White House spokesperson Josh Earnest speaks on the recent revelation that Clinton used a private email account. “What I can tell you is that very specific guidance has been given to agencies all across the government, which is specifically that employees of the Obama administration should use their official email accounts when they’re conducting official government business. However, when there are situations where personal email accounts are used, it is important for those records to be preserved consistent with the Federal Records Act.” (The New York Times, 3/3/2015)
Clinton meets with President Obama at the White House. This is noteworthy since it appears to be the first time they met since Clinton’s email controversy started on March 2, 2015, and Clinton is only a private citizen at the time. There is no public notice of the meeting beforehand. Afterwards, White House press secretary Josh Earnest confirms that it happened, but provides few details: “President Obama and Secretary Clinton enjoy catching up in person when their schedules permit. This afternoon they met privately for about an hour at the White House and discussed a range of topics.” (Politico, 3/23/2015)
In November 2016, an email released by WikiLeaks will reveal some more about the meeting. One day before the meeting, Clinton aide Huma Abedin emailed Clinton, Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, and Clinton foreign policy advisor Jake Sullivan. Those three are scheduled to meet with Obama, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes. (WikiLeaks, 11/3/2016)
According to another email released by WikiLeaks, Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough sent Podesta an email on March 17, 2015, asking to meet Podesta in person. Podesta offered to drop by the White House or meet him ‘offsite’ if necessary. The next morning, they ended up meeting at a Starbucks a short walk from the White House. (WikiLeaks, 10/25/2016)
It isn’t known what Clinton and Obama discuss, but it seems probable that Clinton’s email controversy would come up. Three days earlier, on March 20, 2015, the House Benghazi Committee formally requested that Clinton turn over her private email server. Sometime between March 25 and 31, 2015, an employee of the company managing Clinton’s private server will delete and wipe all of Clinton’s emails from her private server. Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign will begin one month later.
The political director for NBC News and host of Meet the Press, Chuck Todd, and his wife Kristian Todd, host a dinner party at their home in honor of Clinton’s Campaign Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri and her husband Jim Lyons.
On July 11, 2015, two months after Clinton officially announces her bid for the presidency, Kristian Todd sends an email to Clinton campaign chair John Podesta that includes a link to a paperless invitation for him and his wife Mary.
It is not known what the occasion for the party is. However, most of the other people on the invitation list of less than a dozen are prominent members of the Clinton campaign, such as Jennifer Palmieri and Josh Earnest, or key aides to President Obama, such as Lisa Monaco or Valerie Jarrett.
The party occurs on September 20, 2015.
This email will be released in October 2016. (Wikileaks, 10/17/2016)
Obama asserted that while Clinton’s use of a private email server was a “mistake,” he doesn’t “think it posed a national security problem.” White House press secretary Josh Earnest says that Obama’s comments were made “based on what we publicly know now.” Earnest adds that those comments “certainly [were] not an attempt, in any way, to undermine the importance or independence of the ongoing FBI investigation.” (CNN, 10/13/2015)
Despite the backtracking, Obama will make very similar comments in April 2016. (MSNBC, 4/10/2016)
On January 29, 2016, Earnest is asked if the White House believes Clinton will be indicted for her email scandal or not. He replies, “I know that some officials over there have said is that she is not a target of the investigation. So that does not seem to be the direction that it’s trending, but I’m certainly not going to weigh in on a decision or in that process in any way. That is a decision to be made solely by independent prosecutors. But, again, based on what we know from the Department of Justice, it does not seem to be headed in that direction.”
On March 9, Attorney General Loretta Lynch says that Earnest shouldn’t have made such comments. “Certainly, it’s my hope when it comes to ongoing investigations, that we would all stay silent. […] It is true that neither I nor anyone in the department has briefed Mr. Earnest or anyone in the White House about this matter. I’m simply not aware of the source of his information.”
Earnest then clarifies that he was only referring to his opinion of news reports. (Politico, 3/9/2016)
When asked if the FBI could be facing political pressure from Clinton, Earnest says that President Obama “has reiterated his commitment to this principle that any criminal investigation should be conducted independent of any sort of political interference.”
Republican National Committee spokesperson Michael Short soon comments, “The White House’s admission that the FBI is investigating Hillary Clinton’s email server as a ‘criminal’ matter shreds her dishonest claim that it is a routine ‘security inquiry.’” Earnest later comments that he has no inside knowledge of the exact nature of the investigation. (Politico, 6/9/2016)
On the night of June 27, 2016, Clinton and Lynch are in separate airplanes at the international airport in Phoenix, Arizona. According to an account by Lynch two days later, Clinton walks uninvited from his plane to her plane and talks with her for about half an hour. On June 30, 2016, CBS News will report, “An aide to Bill Clinton says that he spotted her on the tarmac, but CBS News has been told that she was in an unmarked plane.” (CBS News, 6/30/2016)
Lynch will say: “He did come over and say hello, and speak to my husband and myself, and talk about his grandchildren and his travels and things like that. That was the extent of that. And no discussions were held into any cases or things like that.” However, this encounter causes what the New York Times calls a “political furor” and “storm,” because Bill Clinton’s wife Hillary is being investigated by the FBI.
Furthermore, the FBI is expected to make a recommendation to indict her or not “in the coming weeks,” according to the Times. If the FBI does recommend indictment, then the decision to actually indict or not will rest with Lynch. Thus, many Republican politicians and even some Democrats criticize Bill Clinton and Lynch simply for meeting at all during such a politically charged time.
- Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump calls it “one of the big stories of this week, of this month, of this year.” He says it was a “sneak” meeting, exposing that Clinton’s possible indictment is already a rigged process.
- Republican Senator John Cornyn says that as a lawyer and attorney general, Lynch “must avoid even the appearance” of a conflict of interest, and renews his call for a special prosecutor to take charge of the Clinton investigation instead of Lynch.
- David Axelrod, President Obama’s former senior adviser, says he takes Clinton and Lynch at their word that their conversation didn’t touch on the FBI investigation, but that it was “foolish to create such optics.”
- Democratic Senator Chris Coons says he is convinced Lynch is “an independent attorney general. But I do think that this meeting sends the wrong signal… I think she should have steered clear, even of a brief, casual, social meeting with the former president.”
- White House spokesperson Josh Earnest refuses to say whether the meeting was appropriate or not.
- The conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch says the meeting creates the impression that “the fix is in” and calls on the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate the meeting. (The New York Times, 6/30/2016) (The Hill, 6/30/2016) (CBS News, 6/30/2016)
New York University law school professor Stephen Gillers comments: “It was the height of insensitivity for the former president to approach the attorney general. He put her in a very difficult position. She wasn’t really free to say she wouldn’t talk to a former president. […] He jeopardized her independence and did create an appearance of impropriety going onto her plane.” He adds that the meeting “feeds the dominant narrative that the Clintons don’t follow the usual rules, that they’re free to have back channel communications like this one and that’s true even if we assume as I do that nothing improper was said.” (NPR, 6/30/2016)
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest says, “I can first confirm what [FBI] Director [James] Comey said with regard to the White House, which is that no one from the White House received advance notice of his comments. In fact, no one from the White House received advance notice that he was planning to make comments today.”
Earnest refuses to comment on Comey’s assessment that Clinton and her aides were “extremely careless” in their handling of sensitive classified material, or Comey’s recommendation that he nonetheless would not recommend she be indicted. (Politico, 7/5/2016)
White House spokesperson Josh Earnest says the Obama Administration “will neither defend nor criticize what [FBI] Director [James] Comey has decided to communicate to the public about this investigation.” He is referring to Comey’s October 28, 2016 letter informing Congress that the FBI is at least partially reopening its Clinton email investigation, just 11 days before the 2016 US presidential election. Earnest says the White House has no recommendations for Comey over what information to give to the public.
Additionally, President Obama “doesn’t believe that Director Comey is intentionally trying to influence the outcome of an election. The president doesn’t believe that he’s secretly strategizing to benefit one candidate or one political party. He’s in a tough spot.” (CBS News, 11/1/2016)
Earnest says the White House has no independent knowledge as to why Comey made the decision to inform Congress as he did. He adds that Obama believes Comey is a “man of integrity.”
Yet Earnest also says that government officials have powers which “are tempered by longstanding practice and norms that limit public discussion of facts that are collected in the context of those investigations. … The president believes that it’s important for those guidelines and norms to be followed.” (Reuters, 10/31/2016) (The New York Times, 10/31/2016)