White House Press Secretary Jay Carney is asked to address news reports that Chinese hackers have targeted the personal email accounts of US officials. He says, “Well, the US government policy, certainly, the administration policy that is effective here, is that all of our work is conducted on work email accounts. […] We are definitely instructed that we need to conduct all of our work on our government accounts as part of the Presidential Records Act. I’m not aware of any law or rule that suggests that government workers cannot have separate private email accounts [for personal use].” (The White House, 6/2/2011)
Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff, is responding to a suggestion from another State Department official that someone in the department should make a public complaint about the poor state of the department’s email system. Mills writes, “As someone who attempted to be hacked (yes I was one), I am not sure we want to telegraph how much folks do or don’t do off state mail [because] it may encourage others who are out there.” (Bloomberg News, 10/1/2015) (US Department of State, 9/30/2015)
Just two days earlier, Google gave a public warning that Chinese hackers were targeting US government officials using Google’s Gmail email service, and Mills uses a Gmail account for some work matters, in addition to her department email account. (The Wall Street Journal, 6/2/2011) (Judicial Watch, 9/14/2015)
Clinton’s private BlackBerry temporarily stops working, due to disruptions in the New York area following Hurricane Irene, and some State Department officials are talking about what to do to fix the problem.
John Bentel, director of the department’s Information Resources Management (IRM) office, notes in an email sent to department official Monica Hanley that a government email address was set up for Clinton when she became secretary of state: SSHRC@state.gov. He points out, “you should be aware that any email would go through the Department’s infrastructure and subject to FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] searches.”
However, Clinton has never used the account, and she still chooses not to use it. Instead, this account is only used by Clinton’s staff to maintain an Outlook calendar.
Bentel notes there are some old emails associated with the account, but none since January 2011, and they could be deleted.
Hanley forwards the email to Clinton’s deputy secretary of state Huma Abedin, but if here’s any email reply from her or Clinton, it’s unknown. (US Department of State, 5/25/2016) (US Department of State, 6/20/2016)
The State Department criticizes US Ambassador to Kenya Scott Gration in part because he used a private email account to handle “sensitive but unclassified” material. Gration is forced to resign. (The Washington Post, 3/10/2015)
A 2012 State Department inspector general’s report faults him for flouting government rules, including the requirement that he use a State Department email account. “He has willfully disregarded Department regulations on the use of commercial email for official government business.” (The New York Times, 8/8/2015)
On May 21, 2013, Judicial Watch files a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request relating to Clinton aide Huma Abedin and the six-month time period starting in 2012 when she held three outside jobs in addition to being Clinton’s deputy chief of staff. Part of the request is for communications about this matter from Clinton and Abedin.
State Department official Jonathon Wasser is asked to search for relevant records on October 1, 2013. He searches several department databases in November 2013, but does not check for emails from Abedin’s government email account or her private account, or Clinton’s private account. As a result, the official response given to Judicial Watch on February 12, 2014, contains only eight documents, and none of them are emails. Thus, Clinton’s exclusive use of a private email account will remain a secret.
It will later be revealed that department officials at the time generally did not search for emails even when a FOIA request asked for that type of communication.
In 2015, after Clinton’s email scandal becomes public, the department will finally search for and find emails from both Clinton and Abedin responsive to the FOIA request. (Politico, 6/9/2016) (Judicial Watch, 6/8/2016)
On the same day the State Department formally asks Clinton for her emails from when she was secretary of state, it also sends letters to her three predecessors as secretary of state—Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice—asking if they have any emails or other federal records in their possession.
Albright replies that she did not use email during the years they were in office.
Rice did have a government email account, but only used it rarely.
Powell, who was secretary of state from 2001 to 2005, had a private email account through AOL [America Online] but did not keep his emails.
The State Department’s inspector general will later find that Powell’s personal email account had received two emails from staff that contained “national security information classified at the Secret or Confidential levels.” (The Washington Post, 3/27/2016) (The Wall Street Journal, 3/10/2015)