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Justice Department Inquiry Into Hillary Clinton Email Server Continues

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

For Democrats, the race for the White House is still clogged with questions about Hillary Clinton's email practices. For Republicans, Donald Trump still reigns. In a moment, the debate over birthright citizenship he started. First, NPR's Carrie Johnson reports that the inquiries into Clinton's emails are intensifying.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: For now, federal authorities characterize the Justice Department inquiry into Hillary Clinton's private email server as a security situation, a simple matter of finding out whether classified information leaked out during her tenure as secretary of state and where it went. Except that's not going to be so simple.

RON HOSKO: I think that the FBI will be moving with all deliberate speed to determine whether there were serious breaches of national security here.

JOHNSON: Ron Hosko used to lead the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division. He says agents will direct their questions not just at Clinton, but also her close associates at the State Department and beyond.

HOSKO: I would want to know how did this occur to begin with? Who knew? Who approved?

JOHNSON: Authorities are asking whether Clinton or her aides mishandled secrets about the Benghazi attacks and other subjects by corresponding about them in emails. For her part, Clinton says she didn't use that email account to send or receive anything marked classified.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: Whether it was a personal account or a government account, I did not send classified material, and I did not receive any material that was marked or designated classified, which is the way you know whether something is.

JOHNSON: Why is Clinton emphasizing the idea that none of those messages were marked - because what she knew - her intent - matters a lot under the law if the Justice Department and FBI inquiry turns into a formal criminal investigation. Two lawyers familiar with the inquiry told NPR a criminal investigation is still being considered and could happen soon, although they cautioned Clinton herself may not be the target. Bush administration attorney general Michael Mukasey recently talked to Newsmax TV about the government's burden of proof.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL MUKASEY: They'd have to show that she was responsible for having the information on that server and essentially knew what was on there.

JOHNSON: Whether or not the emails were labeled as secret, some other Republicans say Clinton should have known better. Here's former NSA Director Michael Hayden talking on the MSNBC program "Morning Joe."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MORNING JOE")

MICHAEL HAYDEN: Put the legality aside for just a second. It's stupid and dangerous.

JOHNSON: Clinton says she's cooperating with investigators. She's turned over 55,000 pages of emails for review. Inspectors general and members of the intelligence community are sifting through them now, and watchdog groups are in court demanding their public release. But Clinton's lawyer says she's already deleted thousands more personal email messages. Republicans in Congress are asking about her motivations. And soon, federal agents may be too. Again, Ron Hosko.

HOSKO: Then we get to the questions about what did Congress subpoena? When did they subpoena it, and what was the intent if information was deleted or it was wiped after that time?

JOHNSON: There's no evidence to suggest those messages were deleted after Clinton got a subpoena this year from the House Select Committee on Benghazi, something that would raise allegations of obstructing justice. On the campaign trail this week, a reporter asked Clinton if she had wiped clean that server, and here's what she said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: What, like, with a cloth or something? Well, no. I don't know how it works digitally at all.

JOHNSON: The FBI and its director, James Comey, are operating in an environment filled with political sensitivity, but it won't be the first time, Hosko says.

HOSKO: The FBI won't be ignorant to the political realities, but they have a job to do. They know that job. They've done it before. They will do it here.

JOHNSON: Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.