WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Secretary of State Colin Powell and the immediate staff of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also received classified national security information on their personal email accounts, according to a memo written by the State Department watchdog that was released Thursday.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a personal email server has dogged her presidential campaign. Her campaign could try to blunt the criticism with the news that her predecessors in Republican administrations might have received such information on nonsecure servers.
Steve Linick, the inspector general for the State Department, said in a memo dated Wednesday that two emails sent to Powell and 10 emails sent to Rice's staff contained classified national security information. Powell and Rice were the top diplomats under Republican President George W. Bush.
The memo was first reported by NBC News. The Associated Press later obtained a copy.
"None of the material was marked as classified, but the substance of the material and 'NODIS' (No Distribution) references in the body or subject lines of some of the documents suggested that the documents could be potentially sensitive," Linick wrote in the memo.
He wrote that in mid-October his office sent 19 documents to the inspector general for the intelligence community, which determined in mid-December that they didn't contain any intelligence community information.
In late December, however, the State Department told Linick's office that 12 of the 19 documents "contain national security information classified at the Secret or Confidential levels based on a review by nine department bureaus and offices."
In a statement, Powell said the emails were from his executive assistant. He said they were forwarded messages that two U.S. ambassadors sent to members of the State Department's staff. "My executive assistant thought I should see them in a timely manner so sent them to my personal account," he said.
He said that while the department now has said they are "confidential," which is a low level of classification, both messages were unclassified at the time and there was no reason not to forward them to his personal account.
"I have reviewed the messages and I do not see what makes them classified," Powell said. "The ambassadors did not believe the contents were confidential at the time and they were sent as unclassified."
Powell's office said two FBI agents visited Powell in December for a general discussion about email practices during his time at State.
Georgia Godfrey, chief of staff for Rice, said Rice did not use email as secretary nor have a personal email account. She said it's her understanding that the emails in question were sent to Rice's assistant, "reporting diplomatic conversations and they contained no intelligence information."
Clinton, meantime, is facing new scrutiny from congressional Republicans as a fourth committee is pressing for general information about the handling of government documents, use of personal emails and the response to Freedom of Information Act requests during her time at the State Department.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, sent a Jan. 19 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking for information and documents, citing the panel's jurisdiction over implementation of FOIA requests. His request included material from current and former secretaries of State.
In an interview with the Politico website, Chaffetz said Clinton's use of a private email server for government business could ensnare her in his inquiry. Three other committees are already focused on the former secretary of state— the special House panel on the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, senior Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said, "My concern has been that Republicans are spending millions of taxpayer dollars singling out Secretary Clinton because she is running for president — often leaking inaccurate information — while at the same time disregarding the actions of Republican secretaries of state."
Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said the details about Powell's emails "shows just how routine it is for government bureaucrats to go overboard when it comes to judging whether information is too sensitive for the public to see."
"Hillary Clinton agrees with her predecessor that his emails, like hers, are being inappropriately subjected to overclassification," Podesta said.
Republicans argue that Clinton's decision to set up her own personal email server is far worse than news that her GOP predecessors received a few emails from subordinates that now are seen to contained national security information.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., however, called the news "a watershed moment."
"If we're to believe Republicans, we would have to criminally charge Secretary Rice, Secretary Powell, the senior staff and everyone else who received these emails," Reid said.
Kerry himself used a private account when he was a senator to send information now deemed classified to Clinton when she was secretary of state, department spokesman John Kirby has said.
Associated Press writers Donna Cassata and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.