Hillary Rodham Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail account as secretary of State has created confusion over when and whether she complied with federal regulations to archive her e-mails.
The New York Times reported that Clinton used a personal account for all her e-mail while serving as secretary of State, meaning that her e-mails might not automatically be preserved. Clinton’s office responded that 90% of her emails were sent to State Department addresses and would therefore have been preserved — and that all of her official e-mails were turned over to the State Department last fall.
The e-mail issue is a matter of potential impropriety in government — but since Clinton is considered to be all but declared as a presidential candidate, it has political ramifications, too.
Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said “the letter and spirit of the rules”allowed personal e-mail use as long as “appropriate records were preserved.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest at his daily briefing said “the policy as a general matter allows individuals to use their personal e-mail address as long as those e-mails are maintained and sent to the State Department.”
Meanwhile, some Republicans weighed in, including likely GOP presidential contender Jeb Bush, who tweeted, “Transparency matters.”
Here’s a look at some of the questions that have been raised since reports about Clinton’s email use surfaced:
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?
Merrill said Clinton used a private e-mail account during her four years as secretary of State, not a government account. That means all her e-mails may not have been automatically archived as government documents.
IS THAT LEGAL?
Government officials can maintain a private e-mail account, as long as they turn over government business for archiving. Federal policy encourages all employees to transact business on government accounts.
Jason R. Baron, a former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration, said Clinton’s “sole use” of a private e-mail account is “highly unusual” and “plainly inconsistent with the Federal Records Act.” It would not be “sanctionable” conduct, he said, because the rules have been clarified only in recent years.
A bill passed by Congress last year, the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2014, makes it illegal to use a non-official e-mail account to conduct public business. There are two exceptions: An employee can copy their official e-mail account on the correspondence, or forward a complete copy of the email to the official account within 20 days. Violations of that law are not criminal, but “shall be the basis of disciplinary action.”
President Obama signed those provisions into law last November, almost two years after Clinton left office. Before that, federal law considered public business conducted via private e-mails to be a federal record and prohibited employees from destroying them, but did not ban the use of personal e-mail. Under a 2009 regulation, federal agencies that allowed the use of personal email were required to ensure those e-mails were preserved.
In 2012, Obama signed a presidential memorandum ordering federal agencies to update their record-keeping systems. The National Archives and Records Administration required that “e-mail records must be retained in an appropriate electronic system that supports records management and litigation requirements.”
AND CLINTON’S RESPONSE?
Merrill said that, with official business, Clinton e-mailed federal colleagues on their government accounts “with every expectation they would be retained.” He added: “When the Department asked former Secretaries last year for help ensuring their emails were in fact retained, we immediately said yes. Both the letter and spirit of the rules permitted State Department officials to use non-government email, as long as appropriate records were preserved.”
A Clinton aide, speaking on background, said that 90% of the e-mails from Clinton’s BlackBerry were sent to State Department employees at their work e-mail address and therefore were captured. Clinton turned over 55,000 pages of her e-mails last year.
Clinton did not use e-mail for classified communication, State spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
HAS THE WHITE HOUSE WEIGHED IN?
Earnest discussed the issue at his daily White House briefing. “Very specific guidance has been given to agencies all across the government, which is specifically that employees in the Obama administration should use their official e-mail accounts when they’re conducting official government business,” he said.
The State Department, he added, asked previous secretaries who used e-mail for official business to send them to the department. “Secretary Clinton’s team … complied with that request by sending all of the e-mails on her personal account that pertained to her official responsibilities as secretary of State.”
WHAT’S THE FALLOUT?
A blast of criticism from Republicans, for one thing. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, referring to reports that the Clinton Foundation raised money from foreign governments, tweeted: “Was this so @HillaryClinton could conduct diplomacy and fundraising at the same time?”
The organizations waiting to support a Clinton presidential run argued that her e-mail use is not an issue for voters. “If she loses even one vote because she did not have the bureaucracy’s preferred email account, I will eat my hat,” longtime Clinton aide Paul Begala said in an e-mail.
WHAT DON’T WE KNOW?
Although Clinton and the State Department say that 55,000 pages of her e-mails were turned over for archiving, it isn’t clear how many unclassified e-mails were not. And the question, of course, remains about why she didn’t use a State Department email address to begin with.
“The letter and spirit of the rules” allowed personal e-mail use as long as “appropriate records were preserved.”
Original article here.