WH Counsel's Office: Wait, Hillary Used Her Personal Email While She Was Secretary Of State?

Matt Vespa
|
Posted: Mar 05, 2015 12:30 PM
WH Counsel's Office: Wait, Hillary Used Her Personal Email While She Was Secretary Of State?

Despite Hillary’s tweet, where she proudly proclaimed that all would be able to read her emails, this doesn’t really fix anything. Clinton could release them on her own time given that her personal email address was registered on a server operating out of her family home. To make matters worse, the White House Counsel’s Office reportedly didn’t know Clinton was using her personal email while serving as Obama’s Secretary of State, which not only opened the administration to data breaches, but was not in compliance with the guidelines given to agencies about using government email addresses for government business (via AP):

The White House counsel's office was not aware at the time Hillary Rodham Clinton was secretary of state that she relied solely on personal email and only found out as part of the congressional investigation into the Benghazi attack, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The person said Clinton's exclusive reliance on personal email as the nation's top diplomat was inconsistent with the guidance given to agencies that official business should be conducted on official email accounts. Once the State Department turned over some of her messages in connection with the Benghazi investigation after she left office, making it apparent she had not followed the guidance, the White House counsel's office asked the department to ensure that her email records were properly archived, according to the person who spoke on a condition of anonymity without authorization to speak on the record.

Since the revelations surfaced this week, the Obama administration has been pummeled by endless questions about Clinton, who hasn't formally announced a run. In the absence of an official campaign to defend her, the White House press secretary has been put in the awkward position of being a de facto Clinton spokesman and the most public voice speaking on her behalf.

Yet, as our White House Correspondent Conn Carroll wrote yesterday, the administration couldn’t say that they trust the Clinton camp in whether she followed the law concerning the use of her personal email account:

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest refused to say Wednesday whether or not he or the president trusts Hillary Clinton's claims that she followed the law when choosing to use a personal email account to conduct official State Department business.

"I haven't seen any evidence to indicate that they didn't do what they said they did," Earnest said when asked if he had confidence in Clinton's claims that she and her employees have turned over all of her personal emails relating to official government business. "But I also just want to be crystal clear abut the fact that this is a responsibility that they assumed," Earnest continued, "to review her personal email and make sure that it was properly transmitted to the Department of State so that it could preserved and maintained."

"I don't mean to suggest that I somehow think they are not being honest," Earnest said, "I'm just making it clear that it is not something that, that it was not a task that was performed by an Obama administration official. It was a task the was performed by Secretary Clinton or someone on her team."

As I mentioned in a previous post, this is quite the unforced error on Clinton’s part; something you don’t want hanging around your neck when your national campaign announcement is reportedly a month away. Not only that, given today’s media, did she really expect us not to find out she used her personal email for official business? Ron Fournier’s of National Journal wrote that this trip-up should make Hillary reconsider her presidential ambitions. I like the sound of that, but as Guy wrote yesterday, it’s probably a pie in the sky idea: voters have short memories and we’re talking about the Clintons here; nothing will stand in their way to get what they want–even if the road to meet that end isn’t pretty. Yet, Guy gave three good reasons why this could effect her ambitions for higher office:

  1. A good chunk of Democrats–and the media–already don't like her for a variety of reasons ranging from policy to personality.
  2. Her record as Secretary of State isn't something that should be highlighted on the campaign trail because it's pretty bad.
  3. The email fiasco, coupled with the allegation that the Clinton Foundation accepted money from foreign governments while she served as Secretary of States, reminds people of the "ugliness" exuded during the Clinton years in the White House.  She's brings nothing new in the ways Obama–for better or worse–did in 2008.

Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza added to Guy's points, writing that she can’t tweet her way out of this, and

it "reinforces" every negative thing the American public thinks about the Clintons:

1. "They don't think the rules apply to them.": The idea that Clinton never had an official government e-mail address reeks of the idea that she believes that she is apart from (and above) the rules that govern those serving in government. No, Clinton isn't the first person in government to use a private e-mail but, as the Times piece suggests, she may be the first person to exclusively use one.

2. "They are surrounded by enablers.": Maybe the most amazing part of this story -- at least to me -- is that NO ONE ever took Clinton aside during her four years at State and said something like "Look, I know you mostly use your private e-mail address. But why don't we just set up an official government one, too." It's impossible to believe that everyone on the State staff thought that only using a private e-mail address was the right course of action for Clinton and that it had no possibility of backfiring on her.

3. "They're always hiding something.": It's, of course, possible that Clinton used a private e-mail account because she liked the user interface on it better than a clunkier government version or some other banal reason like that. But using an e-mail domain that is not subject to the same federal archiving rules -- yes, Clinton turned over 55,000 pages of e-mails, but who decided what e-mails to turn over and which not to? -- looks suspicious even to people who are not disinclined to take Clinton at her word. (And there are LOTS of people who are disinclined to do so.)

4. "They only think about politics.": The timing of the setup of Clinton's private e-mail account, first reported by Philip Bump in this space Monday night, is very problematic for the "nothing to see here" argument being put forward by the Clinton types. It was established on the same day that Clinton began her confirmation hearings to be secretary of state. The expiration on the domain is shortly after the 2016 election.

5. "They never own up to anything.": The Clinton camp response has been predictable -- and not so good. (In their defense, I'm not sure there exists a good way to respond to a story like this one.) “Both the letter and spirit of the rules permitted State Department officials to use non-government email, as long as appropriate records were preserved,” Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill told The Post. Of course, that depends on what the meaning of "appropriate" is -- and is just the sort of statement that makes people think that these people really don't get it.

John Heileman and Mark Halperin, the managing editors for Bloomberg Politics, said that this email foul-up is both stupid and detrimental to Hillary’s pending campaign rollout. It divides Democrats between “those who are blindly loyal to the Clintons no matter what and those who say if she is going to run and win and govern effectively if she wins, she's got to change doing things that make her look entitled,” said Halperin. I appreciated Heileman’s Godzilla reference (I’m a HUGE Godzilla fan) in describing how dumb this move was on Clinton’s part saying, “It's like Godzilla with Mothra riding on his back dumb… It feeds the narrative of the Clintons only play by their own rules.”