State Department watchdog on Clinton emails: She did wrong, but she's not alone

In a report released Wednesday, the State Department's Inspector General harshly criticized former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but also indicated that the department's record-keeping practices may need revamping.

J. Scott Applewhite, Pool/AP/File
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hands off her mobile phone after arriving for a meeting in The Hague, Netherlands, in December 2011. A report released Wednesday by the State Department's Inspector General harshly criticized the former secretary of State's use of a private e-mail server, but said other officials had also used private accounts.

The State Department’s independent watchdog has harshly criticized Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices as secretary of State, finding that she failed to obtain legal approval for her use of a private e-mail server.

In the report, released to members of Congress on Wednesday, the department’s Inspector General said that using private e-mail to conduct public business was “not an appropriate method” of preserving documents.

It also criticized Mrs. Clinton’s nearly two-year delay in providing the e-mails to the department, saying she should have printed and saved the messages or surrendered her work-related e-mails immediately after stepping down in February 2013.

The department, the watchdog found, “did not – and would not – approve her exclusive reliance on a personal e-mail account to conduct Department business.”

The report’s release will likely add fire to the ongoing controversy over Clinton’s e-mails. Her use of a private server located in her home in Chappaqua, N.Y., while serving as secretary of State has been one of several issues seized on by Republican presidential candidate and rival Donald Trump as the general election in November nears.

Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said Wednesday that the report pointed to long-standing issues with the department’s record-keeping practices.

“While political opponents of Hillary Clinton are sure to misrepresent this report for their own partisan purposes, in reality, 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,” he said in a statement.

All of Clinton’s work e-mails – both those sent on a personal e-mail and on a government account – are eligible to be possibly released under the Freedom of Information Act, The Wall Street Journal notes.

The report reviewed the practices by five secretaries of State. The watchdog said former Secretary Colin Powell – who has said publicly that he used a personal e-mail – also did not follow department policies related to compliance with public records laws, The Washington Post reports.

Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, told the Post that the report points to a need for federal agencies to update “decades-old record-keeping practices to the email-dominated modern era.”

The report suggests that the department could have better preserved records under several previous secretaries of State, but a series of improvements had been put into place under current Secretary of State John Kerry, he said.

The report also sheds more light on Clinton’s motivations for using a private server. An e-mail exchange reviewed by the Inspector General shows that after a top staffer suggested that she should either share her e-mail with department staff or switch to a government e-mail, Clinton wrote back, “Let’s get separate address or device but I don’t want any risk of the personal being accessible."

Clinton and her staff, who have testified as part of Congressional and FBI inquiries, declined to be interviewed as part of the department’s review.

A FBI investigation into the issue is also ongoing, with FBI Director James Comey saying that while there is no “external deadline” to conclude the probe, there is also pressure to wrap the investigation up promptly.

Officials have said they plan to interview Clinton soon; she has also expressed a willingness to be interviewed.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.