defense of it yesterday?
MS HARF: My answer hasn’t changed in the last 24 hours, I promise, and I haven’t seen those comments. I think we’ve been clear the seriousness of the situation. We constantly look at our policy to determine the best path forward here, but we have a strategy in place that, to be fair, has only really been in place for about eight or nine months now. And if you think about – if you just think about, for some perspective here, how long it took to degrade AQI in Iraq when there were many American boots on the ground, when AQI was much less better equipped and trained and funded and capable than ISIL is – if you think about the years that took, it’s just some perspective here that this is a long-term strategy. We have always said that, and I think it’s a bit unrealistic to think in eight months that suddenly there shouldn’t be tough days on the battlefield. So we believe we have the right strategy. We are constantly looking at it, evaluating it to determine the best path forward. But overall, we believe in the strategy we have, as much as I did yesterday.
QUESTION: And – but you would accept, though, that you don’t stick to a strategy just because you’ve committed yourself to a three-year strategy to defeat ISIL –
MS HARF: No, but you –
QUESTION: — if there are very clear signs that the strategy isn’t working –
MS HARF: But you also don’t –
QUESTION: — and people on the ground say it’s not working – senior people on the ground say it’s not working, then perhaps it’s time for a revision.
MS HARF: You also don’t just abandon a strategy because you have a setback that, quite frankly – we knew there would be setbacks like this. So you don’t just abandon it at the first setback. You stick with it, you keep looking at it, and that’s what we’re doing.
QUESTION: Can I also just touch on the CENTCOM report that came out today, which said that two children had been killed –
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — in the attack? First of all, can I get the official line from the State Department on that?
And also, how can you be sure that only two children have been killed, given the numerous U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria?
MS HARF: Mm-hmm. Well – and CENTCOM has put out a press release – we regret the unintentional loss of life and express our heartfelt sympathies to those affected. We take all reports of noncombatant casualties seriously. The Pentagon looks into every single one that is received or reported. Sometimes it’s difficult to get information, but I can guarantee you they look into every single one. They did conclude that in this case the preponderance of evidence indicated that airstrikes conducted against facilities used by the Khorasan Group likely led to the deaths of two noncombatant children. The investigation was directed on January 8th and approved the findings on April 5th. So these investigations just take a little time; any report the Pentagon looks into.
QUESTION: Marie, on the ISIS issue, is the U.S. planning to do anything to protect the ruins in Palmyra and in general the people in Syria?
MS HARF: Well, this is a very tough challenge, as Matt pointed out yesterday. First and foremost, it is about the people, and the people in Palmyra are at great risk. They have been for some time. This city has been caught in the crossfire for some time. And of course the ruins – we’ve seen ISIL destroying historical sites many other places, which is also just heartbreaking, I think, from a civilization point of view. It’s a more challenging battlefield there given we don’t have the same kind of local partners that we do elsewhere. It’s just a more challenging environment. And so obviously it’s a very serious one, but not much more to share on it than that.
QUESTION: And do you expect the UN Security Council will react to protect the ruins first and then the population or –
MS HARF: I’d – you’d have to ask the UN. I haven’t heard of any possible Security Council action.
QUESTION: And any expectations from Paris meeting on Syria and Iraq?
MS HARF: I think we’ll probably have more to say next week on that.
Yes. Go ahead, Barbara.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on this rethinking or constantly looking at our policy –
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — as you said, which depends, of course, on partners on the ground, as you’ve said –
MS HARF: Mm-hmm. That is true.
QUESTION: — and others many times, and the President in the interview mentioned that he had confidence in Abadi’s commitment.
MS HARF: Correct. Yes.
QUESTION: But there are questions about his ability from various quarters in Washington. Is that part of your constant relooking at the policy? Is there a plan B if the partners on the ground part of it just doesn’t work out?
MS HARF: Well, first I’d say the President and the Secretary and everyone who works on this issue has confidence in Prime Minister Abadi. He has done a number of things right in one of the toughest jobs in the world. And one of them when it comes to Ramadi, as we’ve talked about a little bit in the past few days, is working with Anbari leaders with – in conjunction with other people in the central government to get the decision to use these PMF forces to try to help in conjunction with local Anbari leaders, then retake Ramadi. So he’s reaching out to different sectarian groups, he’s reaching out to different local leaders. He’s reaching out across the proverbial aisle, so to speak, in the Iraqi context. And he has a very tough job. And we have full confidence in him. We continue to review developments, determine how to best sort of refine and carry out our strategy that we have in place, but he is certainly a key part of it.
QUESTION: Can I go back to the emails for –
QUESTION: Sorry. One more on Iraq.
MS HARF: Sure.
QUESTION: How do you view Iraqi prime minister visit to Russia and asking or requesting arms from Moscow? Do you consider or do you think there is a lack of cooperation between the U.S. and Iraq? That’s why he went to –
MS HARF: No, and I addressed –
QUESTION: — Moscow?
MS HARF: — this at length yesterday, so I’d point you there.
Matt, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, just back on the emails. Some of the criticism that’s coming from the Hill even now – well, particularly now, after the release – is that the State Department really has no way of knowing whether the emails that you released today constitute the entire universe of Benghazi-related emails that Secretary Clinton had on her private email server. Do you think that that’s valid criticism?
MS HARF: She has said she turned over every email she had that was a record to the State Department. Of those 55,000, we culled through them and pulled out the 296 that were – sorry, 55,000 pages, pulled out the 296 emails, which is about 900 pages, and provided those to the committee in February. So every email of hers that we had that was related to their request on Benghazi, we gave to them.
QUESTION: Right. But you are – you were forced to take her at her – take her or her office or her people –
MS HARF: She has said she provided everything.
QUESTION: — at their word, though. You don’t have a way of knowing 100 percent that all of the relevant emails were among the 55,000 pages that were turned out. Is that correct?
MS HARF: The former Secretary has –
QUESTION: I –
MS HARF: Wait – has assured us she turned over everything that was relevant as a record at the State Department, and she can speak more to how she did that.
QUESTION: Fair enough, and I’m sure she’ll probably be asked about that again and again, especially if she testifies. But the State Department itself is confident that it got all of the relevant emails it needed to be responsive to the committee’s request from her or her people?
MS HARF: I don’t have much more to say. She said them – she turned them all over. Of those that she turned over, we pulled out every single one that was responsive to their request and we submitted it. I would also note that the emails released today cover, I think, about a two-year period. The 55,000 pages covers the entirety of her time at the State Department. She’ll have to speak further to this issue, though, Matt.
QUESTION: Okay. But the Department does not agree with the criticism that’s coming from Representative Gowdy and others on the Hill that this – that what was turned over today is in essence self-selected?
MS HARF: Again, she said she turned everything over.
QUESTION: Well, I know. But she said, but you’d –
MS HARF: If they have a disagreement with her –
QUESTION: I’m asking –
MS HARF: — they can ask her, which I think they’ll probably have a chance to do.
QUESTION: Okay. But I –
MS HARF: I mean –
QUESTION: But from the State Department’s point of view –
MS HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: — you believe that you – or you’re confident that you got everything that you needed to get to be entirely responsive to their –
MS HARF: From the State Department’s point of view, a former secretary of state said she turned over everything. It’s 55,000 pages covering the extent of her time at the State Department. I really just don’t have much more to say than that.
QUESTION: Can I ask you another random email question?
MS HARF: You changed seats, Justin.
QUESTION: I know. I had to go make a phone call.
MS HARF: It’s okay. You’re trying to mix me up here.
QUESTION: Sorry. This relates to one of the emails that was sent, but – and to some of the criticism that Secretary Clinton got during post-Benghazi attack, Secretary Kerry went and visited Walter Reed and visited some of the injured agents in that attack on his – one of his first days on the job. Do we know if, A, Clinton ever made a visit to any of the – those who were injured in the attack, and, B, if she ever made a phone call to any of them to check in on them?
MS HARF: I am happy to check. I’m sorry, I wasn’t here then and I just don’t know. I’m happy to check with her team.
QUESTION: Former Acting Director of the CIA Mike Morell in a recent interview said that he believes –
MS HARF: A fellow Buckeye.
QUESTION: Right. He believes that the server at one point was probably hacked by a foreign service, a foreign government. Do you agree with that assessment?
MS HARF: Her staff has said there is no indication that her account was ever compromised in any way. I think for more questions about that, I’d point them – you to them.
QUESTION: But why would a former acting director of the CIA – somebody who knows a thing or two about espionage – make such a claim?
MS HARF: I know. I’m not sure if he has direct knowledge of her server or her email, though, and I’m – I think her folks are best equipped to speak to that. They have spoken to that, and they’re the best people to answer that question.
QUESTION: You think he was just kind of winging that on a radio interview?
MS HARF: I have no idea. I didn’t hear it.
QUESTION: Marie, do you have that readout of Kerry’s discussion with Lavrov?
MS HARF: I do.
QUESTION: I actually have – I have one more on the email.
MS HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: And don’t know if this has been published before, but do you have any reaction to the idea that the State Department reached out directly to the Google CEO, Larry Page, to get the anti-Islam video taken down? Is that – does that demonstrate perhaps some impropriety to be reaching out to a Google CEO, who ultimately did not comply, to take down that inflammatory video?
MS HARF: I’m sorry. I quite frankly don’t know what – I’m not familiar with the – what you’re referring to. I’m happy to look into it.
QUESTION: And also, can I just clarify your comment earlier on impropriety? Were you talking about the specific emails that James raised, or were you talking about generally (inaudible)?
MS HARF: Overall, again, I have – I’ve read most of them, I’ve looked over them, and I haven’t seen anything that I would consider to fall into that category.
QUESTION: Well –
QUESTION: Were you referring –
QUESTION: — you haven’t seen it. Are you the arbiter of –
MS HARF: Well, no, but you asked me what my opinion was and I answered.
QUESTION: Well, no. But I wasn’t –
QUESTION: (Off-mike) all of them.
QUESTION: I was – I was – but I wasn’t asking for your personal opinion. I was trying to – does the –
MS HARF: Well, no, my professional opinion.
MS HARF: That’s how you phrased it. You can look at the transcript.
QUESTION: And as – and Marie, I value your professional opinion as I do your personal opinion, but I was asking for the opinion of State Department lawyers, people who go through –
MS HARF: That’s not actually how you phrased the question, though.
QUESTION: Well, that’s what I intended. I’m sorry I was unclear. Is the State Department – not you personally or professionally – but the State Department as a bureaucracy satisfied that there’s no indication or evidence of any kind of impropriety at all in these three – in these emails that were released today?
MS HARF: I haven’t heard any talk of that at all. Again, I’m not going to make sort of a blanket statement, but I haven’t heard any talk of that.
QUESTION: All right. So in other words, it was your personal opinion that you didn’t see anything improper in –
MS HARF: Well, you said, “Do you think there’s anything improper in that?”
QUESTION: Well, but the “you,” it was the royal “you.” It wasn’t just you. It was meant to be the whole building.
MS HARF: Well, sometimes, actually, you just are asking –
QUESTION: Well, I’m not in this case because it’s a little bit more important than what you –
MS HARF: I just answered – I just answered your question.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MS HARF: I just answered your question. I have not heard anyone – I mean, if you look at these emails in general, a lot them are discussions about the political dynamics or the situation in Libya at the time, the security situation in Libya. Some of them are sort of mundane bureaucratic emails that say things like, “Please print for me,” which is not at all unusual. Some of them, as you mentioned, are ones from a friend of hers, from Sid Blumenthal. There – many of them are to aides discussing a variety of issues. So I think you can all look at them for yourselves and make your own judgments, but I certainly feel like that’s our position.
QUESTION: Okay. And then on the Lavrov –
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — telephone –
MS HARF: The Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday to follow up on a number of issues that they discussed in Sochi, chief among them the need for Russia to make progress fully implementing its Minsk commitments in Ukraine. They also discussed the need for a genuine political solution in Syria, one where there is no future for Bashar al-Assad in Syria; the ongoing violence in Yemen; and the Arctic Council as well.
QUESTION: Do you know about – do you have independent confirmation that the Iranian cargo ship has actually docked?
MS HARF: I don’t think I do. Let me check on that when I get off of the podium.
QUESTION: Marie, before we move off of this, can you be more specific in terms of Yemen? You mentioned the ongoing violence. Anything more than that from the meeting that you can share?
MS HARF: I don’t have anything more to share from that call.
QUESTION: And on Syria, are you getting on the same page with Russia regarding the future of President Assad?
MS HARF: Well, our position certainly hasn’t changed, that there is no future for Bashar al-Assad. He has lost all legitimacy to lead. And the Russians have, as we’ve always talked about, agreed to the Geneva communique framework for a political transition. So that’s obviously what we’re focused on.
QUESTION: But they read –
MS HARF: I don’t think I have much more on this.
QUESTION: — the communique differently than the U.S. does.
MS HARF: I just don’t have much more for you on this.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Spratly Islands.
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: As you know, Colonel Warren yesterday mentioned that the next step would be for the United States military aircraft to fly within 12 nautical miles of reef. So did the U.S. Government determine this mission and policy to flyover that reef?
MS HARF: Well, U.S. military planes operate in accordance with international law in disputed areas of the South China Sea. This is an important principle. As we are aware and as we saw, I think, on some TV reports, China frequently issues warnings to these aircraft. It’s unclear what basis they issue these warnings on. But the U.S. military has and will continue to operate consistent with the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea in the South China Sea. And I think DOD probably can speak more to it.
QUESTION: Even within 12 nautical miles?
MS HARF: For those specifics, I’d check with DOD.
QUESTION: Okay, one more. As you know, Chinese Government express a strong dissatisfaction and they say they will take necessary measures. Do you have something to say against this?
MS HARF: Well, again, we are sort of unclear on what basis it issued the warnings to the U.S. military plane that’s been referenced in a lot of these reports. As I think you know, Secretary Kerry in Beijing raised the issue of China’s land reclamation, the pace and scope of it, with Chinese leaders across the board, and our concerns about that and the possibility that this could lead to tensions in the region. So it’s an issue we’re very focused on.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS HARF: Anything else?
MS HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: Burundi. Has there been a change in the U.S. funding for Burundi? In particular, is the U.S. looking at cuts in funding that may impact its involvement in AMISOM?
MS HARF: It’s my understanding there hasn’t been a cut to funding. We continue to support Burundian troops currently in Mogadishu under AMISOM, but due to security concerns inside Burundi, the U.S. has temporarily halted peacekeeping training activities such as the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program. Continued instability and violence in Burundi, and in particular the commission of human rights violations and abuses by security forces, could jeopardize Burundi’s ability to continue to contribute to the AMISOM peacekeeping mission.
We also, though, I would say, understand that members of the military have largely acted professionally and neutrally during the recent protest. We’re aware of at least two press reports of soldiers being shot and killed while acting to protect civilians during skirmishes with the police, and we, for that, express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of those soldiers.
QUESTION: So clarifying, you’re saying the funding level is the same, it’s just the training is –
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: — it’s being –
MS HARF: Due to the security concerns inside Burundi, that’s correct.
QUESTION: And can I follow up on that?
QUESTION: And the peacekeeping –
QUESTION: Have you – did you suspend development aid to Burundi?
MS HARF: I don’t – I haven’t –
QUESTION: I think that some European countries have.
MS HARF: I haven’t heard that we have. Let me triple-check on that.
QUESTION: And the peacekeeping training, that’s specifically for AMISOM?
MS HARF: Let me check on that. Part of it is the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program, but I’m not sure exactly what that goes to, so I can check.
QUESTION: The most recent issue causing tension between Japan and South Korea has been over whether the United Nations recognizes certain sites as historically significant. I guess, A, do you know what I’m talking about? But, B, if you do, do you have any reaction to –
MS HARF: I do, I do. It came up during some of our meetings there. Yes.
QUESTION: Do you know – do you have a statement on that?
MS HARF: I’m not – I don’t know if we have any response at the moment. Let me check with our team and see if we do.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS HARF: Yes. But I am aware of the issue you’re referring to with UNESCO.
Anything else? Bless you. (Laughter.)
MS HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: Happy Memorial Day. Thank you.
MS HARF: Everyone have a very good Memorial Day weekend, a happy and safe one. Remember the reason we have this holiday.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:00 p.m.)
DPB # 90