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Hillary Clinton's Staff Kept Server a Secret, Despite FOIA

Senior staff for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were aware of an FOIA request for information on the email accounts used by the Secretary but said nothing to staff tasked with providing a response about her private email server.

The Department’s response to the group seeking the information stated “No records responsive to your request were located.”

This comes from a report published Thursday by the Inspector General for the State Department. The report identifies numerous deficiencies in the Department’s FOIA process which led to “inaccurate and incomplete” responses as well as long delays for the vast majority of requests. For instance, of 240 FOIA requests filed for information on Secretary Clinton (whose tenure ended in early 2013), 177 requests are still outstanding. Only three out of 240 requests related to Clinton were handled within the 20 day time limit set out by the statute.

But falling badly behind was only one problem at the State Department. The Department also routinely did not search email records despite explicit requirements (dated 2010) that they should do so. One example cited by the report involves an FOIA request filed in December 2012 by nonprofit organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). CREW asked for records “sufficient to show the number of email accounts of, or associated with, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the extent to which those email accounts are identifiable as those of or associated with Secretary Clinton.”

In a follow-up letter, CREW specifically mentioned the use of a hidden email account by an Obama administration official saying, “Recently it was reported that [EPA] Administrator Jackson established alias email accounts to conduct official government business, including an account under the name ‘Richard Windson’ which is not publicly attributable to her. . . Through this FOIA, CREW seeks to learn how widespread this practice is….”

According to the IG report, Clinton’s Chief of Staff, Cheryl Mills, “was informed of the request at the time it was received and subsequently tasked staff to follow up.” The IG report goes on to say that the staff tasked with responding to the FOIA request were all unaware of Clinton’s private server, meaning Mills and other senior staff who were aware of the request made no effort to inform them.

In May 2013, the State Department responded to CREW’s request for information on Clinton’s email accounts saying, “No records responsive to your request were located.” In fact, the response letter given to CREW included this inaccurate description of Clinton’s email set up:

It may be helpful for you to know that messages from the Secretary are occasionally transmitted to the Department via email. However, these messages are transmitted from a “dummy” email address that is not capable of receiving replies, rather than from a functioning email account.

Incredibly, the IG report adds, “It does not appear that S/ES searched any email records, even though the request clearly encompassed emails.”

To sum this up, an FOIA request for a list of Hillary Clinton’s email addresses was filed in December of 2012. Her senior staff, who routinely sent email to Clinton’s private server, were aware of the request but made no effort to make their subordinates aware of the private account. Ultimately, the staff spent an hour searching the Department’s “cable and telegram system,” as well as the STARS system for keeping track of official memoranda and correspondence. No search of any Clinton email account was made.

It would be more than two years later, in March 2015, when Hillary’s exclusive use of a private email server would finally become public. The use of the private server has become a major campaign issue ever since, with Clinton issuing a series of finely parsed denials and the occasional joke. Meanwhile, Clinton’s server has been seized by the FBI which is currently investigating the possible mishandling of classified information, i.e. the sending of secret or top secret information to Clinton’s unclassified private server.

Finally, the IG report contains one sentence which may provide some insight into a question many have asked: Why would Clinton do this in the first place? “FOIA neither authorizes nor requires agencies to search for Federal records in personal email accounts maintained on private servers or through commercial providers (for example, Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail),” the report states. One could add to that parenthetical list private servers kept in one’s family home.

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