The Clinton email scandal continues to get worse by the day with State Department officials directly contradicting the long-standing account given by Hillary Clinton. Clinton has long maintained that she turned over a portion of her emails (those not deleted as “personal”) after receiving a letter that went to her and three of her predecessors: Madeline Albright, Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice as a routine inquiry. The gist is that there was nothing alarming about her exclusive use of a server under her control rather than the secured State Department system. State Department officials now confirm that the request was specifically related to the discovery that Clinton was using a personal email system as her exclusive means of communication. This revelation occurs the same week that the FBI has announced that it has already retrieved some of the emails and that the Clinton staffers who “wiped” the system did a poor job that left the material easily accessible — deepening the earlier concerns over the presence of what is now confirmed to be classified material on Clinton’s unsecured server. The FBI sources described Clinton’s IT person as “not very good.”
The Washington Post also reported this week that the State Department first contacted Clinton about turning over the emails at least three months before the letter referenced by Clinton. The suggestion is that Clinton latched on the later letter to reinforce her insistence that there was nothing improper or irregular in her use of a personal server under her control as her exclusive means of email communications. Clinton has repeatedly stated that “When we were asked to help the State Department make sure they had everything from other secretaries of state, not just me, I’m the one who said, ‘Okay, great, I will go through them again.'”
However, State Department spokesman John Kirby told the Post that officials first asked Clinton to provide her emails in the summer of 2014 in response to document requests from the House select committee investigating the 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Kirby also noted that the later letter was actually prompted by the disclosure after the State Department was surprised to learn that it “did not have extensive email records from prior Secretaries of State and therefore included them when we requested their records in October 2014.”
Clinton was asked this week about the latest contradiction in her account but responded that “I don’t know that. I can’t answer that. All I know is that they sent the same letter to everybody. That’s my understanding.” The Des Moines Register said that Clinton repeatedly said “You’re telling me something I don’t know. All I know is what I have said. What I have said is it was allowed. The State Department has confirmed that. The same letter went to, as far as I know, my predecessors, and I’m the one who said, ‘Hey, I’ll be glad to help.'”
The bigger legal and political threat may be those retrieved emails. Clinton has insisted that none of the emails were “marked” classified — a fine distinction that I have previously questioned. As a federal court recently reaffirmed, she was clearly not in compliance with the standards set by the State Department. More importantly, much of her communications are considered presumptively classified and there is no one in her office actively stamping every email as classified in the discussion of State Department business. The retrieval of the emails raises the original question of the criteria used by Clinton’s aides in deleting thousands of emails. Clinton refused (until recently) to turn over the servers and insisted that it was left to her to unilaterally filter the emails. If some of those emails are found to be related to her office, it will magnify the controversy over the effort to first control her communications and then delete so many of the emails.
There is also a lingering danger of criminal charges both in the mishandling of classified information as well as potential violation of 18 U.S.C. 1001 for false statements for people involved in this controversy. These contradictions certainly do not help politically but they can also complicate an already precarious legal position.