Former Hillary Clinton advisor Philippe Reines has emphatically maintained that—unlike his longtime boss—he never used a personal email account to conduct official State Department business. In fact, when Gawker reported earlier this year that Reines was known to use his private email account to communicate with reporters in his role as Clinton’s deputy assistant secretary of state, he replied with a colorful, forceful, and highly specific denial in which he attacked several reporters for even raising the question.
Yet a ream of documents obtained by Gawker, which sued the State Department earlier this year after the agency failed to produce copies of Reines’ correspondence with news outlets, clearly contradict the loyal aide’s claims, and show that the systematic effort to keep communications off of government servers—where they could be found by congressional investigators or citizens using open records laws—extended beyond Clinton herself to her senior staff.
The documents, comprising dozens of email exchanges between Reines and various journalists in March and April of 2010, were provided to Gawker last week by State Department lawyers (who are releasing Reines’ correspondence on a rolling basis). They show Reines communicating with reporters over his State Department address—email@example.com—as well as a redacted email address that begins with the alias “preines.”
Reines claimed in March of this year that he used his State address exclusively to correspond with reporters. Whenever reporters emailed him at his personal account, he said at the time, “I moved the exchange to my state.gov account because, between you and me, my personal account is about the last place I want to be emailing reporters or conducting work.”
The email records we received show Reines repeatedly doing the opposite. Due to an apparent oversight, the State Department failed to properly redact one exchange between Reines and New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich, revealing that the “preines” address was in fact his personal Gmail account, firstname.lastname@example.org. The documents show that Reines regularly used the private account to correspond not only with Leibovich, but with several other reporters as well. (Indeed, two reporters who corresponded with Reines in the past confirmed to Gawker that the aide frequently used his Gmail account in their exchanges with him.)
In at least two instances, Reines seems to have used his Gmail account to deliberately move exchanges away from his state.gov inbox.
On March 16, 2010, for example, Leibovich sent Reines a link to a Politico story about an electricity problem at Longworth House Office Building, adding (sarcastically) that it was the “best Politico piece of all time.” Leibovich addressed the note to email@example.com, and sent it at 2:55 p.m. At 3:01 p.m., the records show, Reines forwarded Leibovich’s note to firstname.lastname@example.org. At 3:18 p.m., Reines finally responded to Leibovich from his Gmail account: “There is nothing too absurd for them to write about.”
Less than a month later, on April 10, Reines asked Leibovich what he thought about a Mediaite story concerning the departure of several Politico employees. “Eh,” Leibovich responded, “nothing I didn’t know.” The next day, on April 11, Reines sent Leibovich a snippet of a press release (presumably to mock it) about a decadent party being thrown by Politico’s publisher, Robert Allbritton, after the White House Correspondents Dinner. Reines initiated both exchanges from his Gmail account.
While mocking Politico may not qualify as important State Department business, Reines’ portfolio in Clinton’s State Department included managing her relations with the press. His chatty emails with Leibovich clearly fall with in the definition of his official duties—and if the State Department judged them to be private conversations, it wouldn’t have released them.
Indeed, a few days later, Reines and Leibovich’s shared distaste for Politico veered into more unambiguously official territory when one of Politico’s reporters, Mike Allen, floated the idea that Secretary Clinton could be a dark horse candidate for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. Leibovich was preparing a long New York Times Magazine profile of Allen at the time, so he asked Reines for comment.
On April 14, Reines sent Leibovich an email containing what appear to be written answers to Leibovich’s questions about the Mike Allen episode, which had caused a flurry of unfounded speculation about Clinton’s position within the State Department.
Reines sent that email at 1:33 p.m. from his State Department account. At 8:47 p.m., Reines forwarded the email he had written to his Gmail account. Shortly thereafter, using the same Gmail address, Reines initiated a follow-up exchange with Leibovich:
From: PIR [mailto:preines@xxxxxxxxxxx]
Sent: Wednesday, April 14, 2010 8:49 PM
To: Leibovich, Mark
Subject: Fw: 1, 2, 3, 4
Making sure you got this
Also, it seems like this is a bridge to me going on the record - but really need you to set it up the right way
Later on in the same thread, in reference to Politico, Reines tells Leibovich that he “was looking forward to calling them toilet stall graffiti.”
Another reporter who frequently corresponded with Reines on his personal account was Jake Tapper, then at ABC News and now at CNN. Their email relationship was considerably more fractious, however. On April 29, 2010, for instance, Tapper wrote to Reines to complain about Secretary Clinton’s exclusive interview with NBC News: “So I guess all is forgiven if a network is completely unfair and sexist in its campaign coverage as long as they’re willing to buy new furniture.” The thread, whose formatting we’ve cleaned up for clarity, went on:
Reines: Virginia already used the joke, and it wasn’t all that funny the first time
Tapper: Hers didn’t mention NBC’s sexist and unfair coverage of the campaign
Reines: Credit to her for not living in the past
Tapper: Wow. Ok.
Reines: Or when we do you would you like me to say to NBC, You’re right, ABC was the network that aired the heinously anti-WJC 9/11 series, I don’t know why we’re doing them.
Tapper: And ask Jay Carton no one was tougher on that movie in news coverage of it than me!
Reines: This isn’t worth arguing about. When you get new chairs, I’m sure the WH will send a cabinet member too
Tapper: Just reminding you that some of us were fair to Madam Secretary.
The emails we are publishing today are merely the first tranche of Reines’ emails that the State Department intends to release, so we don’t yet have a entirely complete picture of Reines’ correspondence with news outlets. Nevertheless, they demonstrate that Reines’ previous statement about how he used email in the course of his official duties was simply and resoundingly false. And his practices were not benign matters of administrative minutiae: By using his personal Gmail account to conduct State Department business, Reines was almost certainly interfering with the ability of the agency to properly respond to Freedom of Information Act requests, such as the one Gawker filed in September 2012, that targeted his official government correspondence.
That request was denied in July 2013, when the State Department claimed that it had no records of Reines’ emails with various representatives of the news media. Only after Gawker filed a complaint in Washington, D.C., federal district court did Reines finally hand over to the State Department 20 boxes of printed-out emails, roughly 18,000 in total, from his private account.
That’s not to say that Reines’ use of Gmail was designed to skirt the FOIA: There are other reasons, such as usability and system reliability, that he may have preferred Gmail over the State Department’s clunkier email set-up. And it could be the case that Reines took efforts to ensure that his Gmail conversations were archived on State Department servers, perhaps by bcc-ing his State account, or setting up a system to automatically redirect his Gmails. But even if that is the case—and the emails at hand aren’t evidence in either direction—his claim that he always “moved the exchange to my state.gov account” when corresponding with reporters is clearly false.
Reines’ lie is particularly notable given that he accused reporters who asked about his use of a personal account of being conspiracy theorists. As he fumed earlier this year, in an email directed at Gawker:
So, 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? All sorts of media outlets reached out to me, including FOX and The Daily Caller. Are they in on it? Is everyone in on it aside from Gawker?
The batch of emails we received last week don’t contain any exchanges with Daily Caller reporters. But they do show Reines emailing with at least three different Fox News staffers, including news anchor Greta van Susteren. In nearly every case, Reines used his personal Gmail account.
Reines did not respond to repeated requests for comment. The State Department declined to comment, and referred questions to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Hillary Clinton’s campaign referred us, in turn, to the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, whose lawyers are representing Reines.
One of those lawyers, Beth Wilkinson, provided the following statement to Gawker:
Good Morning Keenan. Thank you for reaching out. As we don’t have the benefit of seeing what you’re referring to, it’s impossible to fully address your questions. As I’m sure you are well aware though, Mark Leibovich was writing a book about politics in Washington as well as a profile of Mike Allen. That said though, please include the comment below in its entirety as on the record from me on behalf of Philippe.
As he emailed you earlier this year, Philippe very much hoped you would end up with his email and is very glad your request was finally fulfilled so that people can come to their own conclusions about his email habits. But that requires Gawker to practice the transparency it preaches by posting online every single one of his email as it receives them for people to read for themselves—not merely the few that are conveniently stretched by Gawker to write something nonsensical.