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What the Clinton Email Story Might — or Might Not — Mean

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton Campaigns In South Carolina
GREENVILLE, SC - JULY 23: Democratic Presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of the State Hillary Clinton holds a forum at Greenville Technical College on July 23, 2015 in Greenville, South Carolina. The campaign stop was the second of the day in the important primary state and outlined parts of her economic vision to help South Carolinians. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)Sean Rayford / Getty Images

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

The new Hillary email story

The Holy Grail or much ado about nothing? Late last night, the New York Times released this bombshell report: “Criminal Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email,” and the story said that two inspectors general asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into whether Hillary Clinton herself mishandled sensitive government information regarding her emails. But later, the Times made some small -- but potentially significant -- changes to the story. The new headline: “Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Account,” and the story said the criminal investigation was about “whether sensitive government information was mishandled in connection” with Clinton’s email account. Bottom line: We don’t seem to know the target of this requested investigation. Is it Clinton herself in dealing with classified information over her private email server? Or is the target someone else (in the State Department?) regarding the emails and their classification status? Politically, the semantics might not matter. But legally and journalistically, the semantics matter a great deal. Either this could be the GOP’s Holy Grail in reshuffling the entire Democratic race. Or it could be much ado about nothing -- that is, a bureaucratic mistake. And there are two people who can help answer this question: The inspector generals at the State Department and the intelligence agencies. Note: There is no formal investigation at this time.

NBC has updated our story, too

NBC News confirmed the original New York Times story, but we changed our story, too, after doubts about the actual target of the requested probe. That said, the Clinton campaign didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment until this morning. Here is our updated story.

Justice Department -- Under Pressure

If the target is Clinton herself -- and again there’s a big IF there -- then that will put significant pressure on the Obama Justice Department. Remember, the department has gone out of its way to open investigation into its own officials (see: Petraeus, David). And even if the Justice Department decides not to pursue a criminal investigation, Republicans can say, “Well, Obama’s Justice Department is trying to save the Democratic Party’s likely presidential nominee.” All of that said, until we know the actual target -- Hillary? Someone else in the State Department? -- we just don’t whether the story has legs.

On the trail

Hillary Clinton gives a speech on “reforming quarterly capitalism” in NYC at 1:30 pm ET… Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley are in Iowa… Ted Cruz addresses the ALEC conference in San Diego, CA… John Kasich stumps in South Carolina and Iowa… George Pataki also is in South Carolina… And Rick Santorum campaigns in New Hampshire.

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