Hillary’s Email: There’s No “There!” There
Democrats’ overall opinions of the major Democratic contenders for president have changed little despite six eventful weeks of campaigning. Hillary Clinton remains the best liked among her party faithful. She enjoys a net favorable score of +60, which is essentially where she stood in July.
Federal judge Emmet Sullivan ruled Hillary Clinton violated government policy in her use of a personal email server. Hearing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the State Department, seeking access to the records of Clinton’s staff, Sullivan said that the former secretary of state had hindered the government’s ability to provide records.
Clinton herself is not under investigation in the suit before Sullivan, a DC district judge who was appointed by Bill Clinton. It pertains to the records regarding Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin, who was for a time deputy chief of staff at the State Department. Clinton has maintained that her use of a server was allowed.
We wouldn’t be here today if the employee had followed government policy.
– Emmet Sullivan
Quite simply, Judge Sullivan is wrong. Hillary violated no government policy. This isn’t even about Hillary, but politics is entertainment, and you never let facts get in the way of a good story. I understand that fiction can be fun, but I find the reference section a little more enlightening.
The National Archives issued new regulations implementing the Federal Records Act specifically contemplating the use of “external electronic email systems” by agency personnel. This meant there were appropriate and legal circumstances in which outside e-mail accounts could be used. In the years that followed, agency employees, including Cabinet heads, made use of personal email.
In his memoirs, he stated that as Secretary of State, he “installed a personal laptop on a private line” from which he accessed his “personal email account” which he used to send emails to his “principal assistants, to individual ambassadors, and increasingly to my foreign-minister colleagues. Powell served as Secretary of State under President George W. Bush from 2001-2005. Condoleeza Rice would finish out the Bush Administration as Secretary of State.
The National Archives tweaked regulations, but kept the option for employees to use personal email. The new regulations mentioned agencies “allow[ing] employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency.” The regulations added that steps should be taken so that personal email records “are preserved in the appropriate agency record keeping system.”
She joined the State Department in 2009, and decided to keep a blackberry as she had as Senator. So, like Powell before her, she used a personal email account at the State Department. She adhered to updated regulatory language about preserving records through a set of practices, such as communicating with other Department officials on their state.gov accounts (This actually constituted the vast majority of her work-related emails), contemporaneously forwarding emails from non-government senders to Department officials on their state.gov accounts, and copying Department officials on their state.gov accounts in the case of e-mails sent to non-government recipients. In her years at the State Department, her use of personal email was known to many, as she regularly emailed with administration officials and members of Congress amongst others.
Hillary stepped down as Secretary of State in February. Later that year, the National Archives updated its regulations again, this time discouraging use of personal email by government officials. But what’s important is this happened seven months after she had already left the government.
President Obama signed an update to the Federal Records Act stating explicitly that federal officials can only use personal emails if they also copy or send to an official account. Again, this is long after Hillary had left the State Department. In fact, even after these changes, some Cabinet officials continued to use personal email.
Additionally, to update its records, the State Department asked four former secretaries to provide any work-related emails they may still have. Despite use of personal email by multiple past secretaries, Hillary alone made good on the request. She turned over 30,000 work emails, very nearly all of which were already on the state.gov system due to practices she had already adhered to. Any classified emails found on her personal account now were not marked classified then. Like Benghazi and the IRS, there’s no “there!” there.
She was in compliance with the laws and regulations at the time.
– Gary Bass, founder of The Center for Effective Government