Here's What You Should Know about the Hillary Clinton Email Situation

March 3rd 2015

Laura Donovan

Likely presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, under fire for using a personal email account for government business while serving as secretary of state, first broke her silence on the matter last week on Twitter, stating that her emails should soon become public:

On Tuesday morning, Clinton held an official press conference to speak about the email situation for the first time since it made headlines earlier this month:


In the press conference, Clinton stated that she chose to use her personal email for work, "which was allowed," because it was more convenient to have just one device to carry around. "Looking back, it would have been better ... had I simply used a second email account and carried a second phone, but at the time, this didn't seem like an issue ... I thought using one device would be simpler and obviously it hasn't worked out that way."

It was reported last Wednesday by the Associated Press that Clinton had "homebrewed" her emails through a server located at her home in Chappaqua, N.Y. She used the domain "@clintonemail."

As the AP points out, there were legal advantages to using an email account on her own server:

Operating her own server would have afforded Clinton additional legal opportunities to block government or private subpoenas in criminal, administrative or civil cases because her lawyers could object in court before being forced to turn over any emails.

So what exactly happened?

Clinton used a personal e-mail to do government work during her four years in office, according to State Department officials. Not only does this look bad from a transparency perspective, but it also goes against policy that official correspondence be maintained for agency records. Federal law requires that correspondence of federal officials be kept on file so media, historians, and congressional committees can access them. The New York Times reports that Clinton didn't even have a government email address while working as secretary of state, and none of her aides made the effort to transfer these personal emails over to department servers, per Federal Records Act requirements. While many have been quick to point fingers at the former secretary of state, the Wall Street Journal reports that it's unclear whether Clinton violated any federal laws or regulations, as they've undergone makeovers in recent times. 

Last year, Clinton's advisers were forced to sift through 55,000 pages of her personal emails to choose which ones belonged on file with the State Department. This happened in wake of a new State Department decision to honor the federal record-maintaining rules. Although other government officials have used personal email to do work before, what sets Clinton apart is that fact that all of her correspondence was via personal email. Private email is only justified when an agency's computer server isn't functioning. 

"The department is in the process of updating our records preservation policies to bring them in line with recent 2013 National Archives and Records Administration guidance," said Jen Psaki, State Department spokesperson, in a statement. "These steps include regularly archiving all of Secretary Kerry’s emails to ensure that we are capturing all federal records.”

How did Clinton initially respond?

Clinton's spokesperson Nick Merrill said in a statement, "Like secretaries of state before her, she used her own email account when engaging with any Department officials. For government business, she emailed them on their Department accounts, with every expectation they would be retained." 

Besides, when the State Department asked former secretaries last year to send over emails to preserve federal records, Clinton "immediately said yes," according to Merrill, who claims she did nothing wrong. "Both the letter and spirit of the rules permitted State Department officials to use non-government email, as long as appropriate records were preserved," he added. 

What do other people think about this?

Likely Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's spokesperson Kristy Campbell expressed cynicism over Clinton's decision to use personal email, telling the Washington Post, "Hillary Clinton should release her emails. Hopefully she hasn’t already destroyed them. Governor Bush believes transparency is a critical part of public service and of governing."

Bush weighed in on Twitter as well, stating his emails are all online for the sake of transparency:

Notably, Bush had his own e-mail problems last month when an attempt at transparency backfired after Bush's release of e-mails from his time as governor included some people's social security numbers and addresses. Last month, MSNBC reported that Jeb Bush owns and controls the server that operates [email protected]

Jason Baron, who formerly served as director of litigation at the National Archives, seemed puzzled by the story as well, telling the New York Times, "I can recall no instance in my time at the National Archives when a high-ranking official at an executive branch agency solely used a personal email account for the transaction of government business."

What does this mean for 2016?

Probably not too much. Opponents of Clinton on the right used this story as an opportunity to question her trustworthiness and transparency, but Clinton has sent her emails to the State Department after she was asked. There's also the fact that current Secretary of State John Kerry is the first secretary ever to use a state.gov email address. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell also reportedly used personal email for government work during his time in office. 

In terms of other 2016 hopefuls, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker reportedly used private Yahoo and Gmail accounts that "comingled campaign and government business" while he was a county executive prior to becoming governor, according to the The Daily Beast. 

The biggest question right now is whether this e-mail snafu, in combination with some questions about donors to the Clinton Foundation, will push Clinton to officially announce her intention to run for president.