WASHINGTON • The Trump administration is investigating the e-mail records of dozens of current and former senior US State Department officials who sent messages to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's private e-mail, reviving a politically toxic matter that overshadowed the 2016 election, said current and former officials.
As many as 130 officials have been contacted in recent weeks by State Department investigators, said current and former State Department officials.
Those targeted were notified that e-mails they sent years ago have been retroactively classified and now constitute potential security violations, according to letters reviewed by The Washington Post.
In virtually all of the cases, potentially sensitive information, now re-categorised as "classified", was sent to Mrs Clinton's unsecure inbox.
State Department investigators began contacting the former officials about 18 months ago, some way into United States President Donald Trump's term, and then seemed to drop the effort before picking it up last month, officials said.
Senior State Department officials said they are following standard protocol in an investigation that began during the latter days of the Obama administration and is nearing completion.
"This has nothing to do with who is in the White House," said a senior State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authorisation to speak publicly about an ongoing probe. "This is about the time it took to go through millions of e-mails, which is about 3 1/2 years."
To many of those under scrutiny, including some of the Democratic Party's top foreign policy experts, the recent flurry of activity surrounding the Clinton e-mail case represents a new front on which the Trump administration could be accused of employing the powers of the executive branch against perceived political adversaries.
The existence of the probe follows revelations that the President used multiple levers of his office to pressure the leader of Ukraine to pursue investigations that Mr Trump hoped would produce damaging information about Democrats, including potential presidential rival Joe Biden.
State Department officials vigorously denied that there was any political motivation behind their actions and said the reviews of retroactively classified e-mails were conducted by career bureaucrats who did not know the names of the subjects being investigated.
"The process is set up in a manner to completely avoid any appearance of political bias," said a second senior State Department official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity to describe the mechanics of an internal probe.
Mrs Clinton's use of a private e-mail server during her term as secretary of state triggered multiple investigations by the State Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Congress. The bureau did not accuse her of breaking the law, but she blamed its unusual public handling of the matter as a major factor in her 2016 election loss.
"I'd like to think that this is just routine, but something strange is going on," said Mr Jeffrey Feltman, a former assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs. Early last year, he received a letter informing him that a half dozen of his messages included classified information. Then a few weeks ago, he was found culpable for over 50 e-mails containing classified information.
"A couple of the e-mails cited by State as problems were sent after my May 2012 retirement, when I was already working for the United Nations," he said. A former senior US official familiar with the e-mail investigation described it as a way for Republicans "to keep the Clinton e-mail issue alive".
Republican lawmakers have been pressing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to complete the review of classified information sent to Mrs Clinton's private e-mail and report back to Congress.