She was part of the most transparent administration in American history. Using Private Email, Hillary Clinton Thwarted Record Requests
By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and AMY CHOZICK
MARCH 3, 2015
Hillary Rodham Clinton accepted an award from Emily’s List on Tuesday night. Her use of a personal email account at the State Department kept a significant amount of her correspondence from investigators and the public. Credit Jabin Botsford/The New York Times
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WASHINGTON — In 2012, congressional investigators asked the State Department for a wide range of documents related to the attack on the United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. The department eventually responded, furnishing House committees with thousands of documents.
But it turns out that that was not everything.
The State Department had not searched the email account of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton because she had maintained a private account, which shielded it from such searches, department officials acknowledged on Tuesday.
It was only last month that the House committee appointed to investigate Benghazi was provided with about 300 of Mrs. Clinton’s emails related to the attacks. That was shortly after Mrs. Clinton turned over, at the State Department’s request, some 50,000 pages of government-related emails that she had kept on her private account.
It was one of several instances in which records requests sent to the State Department, which had no access to Mrs. Clinton’s emails, came up empty.
In 2013, Nitasha Tiku, then a reporter for Gawker, filed a Freedom of Information Act request, seeking all correspondence on Mrs. Clinton’s private email account between her and Sidney Blumenthal, a close adviser and onetime staff member in the Clinton White House. Some of those emails had already spilled into public view and been reported in the news media. But the State Department told Gawker that it could find no records responsive to the request, Gawker reported.
Mrs. Clinton’s aides on Tuesday sought to play down the significance of her exclusive use of a personal email account for State Department business. But an examination of records requests sent to the department reveals how the practice protected a significant amount of her correspondence from the eyes of investigators and the public.
Mrs. Clinton’s exclusive use of personal email for her government business is unusual for a high-level official, archive experts have said. Federal regulations, since 2009, have required that all emails be preserved as part of an agency’s record-keeping system. In Mrs. Clinton’s case, her emails were kept on her personal account and her staff took no steps to have them preserved as part of State Department record.
In response to a State Department request, Mrs. Clinton’s advisers, late last year, reviewed her account and decided which emails to turn over to the State Department.
The State Department says it will now search the 50,000 emails Mrs. Clinton provided in response to Freedom of Information and congressional requests.
The White House, in its first response to the news, said it frowned on the practice of officials using their personal email accounts.
“What I can tell you is that very specific guidance has been given to agencies all across the government, which is specifically that employees of the Obama administration should use their official email accounts when they’re conducting official government business,” the White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, said. “However, when there are situations where personal email accounts are used, it is important for those records to be preserved consistent with the Federal Records Act.”
But political groups and news organizations said requests for records related to Mrs. Clinton had repeatedly gone unanswered.
In December, The Associated Press said its FOIA requests for records related to Mrs. Clinton’s tenure at the State Department, the oldest of which was submitted in March 2010, were not answered. In addition to requesting Mrs. Clinton’s schedules, The A.P. asked for correspondence related to Huma Abedin’s special arrangement to serve as a top adviser to Mrs. Clinton and consult for private clients. “We have not received any documents yet, despite the promised deadlines, and we are evaluating the situation,” said Erin Madigan White, spokeswoman for The A.P.
Conservative groups have filed numerous requests for information about Mrs. Clinton as she prepares for a possible presidential run. Citizens United is expecting a court ruling on Friday about a lawsuit the group filed last year after the State Department would not disclose flight records that would have shown who accompanied Mrs. Clinton on overseas trips. The group had intended to cross reference the agency’s flight manifests with the donors who contributed to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation.
The FOIA request was just one of 16 appeals the group has made to the State Department since May that have gone unfulfilled. Those requests also included specific correspondence from Mrs. Clinton and her closest aides, including Cheryl D. Mills and Ms. Abedin.
America Rising, an anti-Clinton “super PAC,” has submitted a dozen FOIA requests for State Department records beginning last June.
Requests included correspondence between Ms. Mills and Clinton Foundation leadership and Ms. Abedin’s communication with members of Teneo, a private consultancy partly run by Doug Band, a longtime aide to former President Bill Clinton. Ms. Abedin had a special arrangement that allowed her to work at the State Department and be paid by Teneo, which offers strategic advice to major global corporations. America Rising also requested Mrs. Clinton’s schedule during the annual Clinton Global Initiative gatherings in New York.
In all cases, the State Department acknowledged receipt of the FOIA requests and assigned case numbers but did not produce any of the requested documents. “Unfortunately, Clinton’s own political calculation and desire for secrecy, as evidenced by her exclusive use of personal email accounts while at State, is preventing an open process and full, fair review of her time there,” said Jeff Bechdel, a spokesman for America Rising.
State Department officials have previously said they handle thousands of records requests and try to respond as quickly as possible. On Tuesday, Alec Gerlach, a spokesman for the department, defended the agency, and stressed that it was working diligently to comply with the voluminous requests for information from the Republican-controlled House.
Adrienne Elrod, a spokeswoman for Correct the Record, a pro-Clinton group, called the issue of Mrs. Clinton’s using personal email “manufactured controversy.”
In a written statement, the National Archives said it had “reached out to the State Department to ensure that all federal records are properly identified and managed in accordance with the Federal Records Act and that controls and procedures are in place to manage records effectively in the future.”
Mrs. Clinton’s aides have said her use of private email was not out of the ordinary, pointing to the fact that former Secretary of State Colin Powell also used a personal email account, before the current regulations went into effect. But since 2009, said Laura Diachenko, a National Archives and Records spokeswoman, federal regulations have stated that “agencies that allow employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency must ensure that federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency record-keeping system.”
The rules are designed to ensure a contemporaneous record of government activity is being kept so it will be available to members of Congress, the news media, historians and ordinary citizens.
Secretary of State John Kerry uses a government email account, and his correspondence is preserved as part of the department’s record-keeping system.http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/04/us/politics/using-private-email-hillary-clinton-thwarted-record-requests.html?_r=0