Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mails have been the subject of criticism, speculation and more ever since it was discovered that she used a private server located in her home to handle her e-mail account during the period she served as secretary of state.
From an ethical standpoint, here are the questions that concern me most:
1) Was Secretary Clinton aware of the rules regarding the proper use of an e-mail account during her tenure as Secretary of State?
2) Did Clinton knowingly send or receive classified information?
3) Was Clinton’s private server attacked and information compromised?
4) Did Clinton, or any of her staff, break the law by passing along classified information?
Several fact-checking organizations have conducted on-going examinations of many of the statements made by Clinton and others.
On March 9, Washington Post Fact-Checker-in-Chief Glenn Kessler, famous for ranking false statements on his Pinocchio scale, stated, “The Fact Checker has run 10 fact checks on the issue, mostly regarding dubious statements that Clinton had made to defend her actions.”
Among the statements Kessler has checked:
“Senior Democratic lawmakers argued that Clinton was the only secretary of state to turn over so many records and that her production of e-mails was a transparent act that is unprecedented compared with her predecessors. These were technically correct but fundamentally misleading statements.” Three Pinocchios.
Clinton’s claim that “everything I did [on e-mails] was permitted”: Three Pinocchios.
On May 11, FactCheck.org observed that Clinton’s statement was “…pure spin.”
“Her decision to conduct government business,” FactCheck writes, “exclusively on a private server was, as one federal records expert put it, ‘inconsistent with long-established policies and practices … governing all federal agencies.’ A federal judge in a lawsuit involving Clinton’s emails said she failed to follow ‘government policy.’ ”
Now comes a report from the State Department’s Inspector General. On page one, the report reads:
“The Federal Records Act requires appropriate management and preservation of Federal Government records, regardless of physical form or characteristics that document the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of an agency. For the last two decades, both Department of State (Department) policy and Federal regulations have explicitly stated that e-mails may qualify as Federal records. …
“However,” in general, the report also found that “based on its review of records, questionnaires, and interviews, OIG determined that e-mail usage and preservation practices varied across the tenures of the five most recent Secretaries and that, accordingly, compliance with statutory, regulatory, and internal requirements varied as well.”
According FactCheck.org’s analysis, “The IG report said Clinton should have turned over her e-mails before she left office — not 21 months after she left. “[S]he did not comply with the Department’s policies that were implemented in accordance with the Federal Records Act,” the report said.
“Clinton has said her e-mails ‘were captured and preserved immediately on the system at the State Department’ because she e-mailed department officials at their government accounts. The IG report said that is ‘not an appropriate method of preserving any such e-mails that would constitute a Federal record.’
“The IG report also said the only other secretary of state to use personal e-mail ‘exclusively’ for government business was Colin Powell, contrary to Clinton’s claim that her ‘predecessors’ — plural — ‘did the same thing.’ The IG also said that, like Clinton, Powell did not comply with policies on preserving work-related e-mails.”
“…it has been department policy since 2005 — four years before Clinton took office — that ‘normal day-to-day operations’ be conducted on government servers.
“The report also said that in 2007 the department adopted additional policies requiring ‘non-Departmental information systems’ used to ‘process or store department information’ to meet the same security controls as the department’s systems, and requiring that they be registered with the department. Clinton did not adhere to either policy.
“…Clinton ‘had an obligation’ to discuss her e-mail system with the department, but [the IG] could find “no evidence” that Clinton sought approval for her unusual email arrangement. If she did, the report says her request would have been denied by the bureaus of Diplomatic Security and Information Resource Management.”
Other notable issues:
“The department did not ask the four former secretaries of state, including Clinton, to sign separation agreements certifying that they had turned over all work-related documents. Clinton has been criticized by Republican strategist Karl Rove and others — for failing to sign the statement, but that was part of the department’s ‘systemic weaknesses’ and not unique to Clinton.
“Two staffers in the Bureau of Information Resource Management expressed ‘their concerns about Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail account in separate meetings’ with the bureau director. ‘According to the staff member, the Director stated that the Secretary’s personal system had been reviewed and approved by Department legal staff and that the matter was not to be discussed any further,’ the report said. But no legal review was done and no approval was granted.”
While no crime has been committed, FactCheck.org observes, “Clinton admits she made a mistake when she decided to use a personal e-mail and server to conduct public business. But she has been less than forthright as she has tried to spin the facts in an attempt to minimize her admitted mistake.”
Politifact notes, “The inspector general and the National Archives and Records Administration say Clinton’s retroactive turnover of 30,000 e-mails has mitigated this problem somewhat, but the record is incomplete — with certain chunks of time and correspondence missing from her e-mail vault.
“…it’s hard not to be skeptical of the narrative that Clinton was ignorant of the rules when the assistant secretary for diplomatic security sent a memo directly to Clinton in March 2011 that urged employees to ‘minimize the use of personal web e-mail for business,’ citing cybersecurity concerns. Three months later, a similar e-mail went out to all staff, sent under Clinton’s name. …
“In fairness to Clinton,” Politifact adds, “the inspector general found 90 individuals in the State Department who used their personal e-mail for business, [including Colin Powell].”
“No one ever stopped Clinton from conducting work over her private e-mail server exclusively. But that’s not the same thing as it being allowed. Offices within the State Department told an independent inspector general that if she had asked, they would not have allowed it.”
Returning to my questions:
Was Secretary Clinton aware of the rules regarding the proper use of an e-mail account?
Yes. According to the IG report, not only was Clinton aware of the rules, but a memo bearing her name, was sent to all staff to “minimize the use of personal web e-mail(s).”
Did Secretary Clinton knowingly send or receive classified information?
Pending a final determination by the FBI, there is no evidence to suggest that Clinton knowingly sent or received classified e-mails. Some e-mails have been retroactively “classified,” as noted by both Clinton and former-Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Was Secretary Clinton’s private server attacked and information compromised?
“Hackers attempted to access Clinton’s server on Jan. 9, 2011,” FactCheck.org writes, “and a phishing e-mail message was sent to Clinton on May 13, 2011, that contained a suspicious link. Both attempted breaches should have been reported. ‘However, OIC [Office of Inspector General] found no evidence that the Secretary or her staff reported these incidents to computer security personnel or anyone else within the Department,’ the report said.”
As of this writing, there is no evidence to suggest that Clinton’s private server was successfully hacked and sensitive information obtained.
Did Clinton, or any of her staff, break the law by passing along classified information?
Inconclusive. I will wait for the FBI to release their report before finalizing my own conclusions.