March 3, 2015: The State Department’s former chief legal adviser wants the department to clarify that Clinton never had legal approval for her email practices, but the department keeps this secret.

John Bellinger (Credit: public domain)

John Bellinger (Credit: public domain)

John Bellinger, who had been the State Department’s Legal Adviser during the George W. Bush administration, emails the department’s deputy legal advisers Mary McLeod and Richard Visek of the State Department’s office of legal affairs after hearing department spokesperson Marie Harf defend Clinton’s email practices one day after the email scandal was first reported in the media.

Bellinger, who still serves as former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice’s personal legal counsel, writes, “Please make sure that [Harf] doesn’t keep saying that Secretary Rice did the same thing. As you know, that is not correct, and Secretary Rice has corrected the record.”

He adds, “I’m getting calls from people (press and former USG [US government] lawyers) asking whether State lawyers actually approved letting Secretary Clinton use a State [BlackBerry] for official business using a personal email account, and then to keep the emails.” He then repeatedly mentions “L,” which refers to the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser that he formerly headed. “[Harf] is implying that State approved this practice (and this suggests that L approved it, though she didn’t say so specifically). As someone who wants to defend L’s reputation, I would urge you to defend the credibility of L as good and careful administrative lawyers, and don’t let [her] give L a bad name. I can’t believe that L would have approved this, and you shouldn’t let [her] imply that you did.”

Visek responds to Bellinger in an email: “Thanks for the heads up. I’ll reach out to PA [The department’s Bureau of Public Affairs] and try to make sure they understand.” These emails will be made public in June 2016 due to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the Daily Caller. (US Department of State, 5/31/2016) (The Daily Caller, 6/7/2016) 

However, the department will not follow Bellinger’s advice and will not reveal to the public that Clinton’s email practices were never approved by the department’s lawyers. That will finally be revealed in a State Department inspector general’s report in May 2016. (US Department of State, 5/25/2016)

June 8, 2016: It remains unknown if the State Department’s legal office was aware of Clinton’s use of a private email server.

While deposed in a civil lawsuit by Judicial Watch, State Department official Karin Lang declines to say whether or not the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser was aware of Clinton’s private server. She also declines to say whether the department’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process or searches were adequate when Judicial Watch in 2013 requested records that could have included emails from Clinton.

Lang is accompanied by four lawyers for the State and Justice departments in the deposition, and they object that such questions violate attorney-client privilege or are a legal judgment. (The Washington Post, 6/8/2016)