Former State Department official and longtime Hillary Clinton operative Philippe Reines has repeatedly stated that his email practices at State were aboveboard—even though he was caught lying about using a personal email address to conduct official government business. But new emails obtained by Gawker show that on at least one occasion, Reines discussed skirting the federal open-records law known as the Freedom of Information Act. According to the emails, he told two reporters,“I want to avoid FOIA.” Reines’ attorney dismisses the comment as a joke—but if it was, it was of the funny-because-it’s-true variety.
The relevant emails surfaced in the latest round of documents produced by the State Department in response to the lawsuit Gawker filed against the agency earlier this year. Page 412 and 413 of this month’s round reproduce a February 2009 exchange between Reines and the powerful political journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, who at the time were gathering information for their book about the 2008 presidential campaign, Game Change. The exchange reads from top to bottom in the papers we received, but we’ve re-assembled it below for ease of reading, beginning with a February 6 email from Reines addressed to both men, apparently after he spoke with one of them on the phone:
On 2/6/09 12:35 PM, “Philippe Reines (Clinton)” ██████████ wrote:
On Fri, Feb 6, 2009 at 12:35 PM, Mark Halperin ██████████ wrote:
What and what?
From· John Heilemann ██████████
To: Mark Halperin ██████████
Cc: Reines, Philippe (Clinton)
Sent: Fri Feb 06 12:38.29 2009
Subject: Re: huma
i think he’s answering your questions about state email and cruising gw sororities - but i cld be wrong
On 2/6/09 12:39 PM, “Reines, Philippe (Clinton)” wrote:
He wants specifics
I want to avoid FOIA
On Fri, Feb 6, 2009 at 12:40 PM, Mark Halperin ██████████ wrote:
I just want to know what your job and email address are. i those those are subject to (or except from [sic]) foia
As Halperin’s reply suggests, it’s not immediately clear why Reines would want to “avoid FOIA” in this particular case. Reines’ initial email came from a non-State account associated with his role in Clinton’s orbit—he didn’t officially join the agency until several weeks later—and Heilemann and Halperin seem to have been primarily concerned with confirming the details, such as his new government email address, of his upcoming appointment as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, while also throwing in (what seems to be) a joke about Reines’ dating life. The only reason the exchange turned up in the batch we received, it seems, is that Heilemann continued the thread on March 2, 2009, shortly after the Reines joined the State Department.
Given his wording, it’s certainly possible that Reines was simply indicating he didn’t want to provide his State address to Heileman and Halperin, even if he didn’t have one at the time, because their conversations would be placed in a government record (in this case, the State Department’s email system), which would make them subject to the Freedom of Information Act .
As it happens, Reines handed over 20 boxes of government-related emails that were conducted on his private account to the State Department in July of this year, several months after Gawker sued his former employer. And here is what he said in March, after Gawker asked him about his use of non-governmental emails: “Is your cockamamie theory that the reason there is no record of my emailing with reporters is because I improperly used my personal email address to email with those reporters in an attempt to circumvent FOIA, and that every one of the many reporters you reasonably assume I emailed with are in on this conspiracy of having only emailed with me on my non-official email?”
In an email to Gawker, Reines’ spokeswoman, Beth Wilkinson, wrote: “The chain begins on February 6, 2009—21 days before Philippe began working for the State Department. Obviously, Philippe could not have responded from a State Department account on February 6 because he did not have one.” Asked to clarify the nature of Reines’ reference to FOIA, she responded: “It was a joke.”
(John Heilemann and Mark Halperin did not respond to a request for comment.)
The same batch of emails revealed another curious exchange involving Reines and an influential reporter—in this case, Elise Labott of CNN. You may remember Labott as the foreign correspondent CNN suspended last month after she publicly criticized a Republican-backed bill to limit the settlement of Syrian immigrants in the United States. She also recently came under (much more limited) fire after Gawker published an exchange between her and Reines in late November, which showed him pressing Labott to publish certain tweets—at least one of which explicitly sides with Secretary Hillary Clinton—during a 2013 Congressional hearing about the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
The newest set of emails suggests that Reines and Labott have indeed maintained a close working relationship, one in which both members feel comfortable joking around at the other’s expense. For reporters, this is known as working a source, and it’s part of the gig. But it sometimes results in jokey exchanges that, after the fact, can look a bit unseemly.
Like this one from March 2009, when Labott was serving as CNN’s State Department producer. In it, Reines offers Labott a job (in jest, one assumes) at the State Department’s public affairs office, and Labott responds by demanding (in jest, one assumes) that she be named an undersecretary:
From: PIR [Philippe Reines] ██████████
To: Labott, Elise
Sent: Wed Mar 04 01:25 20 2009
Any day you’d like to join PA [Public Affairs], we have a desk for you
From: Elise Labott
Sent: Mar 4, 2009 11:39 AM
I want to be the undersecretary for public diplomacy. I’d be the spokesman too you know
CNN State Department Producer
From: PIR ██████████
To: Labott, Elise
Sent: Wed Mar 04:39:42 2009
And then you’d be hit with silly criticisms and you’d say to me, “now I get it”
From: Labott, Elise
To: Philippe Reines ██████████
Sent: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 5:43 AM
Uh - they aren’t silly. YOU are silly
CNN State Department Producer
(Labott and a spokesperson for CNN did not respond to a request for comment.)
What else turned up in this month’s batch of Reines’ emails? We’ve pulled out a few more highlights below, organized by page number:
- Page 22 — Reines complains to several New York Times reporters about Hillary Clinton not being included in a July 22, 2012 Times article about several (male) Obama officials visiting the Middle East at the same time Clinton was paying a diplomatic visit in the same area.
- Page 24 and 26: Helene Cooper, one of the article’s authors, agrees with Reines: “I screwed up in not including her in the original story”
- Page 118 — Margaret Brennan of Bloomberg asks Reines: “Is the fact that the Secretary met with us for drinks reportable? I understand that everything said in over drinks is off the record. Is it fair game to say that the Secretary had a rare moment to let her hair down in an otherwise grueling sked?” (Reines denies her request.)
- Page 134 — Reines tells a Bloomberg reporter that he and Hillary “love” a particular reporter or editor named “Andy” of Bloomberg News.
- Page 140 — Nicole Gaouette of Bloomberg News appears to put fellow Bloomberg reporter Indira Lakshmanan on blast: “Jesus f-ing Christ. Do all of us sound this shmarmy, self-involved and kiss-assy?”
- Page 148 — Reines and Michael Clemente of Fox News argue about whether photo of Hillary Clinton is flattering
- Page 150 — Reines tells reporter: “Hi Lisa. Your sources are on crack.”
- Page 157 — Michael Clemente to Reines: “I don’t leak, outside of the men’s room :)“
- Page 181 — Reines mocks a Wall Street Journal illustration of Clinton aide Maggie Williams: “Poor Maggie though. I’ve always thought getting the WSJ point portrait treatment is one of the coolest things ever. But hers is terrible. Looks more like a police sketch based on a fuzzy description of Maggie more than Maggie.” (You can see the illustration, which isn’t that bad, here.)
- Page 253 — The aforementioned Nicole Gaouette of Bloomberg appears to disclose the identity of a confidential source—“Ms. Mathews”—to Reines and another State department official named Jacob Sullivan: ““Trusting you to keep my confidence and very interested in your response.”
- Page 301 — Another email from Gaouette to Reines and Sullivan reveals that the source in question was Jessica Matthews of the Carnegie Foundation, who was apparently so critical of Hillary Clinton during a recent interview (conducted on-background) that Gaouette began laughing: “Btwn the three of us, harshest critic to date has been Jessica Matthews, president of the Carnegie Endowment. There was almost nothing she didn’t criticize — to the point where I almost started laughing. Example: ‘You certainly see a legacy on women’s issues (pause], but ten years from now, will it have lasted?’ Is there some history of bad blood there or something? Need some context.”
- Page 407 — Philippe Reines tell Lara Logan*: “You guys have too much internal politics going on and it’s going to kill you all”
- Page 504 — Al Kamen of WaPo emails Reines: “This better be good after how you screwed me over and over and over It’s a damn good thing I like you. Or I’m getting soft in my dotage.”
- Page 530 — Greta van Susteren emails Reines: “I wish Obama would acknowledge the Clinton administration at least once. He skips over it like it never happened.”
- Page 544 — Lara Logan emails Reines: “The weather is still shitty — where and when do you want to meet? I’m hungry. Are you dumping me?”
- Page 718 — Lara Logan calls her (now retired) CBS colleague Charlie Wolfson “old” and “crazy”
- Page 781 — Reines emails Mike Allen: “Did I run over Ben Smith’s dog in another life? Why is he suddenly on a Jihad about me.” This seems to have concerned a March 2009 Politico article Smith was in the process of writing, about Reines’ role in creating a mistranslated button that Secretary Clinton presented to the foreign minister of Russia. To which Allen responded: “Not finding the item — whatever it is, I’m sorry.” When Reines clarifies that Smith is currently writing the aforementioned item, Allen responds again: “Arghhhhhhhh Sorry”
- Page 872 — A managing assistant at Time magazine emails Reines to ask if Clinton could write a profile of Rick Warren (or pretend to, at least): “The Editors at TIME would like to request that Secretary of State Clinton write a 300- word profile of Rick Warren for our upcoming TIME 100 special issue. ... As a profile writer, the Secretary could either write the piece herself, or talk to a Time editor about Reverend Warren and the editor would write the piece for her approval.”
- Page 1025 — Someone using the handle “AJS Work” emails Reines: “Ben Smith is an idiot,” which Reines then forwards to Mark Leibovich
- Page 1032 — A person named Jamie Radice emails Reines to ask why Ben Smith is obsessed with him, which Reines then forwards to Mark Leibovich.
* Correction: As Jack Dickey pointed out on Twitter, we misread the email exchange on page 407. It is Philippe Reines telling Lara Logan, “You guys have too much internal politics going on and it’s going to kill you all,” not Logan telling Reines.