Former officials of the U.S. State Department are furiously denying suggestions that retired Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s extensive use of a private email address violated federal rules concerning the preservation of official government records. A FOIA request filed two years ago by Gawker, however, proves that Clinton—a likely contender for the Democratic presidential nominee—successfully used the off-the-books email account to conceal official correspondence from prying eyes. Ours.
Clinton’s email address was firstname.lastname@example.org; the handle seems to refer to her maiden initials (she was born as Hillary Diane Rodham). The notorious hacker Guccifer first revealed the email address in March 2013, after he gained access to the AOL account of former Clinton White House staffer Sidney Blumenthal, and sent screenshots of Blumenthal’s inbox to several news outlets. According to those screenshots, Blumenthal was regularly sending Clinton what appeared to be freelance intelligence reports—including information and advice about the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya—all of which clearly fell under the rubric of official State Department business. At the time, Gawker noted that Clinton’s apparent use of the non-official account likely violated federal regulations governing records retention, and sent inquiries directly to Clinton and to the White House asking if messages to the clintonemail.com address were being retained.
This morning, however, three former State Department employees, including Clinton’s current spokesman Nick Merrill, told Business Insider’s Hunter Walker that everything about the private account was above board. Two of those employees, Walker writes, argued that “Clinton took care to correspond with other State officials exclusively on their governmental addresses. The officials claimed this meant all of her emails and those sent to her were immediately preserved on government servers.” Merrill corroborated this account as well, and even sent Walker a link to Gawker’s Guccifer post to spin the The New York Times article as old news.
By doing so, of course, Merrill confirmed the existence of Clinton’s email@example.com address. Indeed, at the time the post was published, Clinton’s email account was certainly active. Sending an email to that address today returns a “delivery has failed” error message, but in March 2013 we were able to email the same address without the message bouncing:
But Merrill’s on-the-record defense of Clinton suffers from a very obvious flaw. The jurisdiction of the federal Freedom of Information Act does not apply only to correspondence between government employees (such as Clinton and another State Department employee); it also applies to correspondence about official business between government employees and third parties (such as Clinton and Blumenthal, who was not employed by the State Department). Had Blumenthal been sending Clinton emails about personal business, such as an upcoming ski trip, there would be no issue here. But he was sending Clinton emails about, among other things, Benghazi—one of the largest fuck-ups in State Department history and the subject of numerous Congressional inquiries.
The Clinton camp’s claims about the email account being above-board is also contradicted by the State Department’s response to Gawker’s inquires two years ago. After we published the story about Blumenthal’s correspondence with Clinton, we filed a FOIA request with the agency for all correspondence to date between Hillary Clinton and Sidney Blumenthal, specifically including any messages to or from the firstname.lastname@example.org account. The screenshots and other documents released by Guccifer—which have now been validated by Clinton’s spokesman—confirmed that such messages existed.
But the State Department replied to our request by saying that, after an extensive search, it could find no records responsive to our request. That is not to say that they found the emails and refused to release them—it is conceivable, after all, that the State Department might have attempted to deny the release of the Clinton-Blumenthal correspondence on grounds of national security or Blumenthal’s own privacy. Instead, the State Department confirmed that it didn’t have the emails at all.
Which is exactly why Clinton used a non-State Department email server to conduct her official business.