Hillary Clinton's missing Libya e-mails: Do they add to 'trust' problem?

The State Department says it has 15 Hillary Clinton e-mails on Libya that she never turned over, despite her assurances that she had turned over all work-related e-mails from her time as secretary of State.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/File
U.S.Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies on the September attacks on US diplomatic sites in Benghazi during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in January 2013.

Just as polls show that American voters are finding it hard to trust Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, the United States State Department Thursday said she failed to turn over 15 e-mails on the subject of Libya from her time as secretary of State, The New York Times reported. 

Mrs. Clinton, who used a private server for both her work and personal e-mails, has claimed she submitted for review last year all the messages she found to be work-related, about 55,000 pages worth.

But the State Department acknowledged that some of her correspondence with Sidney Blumenthal, a longtime political confidant who provided analysis on Libya, was not among the 55,000 e-mails. Those 15 e-mails were released this week by a House committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. The situation is again raising questions about the ethics of Clinton's use of a nongovernment server for work e-mails.

In March, Clinton told the Benghazi Committee that she had wiped her private server clean, permanently deleting around 50,000 private e-mails that discussed personal matters, such as family vacations and her mother’s funeral, according to the Times.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the committee, had asked that Clinton submit her entire personal server to the State Department inspector general for review.

“There are no ... e-mails from Secretary Clinton's tenure as secretary of State on the server for any review, even if such review were appropriate or legally authorized," Clinton’s lawyer David Kendall wrote in a letter to Congressman Gowdy.

The e-mails emerging now were exchanged before the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on America’s Benghazi consulate and “consist of more in a series of would-be intelligence reports passed to her” by Mr. Blumenthal, reported The Associated Press. The review found that there is little written by Clinton herself.

State Department officials told the AP that Julia Frifield, the assistant secretary of State for legislative affairs, has confirmed that the 15 e-mails – nine e-mails and parts of six others – were not found in Clinton’s submission from last year. 

The other dozens of Benghazi-related e-mails handed over by Blumenthal were able to be located. 

Nick Merrill, a spokesman for Clinton, said that she had given the department “all emails in her possession from Mr. Blumenthal.”

The news comes as Clinton is struggling with issues of trustworthiness. A Quinnipiac poll this month found that voters in key swing states have doubts about Clinton's trustworthiness. In Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio, only 40 to 43 percent of voters find Clinton trustworthy.

Clinton’s Republican opponents seized the opportunity to question her lack of transparency. It’s likely that this new information will add pressure to House Speaker John Boehner to also subpoena Clinton’s personal server, Republicans told The New York Times. Critics say it is less about the content of the messages and more about open government.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, who is also running for president, has said he will ask the State Department why it had permitted the former secretary to use a personal e-mail account.

“I’m going to ask them whether they think Mrs. Clinton has handed over everything she should and what they are going to do about it,” he told the Times. “And if they give me runaround responses, we’ll drag them up on Capitol Hill and make them answer these questions in public.”

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