Hillary Clinton violated federal rules, both by using a private email server as secretary of State and by failing to turn over the emails once her tenure was complete, a State Department audit obtained by NBC News has found.
The report says that the likely Democratic nominee “had an obligation to discuss using her personal email account to conduct official business” with officials responsible for maintaining department records and security. However, the inspectors “found no evidence” that she ever formally requested approval for her private server. Had she done so, the report continues, department officials would not have approved “her exclusive reliance on a personal email account to conduct Department business.”
Clinton has claimed that her use of a private email server did not violate existing State Department rules. The audit suggests otherwise.
The State Department’s inspector general also criticized Clinton for failing to comply with the rules governing federal recordkeeping.
“At a minimum, Secretary Clinton should have surrendered all emails dealing with Department issues before leaving government service,” the report found. “Because she did not do so, she did not comply with the [State] Department’s policies that were implemented in accordance with the Federal Records Act.”
Clinton has argued that she was in compliance with the law because all emails related to official business were sent to other employees with State Department addresses. But the audit maintains that “sending emails from a personal account to other employees at their Department accounts is not an appropriate method of preserving any such emails that would constitute a federal record.”
Finally, Clinton has said that the decision to use a private server was motivated by a desire for “convenience.” But the audit indicates that privacy may have been the most significant motivator: The report cites an email exchange from November 2010 in which Clinton aide Huma Abedin suggested that they “talk about putting you on state email,” since some of the secretary’s messages to staff were winding up in spam folders.
“Let’s get a separate address or device but I don’t want any risk of the personal being accessible,” Clinton replied.
Still, the audit lends credence to one of Clinton’s central lines of defense: Colin Powell did it first. The report says that dozens of State Department officials have used private email accounts periodically — but Powell and Clinton were the only top-level employees who used private accounts “exclusively” for everyday operations.
The Democratic front-runner’s campaign emphasized this aspect of the report on Wednesday.
“While political opponents of Hillary Clinton are sure to misrepresent this report for their own partisan purposes, in reality, the Inspector General documents just how consistent her email practices were with those of other Secretaries and senior officials at the State Department who also used personal email,” campaign spokesperson Brian Fallon said in a statement.
The Sanders campaign reiterated its disinterest in Clinton’s “damn emails” on Wednesday.
“Well, I think the report speaks for itself. This is obviously an area where the senator has chosen not to go,” Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver told CNN. “He’s tried to keep this campaign on the issues.”
Clinton’s likely general-election opponent was less generous.
“She had a little bad news today … The inspector general’s report, not so good,” Trump said at a rally in Anaheim, California. “I want to run against Hillary, I don’t know if you are going to be able to. It could be that we run against Crazy Bernie. He’s a crazy man, but that’s okay, we love crazy people.”