Hillary Clinton gave an odd — and factually inaccurate — account of how the controversy over her email habits as secretary of state mushroomed into a public spectacle.
Clinton chalked it up to her pride in her work at the State Department and her desire for government transparency. “[I]f I had not asked for my emails all to be made public, none of this would have been in the public arena,” she said during an Aug. 17 radio interview in Iowa.
That’s pure spin. Clinton asked the State Department on March 5 to release her emails, but by then key events had already taken place months before. And the issue burst into public view on March 2:
- House Republicans discovered on Aug. 11, 2014, that Clinton had used a private email account for official business, when the State Department turned over 15,000 documents related to the Benghazi attacks to the House Select Committee on Benghazi. The documents included only eight emails from Clinton, according to the committee, which requested more documents from Clinton’s personal email account.
- Vice News investigative reporter Jason Leopold filed a FOIA request on Nov. 4, 2014, seeking Clinton’s records, including emails, and sued the department on Jan. 25, 2015, for not responding in a timely manner. (A judge ruled in Leopold’s favor in May and set a schedule for public release of the emails.)
- At the State Department’s request, Clinton on Dec. 5, 2014, gave the department just over 30,000 printed copies of work-related emails.
- The New York Times reported on March 2 that Clinton exclusively used her personal server and email account to conduct official business, rather than the government system, prompting Clinton three days later to ask the State Department to release her emails.
The Times story prompted two other key events that elevated the email controversy in the public arena. Senate Republicans on March 12 asked the State Department’s inspector general, along with the inspector general for the intelligence community, to determine whether classified information was sent or received by State employees in personal emails. The inspectors general did a limited sampling and found four of Clinton’s emails should have been marked as classified, and referred the matter to the FBI for an investigation into the possible mishandling of classified information.
Clinton Emails and the ‘Public Arena’
Clinton cited her decision to make her emails public as the reason for such intense public scrutiny during an Aug. 17 interview with Clay Masters on Iowa Public Radio — echoing similar remarks that she gave to reporters in Iowa on July 25.
Masters, Aug. 17: Is there another shoe to drop with the email fiasco?
Clinton: No, no, look, I understand why people are confused about this, it’s a very confusing issue. I think there’s just a couple things that people need to know, which is, I did what other secretaries of state had done. I was permitted to and used a personal email and, obviously in retrospect, given all the concerns that have been raised, it would have been probably smarter not to. But I never sent nor received any classified email, nothing marked “Classified.” And I think this will all sort itself out. And in a way, it’s kind of an interesting insight into how the government operates. Because if I had not asked for my emails all to be made public, none of this would have been in the public arena. But I want people to know what we did, I’m proud of the four years that I was secretary of state. So I know this is all just going to work itself out as we go forward.
We already addressed her claim that she “did what other secretaries of state have done.” That’s not accurate. As we wrote in July, the State Department in October 2014 sent letters to three other previous secretaries: Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Only Powell used personal email for official business. None of them had their own servers.
As for how the matter became public, the State Department denied it at first but later acknowledged that “a factor” in asking Clinton for her work-related emails was the department’s need to be responsive to congressional requests for documents related to Benghazi.
Here’s what happened: The State Department says that on Aug. 11, 2014, it gave the House Select Committee on Benghazi 15,000 pages of documents that had been requested by prior congressional committees investigating the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a diplomatic facility and CIA outpost in Benghazi. The 15,000 pages of documents included only eight emails to or from Clinton, according to the committee’s interim report.
“Some of these emails indicated that the Secretary used a private email account to communicate about official government business,” the report said. “Other emails gave no indication whether the email account used was private or a government account.”
In October 2014, the State Department asked Clinton to submit to the department any work-related emails in her possession.
On Nov. 18, 2014, the committee requested more “documents from the former Secretary’s non-government email account,” as the State Department explained in a timeline of events that was included in a letter to the committee. (At about the same time, on Nov. 4, 2014, investigative reporter Jason Leopold filed a FOIA request with the department seeking Clinton’s emails, according to a suit he filed in January.)
Asked why the State Department sought the emails from Clinton in October, department spokeswoman Marie Harf said, “Of course, we have worked closely with the select committee and with Congress on this, have been transparent and provided as much as we can in response to their requests, so certainly, that’s a factor. But I would not say – as we’ve said now a few times, it was not any one thing that prompted this.”
On Dec. 5, 2014, the Clinton campaign gave the State Department just over 30,000 printed copies of work-related emails.
It wasn’t until March 2 that the New York Times reported on Clinton’s unusual email arrangement. Clinton asked the State Department on March 5 to publicly release her emails and addressed the brewing controversy at a press conference on March 10.
Two days after Clinton’s press conference, Republican Sens. Bob Corker, Ron Johnson and Richard Burr sent a letter to the inspector general of the State Department, asking that his office conduct a review in coordination with the inspector general of the intelligence community to determine whether classified information was sent or received by State employees over personal email systems.
While the inspector generals were conducting their review, a federal judge on May 19 ordered the State Department to expedite the release of Clinton’s emails in response to Leopold’s January lawsuit.
On July 23, I. Charles McCullough III, the inspector general of the intelligence community, sent a letter to Congress saying his office had reviewed a “limited sampling of 40” emails and “four contained classified IC information which should have been marked and handled at the SECRET level.” But he said “none of the emails we reviewed had classification or dissemination markings.”
A day later, McCullough and Steve Linick, inspector general of the State Department, announced that they had made a “security referral” to “the appropriate IC security officials.” That referral was later identified to be the Justice Department. On Aug. 11, the Clinton campaign announced that Clinton had directed her team to turn over her email server and a thumb drive containing copies of her emails to the Justice Department.
Clinton’s spin that “none of this would have been in the public arena” if she hadn’t asked the State Department to release her emails just doesn’t stand up to the weight of evidence.
— Eugene Kiely