Clinton E-Mail Use Violated Rules, Inspector General Finds
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail system while she was secretary of state violated State Department rules, the agency’s inspector general concluded in a report that will hand Republicans an additional line of attack as the general election campaign gets under way.
The audit by the State Department’s independent investigator found no evidence that Clinton requested guidance or approval to conduct official business via personal e-mail on a private server and concluded that she wouldn’t have gotten it if she had. The inspector general also faulted the State Department’s handling of electronic records and communications generally.
“Longstanding, systemic weaknesses related to electronic records and communications have existed within the office of the secretary that go well beyond the tenure of any one secretary of state,” according to the report, which was delivered to Congress Wednesday.
Clinton declined to speak with investigators, according to the report, as did at least three key aides: former Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, former Director of Policy Planning Jake Sullivan, who is now a top aide on the campaign, and former Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin, who now serves as the campaign vice chairwoman.
Clinton’s e-mail practices followed those of her predecessors, her campaign spokesman said. “As this report makes clear, Hillary Clinton’s use of personal e-mail was not unique, and she took steps that went much further than others to appropriately preserve and release her records,” Brian Fallon said in an e-mailed statement.
For the full report from the inspector general, click here.
The inspector general’s report adds to Clinton’s political woes as she’s trying to wrap up the Democratic presidential nomination and focus on campaigning against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, who’s used the e-mail controversy as part of his attempt to label her “Crooked Hillary.” Clinton faces a separate FBI investigation, and a conservative watchdog group has sued for access to her messages.
Several of Clinton’s top aides have been interviewed already by the FBI, and Clinton is expected to be questioned by investigators soon, according to federal officials.
While her challenger for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, has mostly steered clear of the issue, Republicans have jumped on the controversy. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who abandoned his bid for the Republican nomination in March, said Wednesday that the report confirms suspicions about Clinton.
“It’s part of a longer record of always trying to play loose with the rules, which is what she has done and her husband did before her,” he told reporters at the Capitol.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement that the findings “are just the latest chapter in the long saga of Hillary Clinton’s bad judgment that broke federal rules and endangered our national security.”
Stephen Vladek, a law professor at American University in Washington, said the findings by the Office of Inspector General are “deeply consistent with what most legal experts have long suspected — that Secretary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server to conduct official business was inconsistent with internal State Department guidelines.”
“Critically, though, the OIG report does not appear to conclude that any of Secretary Clinton’s actions were unlawful under either federal records preservation laws or criminal statutes,” said Vladek, who specializes in constitutional and national-security law.
Clinton used private e-mail to send or receive about 60,000 messages from 2009 to 2013. She and her aides said about half were work-related and turned over to the State Department. They have said the rest, which they deemed personal, were destroyed. Clinton added that she used the system as a matter of convenience, but said that in hindsight she should have used a government system.
Following a review, State Department officials said more than 2,000 of the messages Clinton shared contained classified information, with top-secret information appearing in 22. However, no material was labeled as classified when the e-mails were sent or received. Clinton and her aides say that shows she didn’t do anything wrong.
Question of Approval
In one instance, the inspector general said that two staff members from the State Department’s Bureau of Information Resource Management told investigators that, “in late 2010, they each discussed their concerns about Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail account in separate meetings with the then-Director” of the bureau. One staffer was told that the department’s legal staff had approved the system, although no evidence of that was found, according to the report. The director said the bureau’s mission was “to support the Secretary and instructed the staff never to speak of the Secretary’s personal e-mail system again.”
Clinton herself expressed some concerns about her personal e-mails being exposed. In November 2010, she and Abedin discussed via e-mail whether Clinton should send messages via the State Department system or sharing her private e-mail address. “Let’s get separate address or device but I don’t want any risk of the personal being accessible,” Clinton wrote in a response quoted in the report.
The inspector general said using a private e-mail system “is not an appropriate method of preserving any such e-mails that would constitute a Federal record.”
“At a minimum, Secretary Clinton should have surrendered all emails dealing with Department business before leaving government service and, because she did not do so, she did not comply with the Department’s policies that were implemented in accordance with the Federal Records Act,” the report said.
Clinton wasn’t the first secretary of state to rely on private e-mail while serving as the nation’s top diplomat. Colin Powell, who served under President George W. Bush, has said he used private e-mail as part of an effort to upgrade State Department communications and that none of his records were preserved. Clinton’s allies have highlighted that. Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, which has been investigating Clinton’s e-mail use, said Wednesday that she “followed the practice of her predecessor” in using a personal account.
Clinton’s use, though, included a private server, which many experts say may have been more difficult to protect than commercial services available from companies such as Google. The inspector general also said the State Department’s guidance on e-mail use “was considerably more detailed and more sophisticated” by the time Clinton took office.
The inspector general interviewed Powell and current Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as former secretaries Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice for the report. Kerry told the auditor that he has used personal e-mail, but infrequently, and that he either copies or forwards such e-mails to his State Department account.