The State Department’s independent watchdog has issued a highly critical analysis of Hillary Clinton’s email practices while running the department, concluding that she failed to seek legal approval for her use of a private email server and that department staff would not have given its blessing because of the “security risks in doing so.”
The inspector general, in a long-awaited review obtained Wednesday by The Washington Post in advance of its publication, found that Clinton’s use of private email for public business was “not an appropriate method” of preserving documents and that her practices failed to comply with department policies meant to ensure that federal record laws are followed.
The report says Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, should have printed and saved her emails during her four years in office or surrendered her work-related correspondence upon stepping down in February 2013. Instead, she provided those records in December 2014.
The report found that a top Clinton aide was warned in 2010 that the system may not properly preserve records, but dismissed those worries, indicating that the system passed legal muster. But the inspector general said it could not show evidence of a review by legal counsel.
While the IG review dealt with the State Department’s compliance with public records laws, Clinton is awaiting the conclusion of a separate FBI inquiry into whether she mishandled classified information through her use of the private email setup. Officials have told The Washington Post that FBI investigators have so far found little evidence that Clinton maliciously flouted classification rules. Clinton and her team have cooperated with the FBI, and officials have said they plan to interview Clinton about the matter soon.
In contrast, Clinton and her senior aides declined to speak with the inspector general’s investigators, according to the new report. The inspector general, Steve Linick, who has served since 2013, has rejected allegations of bias, noting that former secretaries Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, in addition to current Secretary of State John Kerry, were interviewed for the review. The report cites “long-standing systemic weaknesses” in record-keeping. It calls out Powell for also violating department policy for his use of a personal email account while in office.
But the report notes that by Clinton’s tenure, the department’s warnings about the “obligation” to generally use government email — and the risks of not doing so — had become more detailed and frequent.
Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon pointed Wednesday to the IG report’s broader conclusions to say that Clinton’s “use of personal email was not unique, and she took steps that went much further than others to appropriately preserve and release her records.” He said the report showed that the agency’s problems with records were “long-standing” and that, if Clinton ran the agency today, she would adopt the IG’s recommended remedies. Fallon said in a statement that “political opponents of Hillary Clinton are sure to misrepresent this report” for partisan purposes. Appearing on CNN, he said Clinton declined to be interviewed by the IG because “it made sense to prioritize the review being conducted by the Justice Department.”
Clinton acknowledged during a March debate that she did not seek approval for the private setup. She pointed to the practices of her predecessors and said: “There was no permission to be asked. . . . It was permitted.”
Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, said the report underscores the need for federal agencies to adapt “decades-old record-keeping practices to the email-dominated modern era.” He said it was clear that the department could have preserved emails better under multiple secretaries of state, but said Kerry implemented multiple improvements in record retention.
The timing of the report is inconvenient for Clinton, who is facing an intense onslaught of attacks from presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. But its release, as well as the conclusion of a continuing FBI investigation, have been seen for months by her allies as key milestones to finally putting the email issue to rest.