New IG report on Hillary Clinton e-mail: What's the impact?

A report by the State Department's inspector general concludes that Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server violated federal standards, and says two department officials were rebuffed when they raised the issue with Clinton aides during her tenure.

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at the UFCW Union Local 324 in Buena Park, Calif., on May 25.

Hillary Clinton’s State Department e-mails were going to be a campaign issue anyway. But an inspector general report made public Wednesday reveals further embarrassing details about Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while secretary of State, ensuring the subject will be a top topic for Donald Trump and other Republicans all the way to November.

Among other things, the State Department IG report concludes that Clinton’s use of her own e-mail system violated federal standards in place at the time. At least two department officials raised the issue with Clinton aides during her tenure at Foggy Bottom, but both were rebuffed, according to the report.

One of these officials told the IG that the Clinton team said department legal staff had approved the arrangement. Yet the IG found no evidence the State Department’s legal arm had OK’d the e-mail server, or even reviewed it.

The other inquiring official reported being told that the mission of the State Department information management arm was to support Clinton, and that “they were never to speak of the Secretary’s personal email system again.”

The IG found no evidence that Clinton’s personal server had been hacked or compromised while she was in office. But it was attacked on at least one occasion. On Jan. 9, 2011, the non-government Clinton aide who maintained the server notified the department that he believed someone was trying to hack into the system, and he’d shut it down to prevent such access. After it went back up the hacker tried again, and the system was turned off for a second time.

The IG effort was prompted by revelations about Clinton’s server. Clinton herself declined to be interviewed during the inspector general’s investigation, according to the report.

It is separate from the FBI’s review of the e-mail system, which focuses on whether it broke laws due to the manner in which it handled classified information.

The IG also tried to put the issue in context. It reviewed the e-mail activities of five past secretaries of State, finding them “slow to recognize and to manage effectively the legal requirements and cybersecurity risks associated with electronic data communications.”

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell similarly used a private e-mail for official communications, the report noted.

Clinton campaign officials cited this finding in defense after The Washington Post made the report public on Wednesday. The State Department had distributed copies to members of Congress prior to its official release.

“The inspector general documents just how consistent her email practices were with those of other secretaries and senior officials at the State Department who also used personal email,” said Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon.

“Her use of personal email was known to officials within the department during her tenure, and ... there is no evidence of any successful breach of the secretary’s server,” Mr. Fallon added.

Republicans, on the other hand, judged the report less than exculpatory. Clinton has previously said that she complied with every e-mail rule she was subject to, for instance. The IG report belies this. Clinton recently said she was ready to talk to anyone, anywhere, to lay the issue to rest. But she didn’t speak to the IG, apparently.

“The report is devastating, although it transparently strains to soften the blow,” concludes Andrew C. McCarthy at the right-leaning National Review.

Still, it’s the FBI investigation that represents the more serious threat to Clinton’s presidential prospects. If she’s indicted for willfully mishandling classified information, it could be a huge blow to her campaign. There’s little evidence that will happen – so far, it seems the e-mails labeled “secret” on her system were all retroactively classified by intelligence agencies poring over her records. They weren’t classified at the time she originally handled them. But until the FBI wraps up its investigation, Clinton won’t know for sure if she is in the clear.

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