November 4, 2005: State Department policy decrees day-to-day operations are to be done on government servers.

US State Department headquarters in Washington, DC.

State Department headquarters in Washington, DC. (Credit: AgnosticPreachersKid)

The State Department decrees that “sensitive but unclassified” information should not be transmitted through personal email accounts. It also states, “It is the Department’s general policy that normal day-to-day operations be conducted on an authorized [government server], which has the proper level of security control to provide nonrepudiation, authentication, and encryption, to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the resident information.” (US Department of State, 1/12/2016) (The Washington Post, 3/10/2015)

The department’s regulations also require that “Departing officials must ensure that all record material that they possess is incorporated in the Department’s official files and that all file searches for which they have been tasked have been completed, such as those required to respond to FOIA [Freedom of Information Act], Congressional, or litigation-related document requests. Fines, imprisonment, or both may be imposed for the willful and unlawful removal or destruction of records as stated in the US Criminal Code (e.g., 18 U.S.C., section 2071).” (US Department of State, 8/17/2007)

January 21, 2009—February 1, 2013: Four of Clinton’s top aides frequently use personal email accounts for work matters and then fail to properly archive them.

After Clinton’s email scandal becomes public in March 2015, The State Department will request all work-related emails from four of Clinton’s top aides: Cheryl Mills, Huma Abedin, Jake Sullivan, and Philippe Reines. The emails will be turned over between June and August 2015.

Top left: Cheryl Mills, Top Right: Huma Abedin, Lower left: Jake Sullivan, Lower right: Philippe Reines

Top left: Cheryl Mills, Top Right: Huma Abedin, Lower left: Jake Sullivan, Lower right: Philippe Reines

A department analysis will determine that all four aides frequently used personal email accounts for work matters, although they had government email accounts and sometimes used those as well. The combined work-related personal emails from the four of them will total nearly 72,000 printed pages. One of the four sends and receives 9,585 work emails using a personal account while Clinton is secretary of state, though it isn’t clear which one. That person averages nine work emails from that account per work day.

In May 2016, the department’s inspector general will conclude that, just like Clinton, “these [four aides] failed to comply with department policies… because none of these emails were preserved in department recordkeeping systems prior to [being handed over] in 2015.” (US Department of State, 5/25/2016)

October 2, 2009: New regulations require that all government emails must be preserved.

The US Code of federal regulations on handling electronic records is updated: “Agencies that allow employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency must ensure that Federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency recordkeeping system.” (The Washington Post, 3/10/2015)

In 2015, Jason Baron, former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), will comment that the rules get stricter in 2013. But even prior to that, “the use of a private [email] account was to be rare and occasional, and not to be the norm.” Using a private account “without using an official account is inconsistent with the Federal Records Act.” He adds, “To solely use a personal e-mail for four years [as Clinton did] is something that is highly unusual.” (Bloomberg News, 3/3/2015)

December 22, 2010: Clinton is told a new rule that all work emails must be preserved.

The National Archives building in Washington, DC. (Credit: public domain)

The National Archives building in Washington, DC. (Credit: public domain)

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) issues guidelines to the heads of all federal agencies, including Secretary of State Clinton, stating that all emails and email attachments relating to government business are considered records to be preserved under the Federal Records Act. (The Wall Street Journal, 9/30/2015)

2011—2013: Very few employee emails are being permanently archived in the State Department.

According to a 2015 State Department inspector general report, in 2011, only 61,156 department emails out of a billion are formally archived, a rate of far less than one percent. In 2013, the number is even lower, only 41,749. Clinton will later justify her use of a private email address by claiming that her emails to other government officials would be permanently archived through their email accounts. (Politico, 3/11/2015)

December 6, 2012: A non-profit group files a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking Clinton’s emails, but a Clinton aide says the emails don’t exist despite knowing that they do.

The CREW logo (Credit: CREW)

The CREW logo (Credit: CREW)

The request by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) ask for “records sufficient to show the number of email accounts of or associated with Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton.” (US Department of State, 7/29/2016)

This request is sparked by reports that Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, had been using an email account at work under the name “Richard Windsor.”

Clinton is still secretary of state at the time, and her chief of staff Cheryl Mills soon learns of CREW’s request, due to a December 11, 2012 email sent to her  (and possibly Clinton) about it. But although Mills is very aware of Clinton’s private email address since she frequently sends emails to it, she doesn’t take any action and merely has an aide monitor the progress of CREW’s request.

In May 2013, the State Department will respond to CREW, “no records responsive to your request were located.”

Other requests for Clinton’s records will meet the same fate until the House Benghazi Committee finds out about her private email account in 2014. (The Washington Post, 3/27/2016) (The Washington Post, 1/6/2016)

Around February 1, 2013: Clinton fails to turn over her work emails as she leaves office, despite a legal requirement to do so.

When Clinton ends her tenure as secretary of state, she is required by law to turn over all of her work-related documents to the State Department, including emails, but she fails to do so.

Clinton says farewell as secretary of state on February 1, 2013. (Credit: Polaris)

Clinton says farewell as secretary of state on February 1, 2013. (Credit: Polaris)

A May 2016 State Department inspector general’s report will conclude, “Secretary Clinton should have preserved any federal records she created and received on her personal account… At a minimum, [she] should have surrendered all emails dealing with department business before leaving government service and, because she did not do so, she did not comply with the department’s policies that were implemented in accordance with the Federal Records Act.”

The report will note that at least she turned over 30,000 emails in December 2014, 21 months later. However, the report will also conclude that the emails she gave then are “incomplete,” because many of her work-related emails have since been discovered through other means, such as being found in other email inboxes. For instance, although her tenure began on January 21, 2009, and she started using her email account by January 28, no emails received prior to March 17, 2009, were turned over, nor were any emails sent prior to April 12, 2009. (US Department of State, 5/25/2016)

Shortly After February 1, 2013: Clinton’s chief of staff Cheryl Mills leaves blank a required form stating that she has returned all of her work-related documents.

Cheryl Mills (Credit: Vimeo)

Cheryl Mills (Credit: Vimeo)

All State Department officials are required to sign the “separation statement,” known as the OF-109 form. Those who sign the OF-109 form acknowledge they could be subject to “criminal penalties” for not turning over the documents.

In 2015, the Daily Caller will sue the State Department for several OF-109 forms. They will be given a form with Mills’ name on it, but with the date and signature spaces left blank. Mills used a private Yahoo email account for at least some of her government work.

A State Department official will neither explain the discrepancy nor confirm that Mills did not sign the agreement.

Clinton apparently never turns in her form. Huma Abedin, Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, does sign her form in February 2013, but she doesn’t turn over her private, work-related emails. (The Daily Caller, 11/13/2015) (The Hill, 11/13/2015) (US Department of State, 9/11/2015)

February 13, 2013: Clinton’s deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin signs a pledge that she has given all of her work-related documents back to the State Department, but she didn’t.

Huma Abedin on her cell phone in Londonderry, New Hampshire, on January 3, 2016. (Credit: Rick Friedman / Corbis)

Huma Abedin on her cell phone in Londonderry, New Hampshire, on January 3, 2016. (Credit: Rick Friedman / Corbis)

All State Department officials are required to sign the “separation statement” when they leave the department, known as the OF-109 form. However, Abedin has a private email address (huma@clintonemail.com) on the same private server that Clinton does, and when she leaves the department in February 2013 she does not turn over any of her emails from it, including work-related emails.

Her emails will not be handed over until a couple of years later, after various lawsuits and investigations. In signing the form, Abedin acknowledges she could be subject to “criminal penalties” for lying on the document.

The Hill will later report, “It’s unclear whether Abedin would be subject to prosecution, given the unusual nature of Clinton’s private email setup.” (The Hill, 11/13/2015) (US Department of State, 9/11/2015)

Early June 2013: State Department officials discover Clinton’s personal email address and then fail in their legal obligation to share her emails with others.

Heather Higginbottom (Credit: public domain)

Heather Higginbottom (Credit: public domain)

State Department staff reviewing material to possibly give to Congressional committees examining the September 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack discover emails sent by former Clinton aide Jake Sullivan to a personal email address belonging to Clinton.

In ensuing weeks, senior department officials discuss if the Federal Records Act (FRA) requires the department to turn over emails from such personal accounts. In fact, the act does require emails to be turned over if they are work-related. However, an internal investigation will later determine that the department does not notify the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) of a potential loss of records at any point in time. Furthermore, none of Clinton’s emails are given to any Congressional committee in 2013, nor are they provided in response to any Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that year.

According to department official Heather Higginbottom, Secretary of State John Kerry is not a part of these discussions or decisions. (US Department of State, 5/25/2016) 

Around this debate period, on August 7, 2013, department officials find 17 FOIA requests relating to Clinton in their records, with some of them specifically requesting Clinton emails. But none of the requesters are told about any of Clinton’s emails  apparently due to the result of this debate.

Clinton’s personal email address will be rediscovered in May 2014 after a document request from the new House Benghazi Committee.

October 28, 2014: The State Department formally asks Clinton to turn over her emails from her time as secretary of state.

Starting in July 2014, State Department officials privately reached out to Clinton’s lawyers and advisers to gain access to her work-related emails on her private server. Face-to-face meetings on the issue followed in August. But with the emails still not appearing, on October 28, 2014, the Department formally asks Clinton for the emails. (The Washington Post, 3/27/2016)

Shortly After October 28, 2014: A computer file from Platte River has a key role in how Clinton’s emails are sorted, according to testimony by Cheryl Mills.

Cheryl Mills after testifying privately to the House Benghazi Committee while Representatives Elijah Cummings and Trey Gowdy stand behind her, on September 3, 2015. (Credit Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)

On September 3, 2015, Clinton’s former chief of staff Cheryl Mills will testify under oath in front of the House Benghazi Committee. After being asked about her role in sorting and deleting Clinton’s emails, Mills says that “after the letter came” from the State Department on October 28, 2014 asking for Clinton’s work-related emails, “Secretary Clinton asked [Clinton’s personal lawyer] David Kendall and myself to oversee a process to ensure that any records that could be potentially work-related were provided to the department.”

Mills is asked if she or Kendall were in physical possession of the server at the time.

She replies, “No. … [T]hat server, as I understand it, doesn’t contain any of her records. So we asked Platte River to give us a .pst [computer file] of all of her emails during the tenure where she was there, which they did. And we used that .pst to first search for and set aside all of the state.gov records, then to actually do a name search of all of the officials in the department so that we could ensure that all the senior officials that she would likely be corresponding with got looked at and searched for by name, and then a review of every sender and recipient so that you knew, if there was a misspelling or something that was inaccurate, that you would also have that review done, as well. And then that created the body of, I think, about 30,000 emails that ended up being ones that were potentially work-related, and not, obviously, completely, but it was the best that we could do, meaning obviously there were some personal records that are turned over, and the department has advised the Secretary of that.”

Mills further explains that she and Kendall “oversaw the process. The person who actually undertook it is a woman who worked for me.” This woman is another lawyer, Heather Samuelson, who Mills admits doesn’t have any specialized training or skills with the Federal Records Act or identifying official records.

Then Mills is asked what happened to the “universe of the .pst file” after the work-emails had been sorted out.

She replies: “So the potential set of federal records, we created a thumb drive that David Kendall kept at his office. And then the records themselves, that would have been the universe that they sent, Platte River took back. […] So they just removed it. So it ended up being on system, and they just removed it. And I don’t know what is the technological way they do it, because it’s a way you have to access it, and then they make it so you can’t access it anymore.” (House Benghazi Committee, 10/21/2015)

November 24, 2014: President Obama signs into law an updated Federal Records Act requiring public officials to forward all work-related emails to their government address so they will be incorporated into official records systems.

President Obama signs the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments on November 26th, 2014. (Credit: National Archives Press Release)

President Obama signs the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments on November 26th, 2014. (Credit: National Archives Press Release)

This does not apply to Clinton’s time as secretary of state. (Politico, 11/26/2014)

February 2015: The State Department finally begins archiving the emails of its top officials.

The State Department begins using a system that automatically keeps the emails of high-ranking officials, such as deputy secretary of state, and under and assistant secretaries. Secretary of State John Kerry’s emails have been automatically retained since around the time he took office in 2013.

Patrice McDermott (Credit: Freedom of Information Summit)

Patrice McDermott (Credit: Freedom of Information Summit)

In 2012, an Obama administration directive mandated that departments must devise a system for retaining and preserving email records by the end of 2016, but some departments are slow to adapt.

Patrice McDermott, director of the transparency watchdog group OpenTheGovernment.org, says, “It really is chaos across the government in terms of what agencies do, what individuals do, and people understand that they can decide what they save and what they don’t. If you leave it up to the agency, some are going to behave properly and take it seriously, and some are going to see it as carte blanche to whitewash the record.” (The New York Times, 3/13/2015)

March 5, 2015: Questions surround Clinton’s possible use of instant messages on her unsecure BlackBerry.

BlackBerrys from Clinton’s time as secretary of state can be used for instant messages as well as emails. Bloomberg reports that Clinton’s “top aides frequently used instant text messages to talk with each other, a form of communication that isn’t captured or archived by the State Department. It is not clear whether Clinton herself used her BlackBerry’s instant message service, as her aides did.” (Bloomberg News, 3/5/2015)

March 11, 2015: A State Department inspector general report is released which refutes Clinton’s assertion made one day before.

Tom Blanton (Credit: NSA Archives / George Washington University)

Tom Blanton (Credit: NSA Archives / George Washington University)

On March 10, 2015, Clinton claimed that her decision to use a private email account “for convenience” didn’t interfere with the State Department’s ability to retrieve those emails later. But a March 11, 2015 inspector general report highlights how poorly the department has permanently archived emails. 

For instance, in 2011, only 61,156 department emails out of a billion were formally archived, a rate of far less than one percent. In 2013, the number—41,749—was even lower.

The report suggests that most employees “who did not use record emails as intended [said] they were usually unaware of what types of information should be saved as record emails. The department does not give employees adequate training to distinguish between information that should be preserved as records and information that may be discarded.” Furthermore, “Many interviewees expressed a fear that if participants in a debate knew that their opinions would be permanently recorded or accessible in searches, they would not express their opinions in an uninhibited manner.” (Politico, 3/11/2015)

Tom Blanton, director of the government’s National Security Archive, comments, “Just because [Clinton] sent to people at ‘state.gov’ addresses, it’s not at all a guarantee that it’s been preserved.” Additionally, “When an official leaves office, and most of her direct aides in fact have left the State Department, within 90 days the IT [information technology] folks at State wipe out their accounts unless there’s a special intervention.” (National Public Radio, 3/11/2015)

August 8, 2015: Clinton writes under oath that she has provided the State Department all of her work-related emails that were on her personal email account she used while secretary of state.

Her short statement includes this sentence: “I have directed that all my emails on clintonemail.com in my custody that were or potentially were federal records be provided to the Department of State, and on information and belief, this has been done.”

150808HillaryOath

A sample of the document Clinton signed on August 8, 2015. (Credit: Politico)

That statement is a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit brought by Judicial Watch against the State Department. Additionally, Clinton mentions in her statement that her top aide Huma Abedin also had an email account on her clintonemail.com server that “was used at times for government business,” but another top aide, Cheryl Mills, did not. (The New York Times, 8/10/2015) (Politico, 8/8/2015)

One month later, some more of Clinton’s work emails from her time as secretary of state will be discovered by the Defense Department. (The New York Times, 9/25/2015)

September 1, 2015: The State Department wants to consolidate the lawsuits about Clinton’s emails.

The department files a motion in court to do this to the large number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits that have arisen due to Clinton’s email scandal. There are at least three dozen lawsuits pending, before 17 different judges. (Politico, 9/1/2015) (The Wall Street Journal, 10/8/2015)

November 5, 2015: Sanders says Clinton’s email scandal raises “valid questions.”

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders clarifies his remarks made a month earlier about Clinton’s email scandal, in which he said the “American people are sick and tired of hearing about [her] damn emails!” He says that if Clinton avoided public records requests or compromised classified information, that raises “valid questions.” He also says the FBI’s investigation should “proceed unimpeded. […] There’s an investigation going on right now. I did not say, ‘End the investigation.’ That’s silly.” (Politico, 11/5/2015)

November 18, 2015: The person who sorted Clinton’s emails apparently fails to answer whether she had the security clearance to do so.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Charles Grassley (Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / The Associated Press)

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Charles Grassley (Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / The Associated Press)

Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R) sends a letter to former Clinton aide and lawyer Heather Samuelson. In late 2014, Samuelson led the sorting process through Clinton’s 62,000 emails to determine which ones to turn over to The State Department and which ones to delete. She also worked on Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and then was a senior adviser to Clinton in the State Department.

Grassley asks if Samuelson had the security clearance necessary to handle Clinton’s emails, some of which were later deemed to contain “top secret” intelligence. He writes, “It is imperative to understand your background in determining what is and what is not a federal record, since you apparently played a major role in assisting Secretary Clinton in making a decision as to which emails to delete.”

A week later, Politico will try to contact Samuelson and the Clinton campaign about Grassley’s questions but got no response. After that there will be no news reports indicating if Grassley ever gets a reply. Earlier in 2015, Samuelson moved from Washington to New York with plans to work in Clinton’s presidential campaign headquarters there. But she never started the job, due to the controversy over her role in sorting Clinton’s emails. (Politico, 11/23/2015)

May 13, 2016: Clinton clearly violated the Federal Records Act (FRA), but the act is “effectively toothless” when it comes to punishing her.

Dan Metcalfe, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Information and Privacy for 25 years, writes an editorial noting that penalties for violating the FRA are limited to monetary or administrative sanctions, and those can only be applied to people who are still federal employees when violations are discovered.

He says that Clinton’s conduct with her emails “violated the Federal Records Act from beginning to end, including through what appears to be her utter failure to meet any of the requirements placed on a departing employee. This amounts to what can be viewed as the biggest, most consequential violation of the FRA in its history, as well as a blatant circumvention of the FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] the likes of which have never before been seen.” However, she will face no penalty for violating this law because she is no longer a federal employee.

Metcalfe calls for Congress to “update the Federal Records Act to provide meaningful sanctions” to prevent others from doing what Clinton did. Nevertheless, Metcalfe says he is a Democrat and will support Clinton if she is not indicted. (LawNewz, 5/13/2015)