Hillary Clinton's Email Woes

Hillary Clinton

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Hillary Clinton's Email Woes
| published August 14, 2015 |

By R. Alan Clanton Thursday Review editor

As Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email address and a homebrew server becomes a central topic of conversation for those journalists tracking the 2016 Presidential campaign, the brouhaha continues to spread into other parts of Clinton’s inner and outer circles.

After the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch and attorneys for the Associated Press—in separate cases—brought lawsuits against the Clinton campaign and the U.S. State Department, a federal judge requested that two aides to Clinton cease and desist from extracting files or deleting additional materials from Clinton’s emails and other correspondence. Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills, top Clinton staffers, each agreed to the request from U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, and said they would not delete any materials relating to Clinton’s tenure as top diplomat for the U.S. Abedin was once Clinton’s deputy chief of staff.

Clinton has told reporters that as a matter of convenience she maintained a privately-crafted email account platformed on a privately-built server which was maintained in the Clinton’s residence in Chappaqua, New York during her years as Secretary of State. She has said that she used the personal email account for tens of thousands of emails sent and received as a way to keep things simple in the use of her Blackberry device during that period.

But the use of that private email account—and the homebrew server—has triggered an ongoing distraction from Clinton’s goal of becoming the next President. She is currently the clear front-runner among candidates of both parties; she maintains a wide lead over her various Republican opponents, and at the moment leads her closest Democratic rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, by a healthy margin in some states—though Sanders has overtaken Clinton in the early primary state of New Hampshire.

The issue of the email account first came to light early this year when it was revealed that as Secretary of State Clinton declined the use of an email account under the umbrella of the State Department, an account which would have ended in the suffix .gov. Instead she used an account ending in @clintonemail.com. Later, it was revealed that Clinton used a privately constructed computer server, known to hackers and computer builders as a homebrew machine. That server was placed in a room at the Clinton home, and was connected to the internet via a broadband internet provider in Chappaqua. The billing address for the account was at the time the same as a Post Office box used by the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, and Clinton used an email address which was similar to those used by the non-profit foundation.

But under federal guidelines, all government employees are required to use email addresses provided by their respective agencies, and using secure servers and computer networks maintained by government networking employees. And though it is not clear that Clinton deliberately violated the law, her use of the private email account is at odds with the letter and the spirit of the Federal Records Act, originally forged in the late 1950s, but updated several times during the 1980s, 90s and aught years to cover the rapid changes wrought by computer technology, emails systems, and digital correspondence.

Clinton’s defenders say that the arrangement, while unorthodox, worked best for her situation, and they point to the fact that neither the White House nor the State Department officially required her to cease using the private account and switch instead to using only the government account.

But government security experts with a battery of intelligence agencies, including some at the FBI, are concerned that Clinton may have inadvertently exposed classified or secret documents or intelligence by using an unsecure email account. Republicans in Congress want to know if while serving as Secretary of State, Clinton used the private email account to circumvent full transparency and accountability, especially as it pertains to the terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya—an attack which left several Americans dead.

Adding to the complexity of the issue is the fact that of the more than 65,000 emails sent and/or received by Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State, the former first lady and now presidential candidate concedes that she deleted some 30,000 emails after she left her post at State. Clinton says that the deleted emails were of a personal nature, and most of those were day-to-day correspondence between her and husband Bill Clinton. The State Department has been in the process of releasing many of the other emails, but only after scrutinizing them for security issues and scrubbing them of sensitive information. The State Department’s original plan had been to release the emails in smaller batches of 10 to 12 thousand at a time, one batch per month for about 10 months. But a Federal judge ordered the State Department to expedite that process.

Earlier this week, Clinton turned over the much-discussed server to agents of the FBI. Though the FBI says it is not part of a criminal investigation, the FBI’s involvement in the case comes as a direct result of concerns that Clinton may have mishandled materials of a top secret designation through her use of the private email account and the off-site server.

Seperately, the Inspector General for the 17 agencies and bureaus that make up the wider U.S. intelligence community, gained authorization to examine the server and several random samplings of Clinton’s emails for security reasons. Of some 40 emails examined—of the more than 30,000 which Clinton has forwarded to the State Department—the IG found that at least four deemed “top secret” or with the classification “sensitive compartmented information,” and at least two of those have been reported to have included satellite intelligence imagery. The two most sensitive emails may have originated with the CIA, according to the Associated Press. Other emails contain reference to newspaper or online articles regarding U.S. drone activities over Pakistan, but were transmitted in the context of ambiguous language. Another email contains apparently classified passages possibly copied-and-pasted into another correspondence, though experts disagree on the original source of the material. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), has said that the several emails in question reveal that Clinton was less-than-cautious with U.S. secrets and sensitive intelligence data, though Grassley’s assessment may differ somewhat from what several security analysts have concluded.

Either way, the battle over Clinton’s email and the homebrew server may continue to rage, creating an ongoing distraction for Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Jennifer Palmieri, a Clinton spokesperson, issued a lengthy letter this week to campaign supporters and Clinton donors. That letter emphasizes that Clinton broke no laws, nor violated federal or State Department guidelines by using a private email address and an off-site server. Palmieri’s communique comes as supporters of Clinton have been openly concerned about the level of media chatter about the server, a level of discussion which has eclipsed even the boisterous and headline-grabbing campaign of potential rival Donald Trump.

But some in government question Palmieri’s claim that Clinton was within the boundary of the guidelines established for official correspondence. Still others go as far as to suggest that Clinton was in direct violation of the Federal Records Act, especially by her actions when she personally deleted thousands of emails. In the meantime journalists are combing over the emails and documents being made available as the top staff of the Clinton campaign continues to work on damage control on a quasi-scandal that shows no sign of going away soon.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Clinton Hands Over Server to FBI; Keith H. Roberts; Thursday Review; August 12, 2015.

White House Knew of Clinton’s Private Email Account; Thursday Review; July 1, 2015.