The State Department’s independent watchdog has issued a highly critical analysis of Hillary Clinton’s email practices while running the department, concluding that she failed to seek legal approval for her use of a private email server and that department staff would not have given its blessing because of the “security risks in doing so.”
The inspector general, in a long awaited review obtained Wednesday by The Washington Post in advance of its publication, found that Clinton’s use of private email for public business was “not an appropriate method” of preserving documents and that her practices failed to comply with department policies meant to ensure that federal record laws are followed.
The report says Clinton, who is the Democratic presidential front-runner, should have printed and saved her emails during her four years in office or surrendered her work-related correspondence immediately upon stepping down in February 2013. Instead, Clinton provided those records in December 2014, nearly two years after leaving office.
The report found that a top Clinton aide was warned in 2010 that the system may not properly preserve records but dismissed those worries, indicating that the system passed legal muster. But the inspector general said it could not show evidence of a review by legal counsel.
A Clinton spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The 83-page report reviews email practices by five secretaries of state and generally concludes that record keeping has been spotty for years.
It was particularly critical of former secretary of state Colin Powell – who has acknowledged publicly that he used a personal email account to conduct business – concluding that he too failed to follow department policy designed to comply with public-record laws.
Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, said the report underscores the need for federal agencies to adapt “decades-old record-keeping practices to the email-dominated modern era.” He said it is clear from the report that the department could have preserved emails better under multiple secretaries of state but said that multiple improvements have been put in place under Secretary of State John F. Kerry to improve record retention.
The timing of the report is inconvenient for Clinton, who now faces an intense onslaught of attacks from presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
But its release – as well as the conclusion of an ongoing FBI investigation – have also been seen for months by her allies as key milestones to finally putting the email issue to rest. They have worked to inoculate her against potentially critical findings, accusing the State Department’s inspector general of working in concert with congressional Republicans to harm her presidential campaign and noting that a top inspector general official used to work for Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa.
The inspector general has rejected allegations of bias, noting that the scope of the review encompasses secretaries of both parties and that it was undertaken at the direction of Clinton’s Democratic successor, Kerry. The report includes interviews with Kerry and Powell and former secretaries Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice, but it says that Clinton declined to be interviewed. The inspector general, Steve Linick, was appointed by President Barack Obama and has served since 2013.
The FBI investigation into whether Clinton mishandled classified material through her use of the private server in her home in suburban New York is still underway. FBI Director James B. Comey has said there is no “external deadline” for concluding that probe, but he acknowledged that there is pressure to wrap up the matter promptly and thoroughly.
Officials have said they plan to interview Clinton about the matter soon; she has expressed willingness to sit for such a session. They have also told The Post that their investigation so far has found little evidence that Clinton maliciously flouted classification rules.
About 2,000 chains of Clinton’s correspondence include emails that the State Department has since said are classified. A Washington Post analysis found that Clinton herself wrote 104 of those notes. Others were written by about 300 other people, including longtime diplomats and top officials in the national security community.
The new report focuses on record keeping and how Clinton and previous secretaries of state maintained documents regarding public business. She has said she complied with laws requiring the preservation of documents, including emails, because she emailed other government officials at their official accounts, knowing their emails would be retained on public servers.
But she has not explained how she intended to preserve emails sent to private citizens, who did not use government email. Some emails have emerged, particularly from Clinton’s first months in office in 2009, when her aides have said she was transitioning technology, that she did not provide to the State Department.
The inspector general cited those emails in concluding that Clinton’s 2014 submission of what she characterized as all of her public records was “incomplete.”
In December 2014, nearly two years after leaving office, she turned over more than 30,000 emails she said represented all of her work-related correspondence. She said that she also exchanged about 31,000 personal emails during her time as secretary and that those messages have been deleted.