The New York Times reported on Monday that Hillary Clinton relied on a personal email address for government business while serving as Secretary of State. The emails were not preserved on official servers during her tenure; aides compiled the 55,000 pages of emails deemed pertinent to State Department business to be preserved as mandated by new Federal Records Act requirements only two months ago. The process used to determine which emails to send to the State Department is unknown, and many have pounced on the revelation as more proof of Clintonian secrecy. A Clinton spokesperson said that Hillary had complied with the “letter and spirit of the rules.”
Here’s what we’ve learned since the news broke:
John Kerry is the first Secretary of State to rely on government email.
As the New York Times pointed out, Colin Powell mentioned using personal email for Secretary of State business in his memoir. Other reports have shown that former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel also didn’t have an official email. Former EPA administration Lisa Jackson used two emails for official business. The House Oversight Committee had problems obtaining Bush staffer emails during an investigation because of private email usage. This story may be less a revelation of Clinton’s secrecy than the nightmare that is working at the National Archives and Records Administration.
Hillary Clinton prefers other modes of communication.
So reports Bloomberg Businessweek. A State Department spokesperson told reporters, “We have no indication that Secretary Clinton used her personal email account for anything but unclassified purposes. While Secretary Clinton did not have a classified email system, she did have multiple other ways of communicating in a classified manner (assistants printing documents for her, secure phone calls, secure video conferences).”
Since Clinton’s BlackBerry was barred from many meetings and other functions, email was one of the worst ways of reaching her. Aides were basically her official email address.
The personal emails were discovered by the House committee tasked with investigating the Benghazi attacks.
Representative Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the select committee looking into the government’s handling of Benghazi, said the committee should “make them available to the American public so they can read their contents for themselves.” Representative Trey Gowdy, who chairs the select committee, said, “I am not going to make any emails public. She’s welcome to.” The House Oversight Committee, chaired by Representative Jason Chaffetz, has an interest in investigating the emails too.
Clinton’s personal email address has stopped at least one media organization from accessing her work correspondence.
Gawker first reported on Clinton’s email address in 2013 and filed a FOIA request for all of the Secretary of State’s correspondence with former Clinton staffer Sidney Blumenthal — whose emails had been hacked by Guccifer — through her personal email address. (Officials have cited the fact that Clinton’s email remained safe during the Blumenthal hack as evidence that her personal email was no less secure than a government-issued one.) The State Department did not send Gawker any information, because it did not have the information reporters were looking for. Although Clinton’s spokespeople have argued that all of the former Secretary of State’s emails have been archived in the inboxes of government employees she corresponded with, Gawker argues this leaves out all the nongovernmental types she discussed her job with. Clinton’s personal address is no longer active — attempts to email her there are bounced back.
At the time, the State Department would only let Clinton have one email address on her BlackBerry.
Instead of having all her personal conversations saved of posterity — or having to carry two BlackBerries — State Department officials say Clinton chose to use a personal email for work and pleasure, according to reporting from Business Insider. The domain name that Clinton used for her email — clintonemail.com — was registered on the day her confirmation hearings began in the Senate, according to the Washington Post. Gawker reported on Tuesday night that other Clinton staffers may have used clintonemail.com. Erik Wemple, a media columnist at the Washington Post, published an email that Clinton spokesperson Philippe Reines — who appears not to have used a clintonemail.com address — sent to Gawker responding to their story. It involved the phrases, “your lying liar pants on fire source,” “your cockamamie theory,” “your creepy methods.” He sent another email to a larger group of reporters that added, “And believe me, I’d be far happier with you all having a field day poring through my largely boring and tedious email, than unfairly and erroneously reading that I intentionally undermined or circumvented the process.”
Clinton runs her own server for the clintonemail.com accounts.
The server transmitting the clintonemail.com messages traced back to the Clinton’s home in Chappaqua, New York. According to the Associated Press, “operating her own server would have afforded Clinton additional legal opportunities to block government or private subpoenas in criminal, administrative or civil cases because her lawyers could object in court before being forced to turn over any emails.”
Josh Earnest says that the White House has never been a fan of government officials using personal email addresses.
“What I can tell you is that very specific guidance has been given to agencies all across the government, which is specifically that employees of the Obama administration should use their official email accounts when they’re conducting official government business,” the White House press secretary said on Tuesday. However, when there are situations where personal email accounts are used, “it is important for those records to be preserved consistent with the Federal Records Act.”
The regulations requiring Clinton to save emails weren’t in place until after she left the State Department.
Michael Tomasky writes that “the new regs apparently weren’t fully implemented by State until a year and half after Clinton left State.” That may resolve many of the legal questions here, but it still doesn’t address the transparency concerns at the heart of the email story.
State Department IT experts apparently warned Clinton staffers that this was a bad idea.
Someone who deals with cybersecurity at the State Department told Al Jazeera, “We told people in her office that it wasn’t a good idea. They were so uninterested that I doubt the secretary was ever informed.”
This news makes historians very sad.
Legal historial Mary L. Dudziak told The Atlantic: “Hillary Clinton’s emails are the contemporary equivalent of letters and memos from past secretaries of state that have enabled historians to study the history of American foreign relations. By failing to retain her correspondence at the time it was produced, Secretary Clinton may have jeopardized preservation of a full and accurate historical record. This undermines the ability of scholars to assess her own legacy as secretary. This is most unfortunate.”
Internet experts say that relying on a private company to handle official email was not smart.
Motherboard talked to an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation who said, “It strikes me as not particularly credible that in her entire tenure as Secretary of State, she never sent any classified material in any email ever,” responding to the State Department’s claims that she relied on other ways to access classified information. “And, if she ever did reference classified information in an email that wasn’t part of the classified email system, that’s the same level of mishandling classified documents, although to a different scale, than what we charged [Edward] Snowden with.”
Jeb Bush is the first, but probably not the last, person to chide Clinton’s email usage.
Bush tweeted, “Transparency matters. Unclassified @HillaryClinton emails should be released.” He then gleefully links to the website where he has already released all the emails from his tenure as Florida governor.