Hillary Clinton’s office said “nothing nefarious was at play” when the former secretary of state used her personal email address, rather than one provided by the State Department, during her four years as America’s top diplomat.
Using personal email as a sole method of communication appears to skirt rules outlined by the National Archives and Records Administration in 2013 - after Clinton left the State Department. The government agency stipulates that personal email can only be used in “emergency situations,” and when used, the emails “are captured and managed in accordance with agency record-keeping practices.” The New York Times first reported Clinton’s exclusive use of a personal email account on Monday night.
Clinton continued to use her personal Blackberry after heading to Foggy Bottom, but broke no laws and never discussed classified information, a Clinton aide said Tuesday.
In a statement from Paul Wester, chief records officer for the archives administration, said that since 2009 - while Clinton served a secretary of state - ‘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 record-keeping system.”
According to the Times report, Clinton’s “aides took no actions to have her personal emails preserved on department servers at the time.”
Nick Merrill, Clinton’s spokesman, told CNN on Tuesday morning that, “like Secretaries of State before her, she used her own email account when engaging with any Department officials.”
“For government business, she emailed them on their Department accounts, with every expectation they would be retained,” he said in an emailed statement. “When the Department asked former Secretaries last year for help ensuring their emails were in fact retained, we immediately said yes.”
A Clinton aide said when the State Department sought to update its records and reached out to all former secretaries of state, Clinton turned over 55,000 pages of emails to the State Department in 2014 – or nine out of every 10 emails she sent during her tenure. Left out were personal notes.
“So if she emailed with her daughter about flower arrangements for her wedding, that didn’t go in, but if she emailed one of the 100 State Department officials she regularly corresponded with, State had it in their servers already” and Clinton’s office replicated it, too.
The Clinton aide also compared her use of email as secretary of state to Colin Powell’s, who wrote in a book that he installed a laptop with his personal email account in his office.
“I started shooting emails to my principal assistants, to individual ambassadors and increasingly to my foreign-minister colleagues who like me were trying to bring their ministries into the 186,000-miles-per-second world,” Powell wrote.
Merrill says her records were kept and turned over to State.
“Both the letter and spirit of the rules permitted State Department officials to use non-government email, as long as appropriate records were preserved,” Merrill concluded.
On Tuesday, Marie Harf, a deputy State Department spokeswoman, said that the department has “no indication that Secretary Clinton used her personal email account for anything but unclassified purposes.”
“While Secretary Clinton did not have a classified email system, she did have multiple other ways of communicating in a classified manner, including assistants printing documents for her, secure phone calls, and secure video conferences,” Harf added.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest would not say on Tuesday that Clinton broke the law – referring questions to the State Department – but did say that “when there are situations where personal e-mail accounts are used, it is important for those records to be preserved consistent with the Federal Records Act.”
“The policy as a general matter allows individuals to use their personal e-mail address as long as those e-mails are maintained and sent to the State Department, which if you ask Secretary Clinton’s team, that’s what they completed in the last month or two,” Earnest said.
Democrats have also tried to defend Clinton, nothing that other top government officials have used personal emails in the past. A senior state department official noted on Monday that previous secretaries of state had used personal emails to communicate with staff, including Secretary Colin Powell.
“As a result, our policies are continuing to evolve, including how those policies pertain to leadership officials,” the official said. “And we all know that implementing changes in the federal government can be an onerous process.”
The National Archives and Records Administration outlined new rules for federal agencies in 2013 that “reaffirm that agencies and agency employees must manage federal records appropriately and protect them from unauthorized removal from agency custody.”
This bulletin stipulated that email messages are federal record.
Late last year – long after Clinton left the State Department – that President Barack Obama signed an update to the Federal Records Law that clarified how private email was allowed to be used.
Jason R. Baron, a lawyer at Drinker Biddle & Reath and the former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration, said in an interview on Tuesday that is doesn’t appear Clinton “violated” the law because “the Federal Records Act is amorphous enough.”
Baron did say, however, that the exclusive use of a person email system is out of the ordinary.
“I was in the government for 34 years and in my experience, as director of litigation, I cannot recall an instance where a high level official – or anyone – solely used a private email account for the transaction of government business,” he said.
Clinton’s emails have been at the center of debate around the House’s select committee investigating the Benghazi attack that resulted in four dead Americans. Republicans have demanded the State Department hand over emails from Clinton and other top officials. The committee has received some of those emails, but the State Department is still processing the request.
Clinton agreed to testify to the committee late in 2014, according to Democrats on the panel, but Rep. Trey Gowdy, the committee chairman, has said he would wait to call her until all the emails are received.
Jen Psaki, a state department spokeswoman, said in a statement on Monday that ever since the select committee asked for emails, “the State Department has been proactively and consistently engaged in responding to the Committee’s many requests,” including “providing more than 40,000 pages of documents.”
Last year, Psaki said, the department asked former secretaries to “submit any records in their possession for proper preservation,” including personal emails used while leader the State Department.
“In response to our request, Secretary Clinton provided the department with emails spanning her time at the department,” Psaki said. “After the State Department reviewed those emails, we produced about 300 emails responsive to recent requests from the Select Committee.
The Times also reported that Clinton’s personal email account was discovered by Gowdy’s House committee when State – through Clinton – provided those emails to the committee.
However, Gawker reported in 2013, based on emails obtained by a Romanian hacker named “Guccifer,” that Clinton was using a “clintonemail.com” domain name in emails to advisers and friends.
“When it comes to the Clintons, they want us to disclose everything,” Donna Brazile, a longtime Clinton aide, said on CNN. “She has disclosed this information and she has complied.”
Republicans have already seized on The New York Times report.
“This latest development raises serious questions,” said Michael Short, Republican National Committee spokesman, in a press release, adding it “begs the question: what was Hillary Clinton trying to hide?”
Potential rival Jeb Bush, who recently released thousands of emails from his time as Florida governor, also used the revelation as an opportunity to draw a contrast.
“Hillary Clinton should release her emails. Hopefully she hasn’t already destroyed them,” said Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell in an email to CNN. “Gov. Bush believes transparency is a critical part of public service and of governing. That’s why he recently launched www.jebemails.com.”
CNN’s Ashley Killough, Eric Bradner and Brianna Keilar contributed to this report.