Hillary Clinton

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White House Knew of Clinton’s Private Email Account
| published July 1, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff writers

Top White House officials in the then-newly minted administration of Barack Obama knew that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was using a private email account and an off-site server for her State Department correspondence.

The Associated Press is reporting that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel officially asked for verification of Clinton’s email address several months after David Axelrod had requested the same information. Axelrod’s request came in June of 2009, and Emanuel’s inquiry came in September 2009. The revelations come amidst analysis of more than 3,000 pages of emails and attachments released this week by the U.S. State Department, part of a massive attempt to reconstruct emails and correspondence during the time when Clinton served as America’s top diplomat.

Though Clinton, now a candidate for President, has repeatedly said that she never used the privately-crafted email account for any sensitive or classified correspondence, the AP says that at least a dozen emails from late 2009 contain material characterized as “classified” or confidential. Roughly 25 other emails are labelled as “sensitive but not confidential.”

The revelation that Emanuel and Axelrod had questioned Clinton’s use of a private email account runs contrary to the White House claim that it was not aware that the Secretary of State was communicating in any fashion other than prescribed by government policy. Security analysts and computer experts are divided on the possible risks of whether Clinton’s private email account and homebrew server posed a genuine risk to national security, or whether such methods could have made it easier for hackers to steal vital or sensitive data.

The issue of Clinton’s emails came to a boil earlier this year when it was revealed that she used a private email account and a computer server built from scratch as a platform for the majority of her electronic communications while serving as Secretary of State. The server was housed in the Clinton’s private home in Chappaqua, New York. Clinton has said she used the server and the private email account as a matter of convenience, and not as a way to avoid transparency.

However, Clinton conceded to reporters last spring that she personally deleted thousands of emails, all of which she said were of a personal nature. The total number of deleted emails may be in excess of 29,000, though an accurate total may be impossible now. Republicans in Congress have said that by deleting those emails she violated government policy regarding official communication. Some have suggested that she broke the law by deleting material pertinent to an ongoing Congressional investigation. Government officials, especially in top posts, are required by federal rules to use email addresses which end in .gov, and only email accounts set up using government servers.

Clinton has maintained that the homebrew server housed in the New York home contained appropriate safeguards, and was never at risk. Clinton staffers have also pointed to Secret Service protection, which is maintained at the residence 24 hours per day, as evidence that the server was secure at all times. But many security analysts and computer experts warn that simply having armed guards nearby is no guarantee of protection for a computer or a server. Clinton has not revealed what electronic safeguards or intrusion counter-measures were used to protect the server from cyber-attack or outside hackers. The email account was set up independent of government agency intervention, using a local broadband connection, and with a registered mailing address which was the same as the Post Office box used by the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

In addition to the emails and the attached documents, the State Department also released another 3,600 pages of material which relates to the U.S. House committee investigation into the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. These materials include some correspondence between Clinton and then-U.N. ambassador Susan Rice. Republicans in the House want to examine that correspondence for details involving official policy toward the U.S. consulate, which was attacked by heavily armed militants on the anniversary of 9/11.

The State Department has said it is willing to release all declassified emails and documents which passed through Clinton’s hands and eyes during her tenure at State, but it originally said it may take months—even as much as a year—to complete that process. Several watchdog groups, along with the Associated Press, have pushed for a complete and swift release of the roughly 60,000 emails and other documents. A federal judge issued an order to the State Department to speed up the process of release. The State Department says it will attempt to make available at least 55,000 emails by mid-January, releasing the material in large chunks every 30 days on the last day of each month.

Both Republicans and Democrats have separate reasons to worry. Democrats fear that a last minute release of emails and documents—only days before the Iowa caucus in 2016—could expose Clinton to a number of incriminating or embarrassing problems related to her correspondence at State and putting her campaign at risk. Clinton’s polls number show an increase in the number of Americans distrustful of her claims of transparency and openness. Some GOP strategists worry that by deferring so many emails, spread out over so many months and diluting their impact, that Clinton will be able to minimize the damage long before the first caucuses and primaries.

The most recently released batch of emails may also cause problems for both the White House and the Clinton campaign for its portrayal of a Secretary of State sometimes cut out of the loop or frozen out of top White House foreign policy discussions by the tight circle of advisors around Obama. One exchange of emails shows that she was not invited to a cabinet meeting despite hearing on the radio that a meeting had been called. A few emails reflect the toxic bad blood which still very much existed between the Clinton camp (including Bill Clinton) and those most loyal to Obama, a group distrustful of the Clintons and their cronies. The emails also reflect Clinton’s frustration with a President making many major foreign policy decisions without direct input from her or from her top staff. Instead, she often turns for advice to Sidney Blumenthal and other political fixers barred from the White House. Clinton and Blumenthal engaged in several lengthy email exchanges on the subjects of Libya, Tunisia and Arabian North Africa, this despite missives from Axelrod and the President that Blumenthal remain persona non grata within policy discussions.

One immediate problem for the White House: David Axelrod’s previous insistence that he knew nothing about Clinton’s private email account or the offsite server despite this new batch of emails showing that he was in frequent contact with Clinton on a variety of topics. White House officials have said they were not aware that Clinton was using an inappropriate or unsecured email account, and White House spokespersons have said the first they knew of the homebrew server was when it was revealed in the news earlier this year.

There are political dangers for candidate Clinton. Many of the emails released this week show that while serving as Secretary of State, Clinton frequently comingled domestic politics and Democratic Party base expansion with her daily conversations, including emails about gay rights, gun control, and numerous exchanges with political donors and party bigwigs. Some reporters and analysts suggest that this will undercut one of her chief bullet points on her political resume: that she was a dedicated policy nerd who worked long hours on U.S. foreign policy and left the grubby business of politics aside.

Clinton still maintains a lead in most polls when her name is matched against likely Republican candidates in the 2016 race. But her advantage has been steadily undercut by the ongoing scandal related to her emails and the server housed in the Clinton’s home. GOP polling leaders Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio have gained some ground in these theoretical match-ups, but in most polls the Republican candidates still trail Clinton by several points. Political analysts suggest, however, that it is far too early to deduce a general election outcome from polls which reflect voter preferences more than 16 months ahead of November 2016.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Clinton’s Missing Emails: Critical Documents Deleted; Thursday Review staff; June 26, 2015.

Jeb Bush’s Alternate Email; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; March 25, 2015.