FBI Publishes Clinton Email Investigation Documents; More Bad News On Documents Mishandling, FOIA Compliance
from the nothing-in-here-says-I-should-be-trusted-with-MORE-classified-info dept
The FBI generally likes to keep as much information as possible out of the public’s hands, so its decision to release its files on the Hillary Clinton email investigation are probably best viewed as a one-off, rather than the leading edge of a new era of transparency.
The agency certainly couldn’t pretend there isn’t significant public interest in the content of the investigative files. The outcome of a presidential election could very well hinge on the voting public’s interpretation of the documents’ content.
And the FBI certainly has an interest in clearing the air of any hints of politically-motivated favoritism. That the investigation occurred at all does some damage to Clinton’s credibility, while the decision not to pursue prosecution doesn’t do much for the FBI’s.
A closer look at the investigative documents simply gives more credence to the FBI’s assertion that it found evidence of stupidity, but not criminal intent. At worst, the private email server allowed Hillary Clinton to better avoid FOIA requests (an effect now nullified by the State Department’s ongoing release of nearly every email it’s been able to recover) — something that’s a civil violation, rather than a criminal one. From the Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky and Rosalind Helderman’s dive into the FBI’s docs: [PDF vol. 1, PDF vol. 2]
Clinton told the FBI that she used the private server for convenience, not to evade public record laws. But the documents show that former secretary of state Colin Powell appeared to advise her early in her term that private email could give her more control over her communications in the face of public inquiries.
In January 2009, according to the FBI, Clinton contacted Powell, who also used a personal email account during his time in office, to ask about his use of a BlackBerry. According to the FBI, Powell “warned Clinton that if it became ‘public’ that Clinton had a BlackBerry, and she used it to ‘do business,’ her e-mails could become ‘official record[s] and subject to the law.’”
“Be very careful,” Powell advised Clinton, according to the FBI. “I got around it all by not saying much and not using systems that captured the data.”
Clinton’s defense of her private email server was that she was using it for convenience and figured any public records requirements were being met by third-party recipients using official government email accounts. Supposedly, this indicates she wasn’t trying to duck FOIA requests. However, this explanation doesn’t really mesh with her decision to give staffers email addresses on her private server. Once that happened, there were no third parties preserving records. It was all left up to Clinton. Plenty of efforts were made — deletion, destruction of devices, etc. — to purge emails that possibly should have been preserved as public records.
The only criminal issue would have been the mishandling of sensitive information, something Clinton did regularly. But the FBI found no evidence of maliciousness. Just a surprising amount of stupidity from someone who should have known better.
Clinton told FBI agents that she did not know much about how the government classified information. For instance, she said she did not pay attention to the difference between levels of classification, like “top secret” and “secret,” indicating she took “all classified information seriously.” When shown an email she received in which a paragraph had been marked with a “C,” a standard way of indicating it included “confidential” information, Clinton at first speculated to agents that the marking was indicating that email contained bullet points in alphabetical order.
Clinton may have pled ignorance when questioned by the FBI, but these statements directly contradict assertions she made to reporters on Monday:
“I went into the State Department understanding classification. I’ve been on the Senate Armed Services Committee for years before I was Secretary of State. I take classification seriously. The fact I couldn’t remember certain meetings, whether or not they had occurred, doesn’t in any way affect the treatment I had and still have of classified material.”
Clinton says she “understands” classification — certainly a much different self-assessment than she presented to FBI interviewers. She then says nothing “affects the treatment” of sensitive material. She always handled it “seriously.” I certainly hope that word isn’t meant to define actions like these:
The FBI’s report traced the history of Clinton’s private server use, detailing ad hoc efforts to backup data and respond to requests for records. In one instance, after Clinton left office, someone created a personal Gmail account to move an archive of Clinton’s email on a laptop to a server run by Platte River Networks, a company Clinton had hired. The person then attempted to ship the laptop back to another person connected to Clinton.
According the FBI report, the laptop, which had not been wiped, got lost in transit. And the FBI would come to find on the Gmail account dozens of classified emails.
While Hillary Clinton may not be directly responsible for a laptop full of email (some of them sensitive) being lost in transit, it was her decision to cobble together a personal email server that led to this mishap. Additionally, while the FBI may not have found any evidence of breach by malicious entities, the private server undoubtedly made an attractive target. With Clinton in sole control of her end of official communications, any breach may have either gone unnoticed or undisclosed for far longer than a similar attack on government-owned servers. This is just another way Clinton sacrificed accountability for “simplicity” by setting up her own server.
The denials contained in the FBI report are expected. No one in a similar position is going to admit they set up a personal server to route around FOIA requests and/or more restrictive official government policies. Even if that’s not criminal activity, it’s still a bad look for a presidential candidate. More concerning is Clinton’s blase attitude towards handling sensitive information, something she’ll be seeing even more of if elected.