MURPHY PRESSES STATE DEPARTMENT NOMINEE ON OVERCLASSIFYING MATERIALS FOR POLITICAL PURPOSES

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Thursday pressed U.S. Department of State’s Executive Secretary Lisa Kenna during her nomination hearing to become the U.S. Ambassador to Peru. Murphy pressed Kenna about her knowledge of a State Department memo that recently went out with her signature urging State Department personnel to classify any information relating to internal deliberations at the Department. If true, this would be a disturbing continuation of classification abuse by this administration in an effort to hide politically damaging information from the American people.

Murphy said: “I am deeply concerned about the over-classification of information. I think it's a problem that has become worse in this administration. But, frankly, has been a tool that presidents of both parties have used. And there are very strict requirements as to what information can be classified, and it all is connected to whether the disclosure of that information will be damaging to the security of the United States.”

Murphy continued: “But I want to ask you a question because I understand you may have sent a communication in your role as Executive Secretary for internal deliberations regarding sensitive decisions being made by the Department to be classified, regardless of whether it met the actual requirements in statute regarding classification of national security data. Did you send a communication suggesting that internal communications within the agency regarding sensitive decision making be classified?”

After Kenna said she could not immediately recall this memo, Murphy went on to press her on the practice of classifying materials as a way to block politically damaging information from the American people: “But you would agree that internal deliberations, regardless of how sensitive they be, are not inherently allowed to be classified? There's a strict set of requirements as to what is classified and things that are politically embarrassing or politically sensitive are not in are not in that set of criteria.”

Kenna responded: “Well, I would not think that. Yes, simply because something is politically sensitive, that would not make it classified—no. So my role as Executive Secretary is to ensure that we have processes in place so that those determinations can be made by the proper authorities. And so when we get requests for guidance, or when I have questions myself, I make sure that I go to the experts.”

Murphy has pressed this administration on their abuse of the classification system in order to block politically damaging information from U.S. public debate. This week, Murphy challenged the classification of the War Powers Notification sent to Congress relating to the killing of Qasem Soleimani last January through the Interagency Security Appeals Classification Panel (ISCAP) and expects a ruling this fall. Last February, Murphy also called on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to assess whether the Trump administration hid material from the American public by over-classifying information that is not actually legally classifiable or is being classified only to hide embarrassing or politically damaging information.

A full transcript of Murphy’s exchange with Kenna, as well as Mr. William W. Popp who is nominated to become the U.S. Ambassador of Guatemala, can be found below.

MURPHY: “Thank you very much.

“Thank you to all of our witnesses for their testimony today. I wanted to start with you, Mr. Popp. I wanted to talk to you for a moment about the issue of corruption and freedom of the press in Guatemala.

“The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala was widely considered one of the most successful efforts there to curb criminal threats to democratic rule, but about a year ago, it was effectively disbanded. And since then, you've seen a rise in attacks, malicious lawsuits against prosecutors, judges, civil society actors, but we've also lost a tremendous tool with respect to promoting the rule of law and fighting corruption.

“What do you foresee as our ability to try to reconstruct some of the entities that had been successful?

“What's the ability for Congress to appropriate funds to State Department accounts that would assist you in those efforts there?”

POPP: “Thank you, Senator for the question.

“It's, as you know, been a challenge in Guatemala for some time around corruption, rule of law issues, impunity. And I believe it's critical that the United States continue to partner with not only Guatemalan government institutions, but also civil society, the private sector, and institutions across the country to deepen the capacity of those that are fighting for access to justice, ending of impunity, and increasing the transparency within Guatemala.

“It’s good for business, it's good for access for Guatemalans to achieve justice, and the U.S. government with support from Congress, has obviously provided assistance to Guatemala for some time to help develop that capacity.

“I believe it's critical to continue to build support for institutions and prosecutors that have made some progress on combating corruption in Guatemala. There’s much more to be done.

“I think that, if confirmed as ambassador, I think there’s much that can continue to be done, including using our voice as U.S. government in support of those actors that play such a crucial role in civil society, and outside of government, including independent media to call for transparency and to end impunity.

“I also believe that there’s tools that the Congress has given us including visa revocations, global Magnitsky sanctions, and other tools that might be necessary to use at times to underscore the importance of access to justice in Guatemala.”

MURPHY: “I sometimes worry about our overuse of those punitive measures, and so I hope that you'll keep in touch with this committee about ways in which we can help support and fund some of the domestic initiatives to root out corruption.

“Ms. Kenna, Thank you for being here.

“I was glad to introduce one of my constituents, but I should note your Connecticut connections, having attended the University of Connecticut and having spent some time in New Haven. So glad to have two folks, at least two folks, with Connecticut connections before us today. 

“Ms. Kenna, I am deeply concerned about the over-classification of information. I think it's a problem that has become worse in this administration, but, frankly, has been a tool that presidents of both parties have used. And there are very strict requirements as to what information can be classified, and it all is connected to whether the disclosure of that information will be damaging to the security of the United States.

“But I want to ask you a question because I understand you may have sent a communication in your role as Executive Secretary for internal deliberations regarding sensitive decisions being made by the Department to be classified, regardless of whether it met the actual requirements in statute regarding classification of national security data.

“Did you send a communication suggesting that internal communications within the agency regarding sensitive decision making be classified?”

KENNA: “Thank you for the question, Senator.

“I am not familiar with this particular message that you're referring to, so I would have to go back and take a look for that. What I would say in terms of classification is we adhere to the law, and that is our goal.”

MURPHY: “But you would agree that internal deliberations, regardless of how sensitive they be, are not inherently allowed to be classified? There's a strict set of requirements as to what is classified and things that are politically embarrassing or politically sensitive are not in are not in that set of criteria.”

KENNA: “Well, I would not think that. Yes, simply because something is politically sensitive, that would not make it classified—no. So my role as Executive Secretary is to ensure that we have processes in place so that those determinations can be made by the proper authorities. And so when we get requests for guidance, or when I have questions myself, I make sure that I go to the experts.”

MURPHY: “I hope that if I have further questions for the record on this topic, that you'll respond to them.

KENNA: “Thank you Senator, I will.”

MURPHY: “Thank you very much.”

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