So, did Clinton throw Colin Powell under the bus, or did she really get information from former Secretary of State Colin Powell on how to bypass security protocols used by the State Department regarding its email communications? It really doesn't matter regardless of how hard the Democrats try to paint a different picture on Hillary's email fiasco, namely that it wasn't unusual to use a private email server.
Powell said that Clinton was already using a private email server before he had discussions with her about using a separate system. He also said that the Clinton camp was trying to “pin” her whole email fiasco on him. Now, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) has released an email exchange showing Powell discussing with Clinton how he bypassed State Department servers (via The Hill):
What I did do was have a personal computer that was hooked up to a private phone line (sounds ancient.),” Powell wrote. “So I could communicate with a wide range of friends directly without it going through the State Department servers."
"I even used it to do business with some foreign leaders and some of the senior folks in the Department on their personal email accounts. I did the same thing on the road in hotels," he said.
Powell was responding to a question from Clinton, now the Democratic nominee for president, about the restrictions on using a BlackBerry while in office.
Powell also told Clinton that he would frequently take his cellphone into Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIF) — secure rooms where classified information was processed and mobile devices were prohibited. Powell said that he was not satisfied with the rationale for prohibiting such devices.
“When I asked why not they [CIA and NSA] gave me all kinds of nonsense about how they gave out signals and could be read by spies, etc.,” he said. “Same reason they tried to keep mobile phones out of the suite. I had numerous meetings with them. We even opened one up for them to try to explain to me why it was more dangerous than say, a remote control for one of the many tvs in the suite. Or something embedded in my shoe heel.”
“So, we just went about our business and stopped asking,” he wrote. “I had an ancient version of a PDA and used it. In general, the suite was so sealed that it is hard to get signals in or out wirelessly.”
But he warned Clinton "there is a real danger" in using a BlackBerry.
“If it is public that you have a BlackBerry and it it [sic] government and you are using it, government or not, to do business, it may become an official record and subject to the law," he wrote.
“Be very careful,” he added. “I got around it all by not saying much and not using systems that captured the data.”
Powell didn’t offer a comment on the email exchange, but released the following statement on Thursday (via NBC News):
"I stand by my decisions and I am fully accountable."
"With respect to records, if I sent an email from my public email account to an addressee at another public email account it would not have gone through State Department servers," Powell said in a statement on Thursday. "It was a private conversation similar to a phone call. If I sent it to a state.gov address it should have been captured and retained by State servers. I was not aware at the time of any requirement for private, unclassified exchanges to be treated as official records."
There are a few things to remember. One is that Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) is a partisan liberal Democrat, who will do everything he can to help shield Hillary Clinton. He released this email exchange at the time when the House Oversight Committee held a hearing on Clinton’s server, the State Department, and whether both parties complied with FOIA requests. More hearings are set for next week. NBC News added that Cummings said that these emails show that Powell offered a “blueprint,” but noted that Clinton didn’t take his advice. CNN reported that Powell’s spokesperson said that he was referring to his own AOL account, which was for “unclassified messages and how it vastly improved communications within the State Department,” concerning this exchange with Clinton.
Stressing the major differences in technology between his tenure at the department and Clinton's, the spokesperson said: "At the time there was no equivalent system within the department. He used a secure State computer on his desk to manage classified information."
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee who released the full email exchange, said that it "shows that Secretary Powell advised Secretary Clinton with a detailed blueprint on how to skirt security rules and bypass requirements to preserve federal records, although Secretary Clinton has made clear that she did not rely on this advice."
The Maryland Democrat also argued Republicans who have been pressing for documents from the State Department had a double standard for their concern about use of private email, saying if they were worried about the issue, "they would be attempting to recover Secretary Powell's emails from AOL, but they have taken no steps to do so despite the fact that this period-including the run-up to the Iraq War-was critical to our nation's history."
In all, this is an apples to oranges comparison. For starters, the rules and regulations were different for Powell in the sense that preserving communications between government officials have only become tighter. So, him being unaware of unclassified exchanges being regarded as public record is reflected in his statement. In 2009, the National Archives and Records Administration made it quite clear the any email communications involving government officials are public records meant to be preserved. Powell left the State Department in 2005. Second, he was never the subject of an FBI investigation, nor did he conduct all of his official State Department business over that AOL account. The FBI can’t say for sure that hackers didn’t gain access to Clinton’s server.
“We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial e-mail accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account. We also assess that Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent,” Director Comey said in an extended statement in July. That didn’t happen with Powell.
The Powell email was sent on January 23, 2009. Prior to that, Clinton staffers Justin Cooper and Bryan Pagliano were already working on establishing the private email system that has landed her in hot water. So, if Cummings is trying to show that Powell offered a blueprint, it doesn’t fit with the timeline; she already had the wheels going. Sorry Democrats, this really didn’t change anything (via Fox News):
January 2009: HRC decides to stop using her BlackBerry email account (email@example.com) and directs aides to create a new private domain (clintonemail.com). That domain is hosted on the Clinton's Apple server maintained by Cooper.
1/13/2009: The clintonemail.com domain registered with Network Solutions. Clinton aide Justin Cooper is listed as the domain's point of contact.
Mid-to-late January 2009: Clinton transitions to the newly created firstname.lastname@example.org account. At this time she stopped using her BlackBerry email account as her primary address.
1/21/2009: Hillary Clinton sworn in as Secretary of State.
March 2009: Bryan Pagliano & Justin Cooper physically install the new server into the basement of the Clintons' Chappaqua, NY home – that server is maintained by Bryan Pagliano. Cooper & Pagliano begin the transfer of email data from the Apple server to the newly constructed server.