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Story highlights

Hillary Clinton says former Secretary of State Colin Powell advised her to use private email

Notes from FBI interview and upcoming book reveal Clinton's explanation

CNN —  

Hillary Clinton told the FBI that her predecessor Colin Powell recommended that she use a private email account during her tenure as Secretary of State, according to a new report.

The New York Times reported on the revelation Thursday, based on notes from Clinton’s interview with the FBI about her server that were delivered to Congress this week, and on a preview of a book about Bill Clinton’s post-presidential years.

The notes from the FBI’s interview with Clinton, conducted during its probe of the issue, reveal that she told investigators that Powell had advised her to use a private account.

Additionally, an excerpt from journalist Joe Conason’s upcoming book on Bill Clinton, “Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton,” provides more detail.

In the book, Conason recounts a scene at a dinner party in 2009 – attended by other former Secretaries of State, including host Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Henry Kissinger, in addition to Powell – where they each offered Clinton guidance and advice as she prepared to take the reins of the State Department.

According to Conason’s book, it was at this dinner that Powell told Clinton to use a personal email account.

As the Times reports, Conason wrote, “Toward the end of the evening, over dessert, Albright asked all of the former secretaries to offer one salient bit of counsel to the nation’s next top diplomat. Powell told her to use her own email, as he had done, except for classified communications, which he had sent and received via a State Department computer.”

Reached for comment, Powell’s team told CNN he has “no recollection” of the conversation described in Conason’s book, though he did provide her a memo regarding his own email use at the State Dept.

Powell Principal Assistant Peggy Cifrinio’s said in a statement that the former secretary of state did write Clinton an email memo describing his use of his personal AOL email account for unclassified messages.

“At the time there was no equivalent system within the Department,” Cifrinio said. “He used a secure State computer on his desk to manage classified information. The General no longer has the email he sent to former Secretary Clinton. It may exist in State or FBI files.”

Cifrinio referred to Powell’s memoir, “It Worked For Me,” where he discussed his use of a private email address while Secretary of State, for more detail.

CNN has reached out to the Clinton campaign and has not yet received a response.

Conason also says Clinton had decided to use a personal account before the episode with Powell, though Powell’s advice “confirmed” her thinking.

“Saying that his use of a personal email had been transformative for the department, (Powell) thus confirmed a decision (Clinton) had made months earlier – to keep her personal account and use it for most messages,” Conason wrote.

While Clinton has pointed to Powell and Rice as examples of previous Secretaries of State who used their personal email accounts, advancements in email technology and the widespread adoption of email for government use since Powell’s term cast Clinton’s use of a private email account in a sharply different light. Powell worked at the State Dept. during email’s infancy, operating on an antiquated system through which he would have sent far fewer emails.

Furthermore, though Powell admitted to using personal email account on the job, he did not set up a private email server at his personal residence the way that Clinton did in Chappaqua, New York.

Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State emerged as a major flashpoint in the 2016 presidential election, raising questions about Clinton’s judgment, transparency and honesty.

While the FBI ultimately decided that Clinton’s actions didn’t warrant criminal prosecution after an investigation, critics have highlighted the issue as an example of an unfair standard of justice for the Clintons. Others have questioned Clinton’s motives for establishing her unprecedented private email network.