Benghazi chair: Hillary Clinton wiped server clean of personal e-mails

Hillary Clinton turned over all work-related e-mails to the Republican chairman of a House committee investigating the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. This week John Kerry ordered an internal audit of State Department record keeping. 

Hillary Rodham Clinton wiped her email server "clean," permanently deleting all emails from it, the Republican chairman of a House of Representatives committee investigating the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, said Friday.

Rep. Trey Gowdy said the former secretary of state has failed to produce a single new document in recent weeks and has refused to relinquish her server to a third party for an independent review, as Gowdy has requested.

Clinton, the presumptive frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, faced a Friday deadline to respond to a subpoena for emails and documents related to Libya, including the 2012 attacks in a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya. The attention to Clinton's use of a private email account and server has threatened to become a distraction as she prepares to launch her campaign.

Clinton's attorney, David Kendall, said Gowdy was looking in the wrong place.

In a six-page letter released late Friday, Kendall said Clinton had turned over to the State Department all work-related emails sent or received during her tenure as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.

"The Department of State is therefore in possession of all Secretary Clinton's work-related emails from the (personal email) account," Kendall wrote.

Kendall also said it would be pointless for Clinton to turn over her server, even if legally authorized, since "no emails ... reside on the server or on any backup systems associated with the server."

The Benghazi committee demanded further documents and access to the server after it was revealed that Clintonused a private email account and server during her tenure at State.

Gowdy said he will work with House leaders to consider options. Speaker John Boehner has not ruled out a vote in the full House to force Clinton to turn over the server if she declines to make it available by an April 3 deadline set by Gowdy.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the Benghazi panel, said Kendall's letter confirmed "what we all knew: that Secretary Clinton already produced her official records to the State Department, that she did not keep her personal emails and that the Select Committee has already obtained her emails relating to the attacks in Benghazi."

In a statement released later Friday, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said she "would like her emails made public as soon as possible and ... she's ready and willing to come and appear herself for a hearing open to the American public."

Kendall said in his letter that Clinton's personal attorneys reviewed every email sent and received from her private email address — 62,320 emails in total — and identified all work-related emails. Those totaled 30,490 emails or approximately 55,000 pages. The material was provided to the State Department on Dec. 5, 2014, and it is the agency's discretion to release those emails after a review.

Kendall said Clinton has asked for the release of all of those emails. He said the State Department is reviewing the material to decide whether any sensitive information needs to be protected.

"Secretary Clinton is not in a position to produce any of those emails to the committee in response to the subpoena without approval from the State Department, which could come only following a review process," Kendall wrote.

Gowdy said he was disappointed at Clinton's lack of cooperation.

"Not only was the secretary the sole arbiter of what was a public record, she also summarily decided to delete all emails from her server, ensuring no one could check behind her analysis in the public interest," he said.

On Friday, the State Department released a letter from Secretary of State John Kerry which ordered an internal audit of its record keeping, part of a top-to-bottom look at the agency's practices.

The letter Kerry sent to the department's inspector general earlier this week asked for the review and called it critical to "preserve a full and complete record of American foreign policy" and for the U.S. public to have access to that information. Among the questions he outlined were how best to retain records in light of changing technology, the agency's global presence and increasing demands from Congress.

State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters Friday the review would include the archiving of emails as well as Freedom of Information Act and congressional inquiries. He said it was not specific to Clinton, a likely presidential candidate who has been dogged by questions since it became clear she didn't use a government email account while in office and only provided the State Department with copies of work-related emails late last year.

The full trove of Clinton emails will be published on a website after they are reviewed. She says they contain no classified information. The State Department says emails pertaining to a congressional panel's examination of the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, will be released in advance of the others.

In the letter, Kerry said his department has undertaken significant efforts to promote preservation and transparency, including through better technology and training of staff. But he said the burden was significant, with more than 18,000 FOIA requests arriving each year that put a "significant strain" on diplomats whose main job is the advancement of U.S. foreign policy. In addition, he said, congressional investigations and requests have "greatly increased."

Kerry also didn't mention Clinton specifically, but noted that officials were "facing challenges regarding our integration of recordkeeping technologies and the use of nongovernment systems by some department personnel to conduct official business."

He asked Inspector General Steve Linick to make several recommendations. They range from how to make improvements across more than 280 diplomatic posts worldwide to ways to streamline efforts to preserve appropriate documents. Kerry questioned whether the agency has even the resources and tools necessary to meet its obligations.

The State Department has particularly struggled with the backlog of public records requests. Some have languished for years without being met.

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