WASHINGTON, July 24 — Two inspectors general have asked the US Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into whether Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled sensitive government information on a private email account she used as secretary of state, senior government officials said Thursday.
The request follows an assessment in a June 29 memo by the inspectors general for the State Department and the intelligence agencies that Clinton’s private account contained “hundreds of potentially classified emails.” The memo was written to Patrick F. Kennedy, the under secretary of state for management.
It is not clear if any of the information in the emails was marked as classified by the State Department when Clinton sent or received them.
But since her use of a private email account for official State Department business was revealed in March, she has repeatedly said that she had no classified information on the account.
The initial revelation has been an issue in the early stages of her presidential campaign.
The Justice Department has not decided if it will open an investigation, senior officials said. A spokesman for Clinton’s campaign declined to comment.
At issue are thousands of pages of State Department emails from Clinton’s private account. Clinton has said she used the account because it was more convenient, but it also shielded her correspondence from congressional and Freedom of Information Act requests.
She faced sharp criticism after her use of the account became public, and subsequently said she would ask the State Department to release her emails.
The department is now reviewing some 55,000 pages of emails. A first batch of 3,000 pages was made public on June 30.
In the course of the email review, State Department officials determined that some information in the messages should be retroactively classified. In the 3,000 pages that were released, for example, portions of two dozen emails were redacted because they were upgraded to “classified status.” But none of those were marked as classified at the time Clinton handled them.
In a second memo to Kennedy, sent on July 17, the inspectors general said that at least one email made public by the State Department contained classified information. The inspectors general did not identify the email or reveal its substance.
The memos were provided to The New York Times by a senior government official.
The inspectors general also criticized the State Department for its handling of sensitive information, particularly its reliance on retired senior Foreign Service officers to decide if information should be classified, and for not consulting with the intelligence agencies about its determinations.
In March, Clinton insisted that she was careful in her handling of information on her private account. “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email,” she said. “There is no classified material. So I’m certainly well aware of the classification requirements and did not send classified material.”
In May, the F.B.I. asked the State Department to classify a section of Clinton’s emails that related to suspects who may have been arrested in connection with the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. The information was not classified at the time Clinton received it.
The revelations about how Clinton handled her email have been an embarrassment for the State Department, which has been repeatedly criticized over its handling of documents related to Clinton and her advisers.
On Monday, a federal judge sharply questioned State Department lawyers at a hearing in Washington about why they had not responded to Freedom of Information Act requests from The Associated Press, some of which were four years old.
“I want to find out what’s been going on over there — I should say, what’s not been going on over there,” said Judge Richard J. Leon of United States District Court, according to a transcript obtained by Politico. The judge said that “for reasons known only to itself,” the State Department “has been, to say the least, recalcitrant in responding.”
Two days later, lawmakers on the Republican-led House committee investigating the Benghazi attacks said they planned to summon Secretary of State John Kerry’s chief of staff to Capitol Hill to answer questions about why the department has not produced documents that the panel subpoenaed. That hearing is set for next Wednesday.
“The State Department has used every excuse to avoid complying with fundamental requests for documents,” said the chairman of the House committee, Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina.
Gowdy said that while the committee has used an array of measures to try to get the State Department to hand over documents, the results have been the same. “Our committee is not in possession of all documents needed to do the work assigned to us,” he said.
The State Department has sought to delay the hearing, citing continuing efforts to brief members of Congress on the details of the nuclear accord with Iran.
It is not clear why the State Department has struggled with the classification issues and document production. Republicans have said the department is trying to use those processes to protect Clinton.
State Department officials say they simply do not have the resources or infrastructure to properly comply with all the requests. Since March, requests for documents have significantly increased.
Some State Department officials said they believe that many senior officials did not initially take the House committee seriously, which slowed document production and created an appearance of stonewalling.
State Department officials also said that Kerry is concerned about the toll the criticism has had on the department and has urged his deputies to comply with the requests quickly.