That Time Hillary’s State Department Booted An Ambassador For Using…A Private Email Account

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Mar 05, 2015 2:00 PM
That Time Hillary’s State Department Booted An Ambassador For Using…A Private Email Account

Well, this is awkward. Sean Davis at the Federalist  wrote about a rather interesting development in the Clinton email saga by finding a State Department Inspector General report from 2012 highlighting that Scott Gration, then-Ambassador to Kenya, was booted from his position after he … set up a private email account for his office in 2011 [bold text indicates State Department IG report]:

Although Hillary Clinton and her allies may be claiming that her private e-mail system is no big deal, Hillary’s State Department actually forced the 2012 resignation of the U.S. ambassador to Kenya in part for setting up an unsanctioned private e-mail system. According to a 2012 report from the State Department’s inspector general, former U.S. ambassador to Kenya Scott Gration set up a private e-mail system for his office in 2011.

The inspector general’s report offered a scathing assessment of Gration’s information security practices — practices that are eerily similar to those undertaken by Clinton while she served as Secretary of State:

Very soon after the Ambassador’s arrival in May 2011, he broadcast his lack of confidence in the information management staff. Because the information management office could not change the Department’s policy for handling Sensitive But Unclassified material, he assumed charge of the mission’s information management operations. He ordered a commercial Internet connection installed in his embassy office bathroom so he could work there on a laptop not connected to the Department email system. He drafted and distributed a mission policy authorizing himself and other mission personnel to use commercial email for daily communication of official government business. During the inspection, the Ambassador continued to use commercial email for official government business. The Department email system provides automatic security, record-keeping, and backup functions as required. The Ambassador’s requirements for use of commercial email in the office and his flouting of direct instructions to adhere to Department policy have placed the information management staff in a conundrum: balancing the desire to be responsive to their mission leader and the need to adhere to Department regulations and government information security standards. The Ambassador compounded the problem on several occasions by publicly berating members of the staff, attacking them personally, loudly questioning their competence, and threatening career-ending disciplinary actions. These actions have sapped the resources and morale of a busy and understaffed information management staff as it supports the largest embassy in sub-Saharan Africa.

The inspector general’s report specifically noted that Gration violated State Department policy by using a private, unsanctioned e-mail service for official business. In its executive summary listing its key judgments against the U.S. ambassador to Kenya who served under Hillary Clinton, the inspector general stated that Gration’s decision to willfully violate departmental information security policies highlighted Gration’s “reluctance to accept clear-cut U.S. Government decisions.” The report claimed that this reluctance to obey governmental security policies was the former ambassador’s “greatest weakness.”

Now, to be fair, there were other things that paved the way for Gration’s exit. He was reportedly “erratic, controlling and bullying” in his management style. Josh Rogin, now with Bloomberg Viewwrote in Foreign Policy at the time that it was “one of the worst reviews of an ambassador’s performance written by the IG’s staff in several years.” Besides the private email system, Rogin added that Gration:

[S]et up private offices in his residence — and an embassy bathroom — to conduct business outside the purview of the embassy staff.

Other sources close to the embassy who worked with Gration related several anecdotes circulated by current and former embassy staff that are meant to highlight Gration’s erratic, controlling, and sometime bullying behavior.

Gration is said to have, upon entering the embassy, ordered that all heights of all the tables be adjusted and that all the clocks in the embassy be recalibrated, an indication of his eccentric style of micromanagement.

At one point in his battles with his newfound employees, Gration told embassy staff he would "shoot them in the head" if they didn’t follow his instructions, and the staff formally complained about that remark, according to one unconfirmed account.

Gration often bragged about his close ties to the White House and to the president himself, although the White House stopped returning his phone calls after the IG’s investigation results became known inside the administration.

Mark Hemingway at the Weekly Standard wrote that the standard cited in the 2012 IG report should apply to Hillary since it showed–rather explicitly–that government employees using a personal email account for official business isn’t acceptable.

Regarding Hillary’s personal email use, it’s still unclear if she broke the law, but some folks in left-leaning media outfits are saying she might have concerning the 2009 National Archives and Records Administration regulation on recordkeeping. Mother Jones’ David Corn (who appears to have moved on from the O'Reilly Falklands ordealwrote that Clinton and her staff should have known better, it was a wholly avoidable situation, and that it adds to the ongoing narrative that the Clintons are secretive and play by their own rules. Oh, and the State Department really didn’t answer his questions regarding if those personal emails were stored in the State Department’s system [bold text indicates NARA regulation]:

[A]ccording to the National Archives and Records Administration, there was a regulation in place governing Clinton's use of personal email for official business while she was secretary of state. And it seems she did not fully abide by this. In a statement issued today, the National Archives notes that it has "reached out to the State Department to ensure that all federal records are properly identified and managed." And the statement says:

Since 2009, NARA's 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 recordkeeping system."

This rule is clear: If Clinton used personal email to conduct official business—which apparently did not violate any federal rules at the time—all of those emails had to be collected and preserved within the State Department's recordkeeping system. That makes sense: The whole point of preserving official records of government business is to have this material controlled by the government, not by the individual official or employee. Yet in this case, Clinton and her aides apparently did not preserve all her emails within the system.

Asked whether her emails were kept within Foggy Bottom's system, her spokesman Nick Merrill replied with a terse email, "They were. State can speak to this." He did not respond to an email requesting further details. And when I asked the State Department if Clinton's emails were preserved, an official replied with a statement from deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf: "The State Department has long had access to a wide array of Secretary Clinton’s records—including emails between her and Department officials with state.gov accounts." This did not address the question at hand: Were all her emails preserved within the department's system? Finally, I heard from another State Department official who explained on background that the department had preserved some of Clinton's emails, given that her emails to and from others within the State Department (at their official email accounts) had been kept within the system. Still, official-business emails Clinton sent to and received from people outside the State Department were not captured and preserved by the department's system in real time.

This seems to be a clear violation of that law, but there are still some die-hard Clintonites, like David Brock, who shamelessly defend this whole ordeal as a nothing burger. Noah Rothman over at Hot Air was able to clip Brock’s Morning Joe appearance, where his defense of the Clinton emails drew disbelief from the show’s hosts. Joe Scarborough read the 2009 NARA regulation repeatedly, but Brock held his ground to the point where co-host Mika Brzezinski said, “I’m not sure what planet I’m on right now; are you reading [the 2009 NARA regulation] the same thing we are?”

“Sure I am, yeah,” responded Brock.