Colin Powell advised Hillary Clinton about emails: Does it matter now?

A top House Democrat who released the email exchange between Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton says it shows the double standard Clinton is being held to. But criticism of Clinton has shifted from her use of a private email server to her sending and receiving of classified information.  

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/File
Former US Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton at a groundbreaking ceremony for the US Diplomacy Center at the State Department in Washington, September 2014. Mr. Powell's advice to Mrs. Clinton about her use of a Blackberry in the State Department was made public Wednesday.

The top House Democrat who released Colin Powell's advice to Hillary Clinton about how to use emails at the State Department said the 2009 exchange (also through email) shows the "longstanding problem that no Secretary of State ever used an official unclassified email account" until John Kerry.

But Rep. Elijah Cummings, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ranking Democrat, added Wednesday that Secretary Clinton has made clear she didn't follow all of Secretary Powell's advice.

The release of the exchange comes as Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, continues to be dogged by how she handled classified emails. Criticism of her conduct has shifted from her use of a private email server to how she sent and received classified information. Democrats say the exchange shows Clinton continues to be held to a double standard on her use of emails, cyber security, and her responsibilities under federal law to preserve documents and records, according to The Wall Street Journal.

"If Republicans were truly concerned with transparency, strengthening FOIA, and preserving federal records, they would be attempting to recover Secretary Powell's emails from AOL, but they have taken no steps to do so despite the fact that this period –including the run-up to the Iraq War – was critical to our nation's history," Representative Cummings said in a statement.

Powell was the secretary of State under Republican President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005.

According to the Jan. 23, 2009, email exchange, Clinton sought Powell's advice on how to use her Blackberry in the executive suite of the State Department.

"I didn't have a BlackBerry," wrote Powell. "What I did do was have a personal computer that was hooked up to a private phone line (sounds ancient.) So I could communicate with a wide range of friends directly without it going through the State Department servers." 

He continued, "I even used it to do business with some foreign leaders and some of the senior folks in the Department on their personal email accounts. I did the same thing on the road in hotels," he said.

In addition to the personal computer, Powell said he also used a PDA, or personal digital assistant, a tool that preceded smartphones.

Powell also warned Clinton that diplomatic security did not permit them to use email devices in State Department offices and other secure spaces, but indicated that he defied instructions from security experts, Politico reports.

"When I asked why not they gave me all kinds of nonsense about how they gave out signals and could be read by spies, etc.... I had numerous meetings with them,” wrote Powell. They never satisfied me and NSA/CIA wouldn't back off. So, we just went about our business and stopped asking."

While this exchange offers details into how Powell advised Clinton, and how he didn't follow digital security to a T himself, this isn't new news. Clinton told 60 Minutes in July that "it was recommended that it would be convenient" to use a private email system, although she didn't name who gave her that advice. An FBI report last week summarized how Powell warned Clinton that Blackberry emails could be considered official government records, and made public.

But Clinton also indicated to the FBI that Powell's advice did not impact her decision to use a private email server, according to the report.  

Cumming's release of this exchange came the same night Matt Lauer questioned Clinton about whether she knowingly sent and received classified emails at an NBC forum on national security.

Clinton said classified information contains a clear header – "Top Secret," "Secret," or "Confidential," – and that none of the emails she sent or received through her server were labeled with that header.

PolitiFact rated that "Mostly True" adding that three email chains included "at least one paragraph preceded by the marking '(C),' indicating that those paragraphs were 'confidential,' the lowest level of classification," writes PolitiFact’s Lauren Carroll, referring to an FBI report released Sept. 2.

FBI Director James Comey testified in a July 7 Congressional hearing that without the official header, it is "reasonable" that Clinton may not have realized these were classified, but he added that even so, she "should have known" not to discuss the matters on an unclassified system.

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