Trump seized on the email Tuesday
The White House walked back Obama's remarks two days after Mills' email
A top Hillary Clinton adviser said President Barack Obama’s answer on Clinton’s private email use as secretary of state needed “clean up,” according to hacked emails from her campaign chairman released Tuesday.
In a March 2015 email chain, Cheryl Mills, a top legal adviser and longtime member of Clinton’s inner circle, told campaign Chairman John Podesta of an interview in which Obama said he learned about Clinton’s private email setup from news reports.
“We need to clean this up – he has emails from her – they do not say state.gov,” Mills wrote to Podesta.
WikiLeaks has released emails hacked from Podesta’s private gmail account daily for more than two weeks. The Clinton campaign has refused to confirm or deny specific emails’ authenticity and has accused the Russian government of being behind their theft and release – a claim WikiLeaks and the Russians have denied. Because emails are released at WikiLeaks’ discretion and without full context, it is unclear if Podesta responded.
The email chain was spurred by a CBS News interview March 7, 2015, where correspondent Bill Plante asked the President about Clinton’s private email “setup,” which had been reported in The New York Times earlier that week. Obama’s response was that he first learned about it via the news.
Two days later, White House spokesman Josh Earnest clarified the President’s answer, saying that while Obama received emails from Clinton, he was unaware of her private email server.
“The point that the President was making is not that he didn’t know Secretary Clinton’s email address – he did – but he was not aware of the details of how that email address and that server had been set up or how Secretary Clinton and her team were planning to comply with the Federal Records Act,” Earnest said on March 9, 2015.
The Mills email, which was part of Tuesday’s WikiLeaks dump, immediately caught the attention of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, who said at a rally in Florida that the chain implicated Obama in the email scandal.
“In other words, Mills was saying Obama, he had to know that Hillary was using an illegal server but he claimed otherwise,” Trump said. “So that means Obama is now into the act. … He’s caught up now, folks.”
The White House on Tuesday largely repeated its position from 2015, saying while Obama knew of the address he didn’t know of the circumstances behind it.
“What the President said was an entirely factual response to Mr. Plante’s question,” Earnest said Tuesday. “I recognize that some of the President’s critics have attempted to construct some type of conspiracy about the communication between the president and the secretary of state, but they’ve failed to put forward a conspiracy that withstands any scrutiny, so I guess they’re back to recycling thoroughly debunked conspiracies.”
CNN’s Ashley Killough, Kevin Liptak, Dan Berman and Alex Gee contributed to this report.