This Viral Hillary Clinton Meme Started the Investigation Into Her Emails

June 10th 2016

Aimee Kuvadia

Politico is reporting that the viral photo behind the "Texts from Hillary" meme turned the State Department on to the fact former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been using a private email account and server during her four-year tenure as secretary of state.

Hillary Clinton

In 2012, Stacy Lambe and Adam Smith, both communications advisers in Washington, created the viral meme after Diana Walker captured the image for TIME in 2011. But it looks like it may have been more than a viral sensation.

Having stumbled upon the iconic image of Clinton on a military plane sporting sunglasses and looking at her BlackBerry, Clarence Finney, who Politico says "oversaw an office responsible for Freedom of Information Act searches," was reminded to inquire about whether Clinton had been assigned a "State.gov" email address.

State Director of Executive Secretariat Staff Karin Lang told Politico that in a deposition held Wednesday (transcripts were released Thursday) Finney said he'd been tipped off previously about Clinton's plan to not use an official email:

"Lang said Finney was told at the outset of Clinton's tenure as secretary that, 'like her predecessor, (Clinton) would not use an official account." The follow-up question prompted by the photo elicited the same answer, that Clinton 'still did not have a State.gov account.'

"Finney can't recall who told him in 2008 or 2009 that Clinton did not plan to use official email, or who confirmed her continued lack of an account a few years later, Lang said.

"The sworn testimony took place by court order in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the conservative group Judicial Watch seeking records about employment arrangements of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin."

The Washington Post confirmed that Colin Powell, her predecessor, used a private email address while in office, but Clinton is the first secretary of state to exclusively use her personal email.

Clinton maintains that she wasn't trying to evade FOIA guidelines with her private email account and server, and as a show of good faith, claimed to turn over all of her emails to the State Department, something she should have been completed immediately after her leaving office in 2013, according to an Inspector General report. It was reported by Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger of The Washington Post she actually only surrendered a portion of her emails, deleting 31,000 correspondences she considered personal.

Her official website states:

"In fact, more than 90 percent of those emails should have already been captured in the State Department’s email system before (Clinton) provided them with paper copies."

For more than a year, Clinton has been combating allegations that she revealed state secrets to foreign governments and hackers through her use of a private server. Some of those secrets may have involved CIA drone strikes in Pakistan.

Over at The Wall Street Journal, Adam Entous and Devlin Barret looked into the FBI's criminal probe on Clinton for her handling of classified information about the covert drone strikes in Pakistan, and they found that it's possible she may have approved or opposed them from her phone through a connection that wasn't secure.

"Some of the emails were then forwarded by Mrs. Clinton’s aides to her personal email account, which routed them to a server she kept at her home in suburban New York when she was secretary of state ... Investigators have raised concerns that Mrs. Clinton’s personal server was less secure than State Department systems."

Clinton's email scandal, nicknamed "Emailgate," has become a major talking point for the Republican Party. Despite the controversy, the former secretary of state secured the Democratic nomination for president. But voters are still showing skepticism in polls about her integrity and honesty.

If found to be in violation of the U.S. Espionage Act, Clinton could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison, even if her violation was committed out of sheer ignorance. But Clinton told Fox News on Wednesday that she doesn't think she'll be indicted and is "looking forward to it being wrapped up as soon as possible.”

Some experts seem to agree with Clinton that she won't be indicted. Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation Of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, had this to say about the FBI probe to The Guardian:

“I would estimate the probability at zero. There’s no criminal offence here; there’s bad policy practice. There’s possible obstruction of record management and freedom of information practices.”