Report

Hillary Clinton Says ‘No’ to Independent Investigation of Her Family’s Home Email Server

Former secretary of state insists she never transmitted classified information on her personal email account; only deleted private messages.

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Seeking to head off a potential scandal right before she launches a presidential campaign, Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that she deleted messages from a personal email account she used for official business as secretary of state because they were strictly “personal and private.” She also told reporters at U.N. headquarters that the email traffic did not contain classified material, and that the messages she deleted included notes about weddings, funerals, and yoga routines — and that she “didn’t see any reason to keep them.”

Left unsaid during a defiant yet deliberately breezy 20-minute press conference was why Clinton decided to wait two years after her term as secretary of state ended before complying with federal rules that require official email to be preserved at the State Department.

Her remarks — addressing a maiden controversy in her expected 2016 presidential campaign — also initially sought to deflect the political uproar by denouncing a letter signed this week by 47 Republican senators who want to scuttle a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Clinton served as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. During that time, she conducted official State Department business on a personal email account that was managed on an Internet server from her home. She said she now regrets doing so, and that she simply sought to eliminate using more than one phone or email account as she juggled her demanding work and personal schedules.

But Clinton also refused to yield to calls for an independent investigator to examine the home server, which she said contains “personal communications from my husband and me, and I believe I have met all my responsibilities.

“And the server will remain private,” she said.

It was Clinton’s first public defense of her use of official email while in government since the New York Times reported on March 2 that she had exclusively used her personal email account to conduct official government business as secretary of state. Doing so is an apparent violation of federal rules requiring that official email communications be preserved as part of the agency’s records.

But Clinton said State Department rules — at least while she was secretary — allowed employees to decide which emails are official and which are private. She said she also took the “unprecedented step” of asking the State Department to make her official emails public.

For more than a week, the controversy has dogged Clinton just as she plans her presidential campaign launch. It also drew demands from Republican and Democratic lawmakers to provide a fuller account of her use of email at the State Department.

Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have expressed concern that Clinton’s use of personal email to conduct official business constituted a security threat. And Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press that Clinton, as a leading presidential contender, needs to “step up and come out and state exactly what the situation is.”

Clinton sought to draw attention away from the email controversy, offering a rousing defense of President Barack Obama’s efforts to strike a deal aimed at limiting Iran’s capacity to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief. Obama’s diplomacy, she said, would “close off Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb and give us unprecedented access and insight into Iran’s nuclear program.”

She denounced as “out of step with the best traditions of American leadership” the Republican senators’ letter warning Tehran that a nuclear deal with the United States might not survive beyond Obama’s final two years in office.

“Either these senators were trying to be helpful to the Iranians or harmful to the commander in chief in the midst of high-stakes international diplomacy,” she said. “Either answer does discredit to the letter’s signatories.”

The controversy overshadowed what was supposed to be a triumphant return to the United Nations to highlight her long-standing promotion of women’s rights around the world. As first lady, Clinton delivered a famous address on gender equality at the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing, proclaiming that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.”

On Tuesday, she received a rousing welcome at a panel discussion on the role of corporations in promoting equal treatment of women. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of U.N. Women, introduced Clinton as “a future president.”

After her speech, Clinton headed out to the U.N. Security Council press stakeout area to confront a group of about 300 journalists. It is unusual for potential presidential candidates to be permitted to address their political controversies at the official Security Council press site. In a nod to U.N. protocol, officials removed the 15 flags of the U.N. Security Council members out of the cameras’ line of sight. But she was permitted to speak in front of the official blue Security Council backdrop because it was bolted to the wall.

Asked whether he was upset that a presidential candidate had used the Security Council as a backdrop, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told Reuters: “Why not? She is the future president of the United States.”

Explaining her use of the home Internet server, Clinton described it as an innocent matter of convenience to use a single device for her phone calls and emails. At the time, she said, “It didn’t seem like an issue.”

Moreover, she said, the “vast majority” of her official communications were sent to official government email addresses that, by their nature, were captured and preserved on government servers. She said she supplied more than 55,000 pages of work-related emails following a State Department request late last year that was directed to an unspecified number of former secretaries of state.

Clinton also insisted she didn’t conduct the most sensitive business by email, and that her home server was secure and protected by Secret Service agents at the house she shares with her husband, former President Bill Clinton. “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email,” she said.

Former Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman, who served under Secretary Clinton, said most of their official communications about sensitive Middle East business, including the Arab Spring, were “done mostly on classified communications systems.” But Feltman, who now serves as the U.N. undersecretary for political affairs, sidestepped questions about whether he had ever communicated with Clinton though her personal email.

Clinton downplayed the significance of the emails she deleted, which she described as messages about her daughter’s wedding, her mother’s funeral, yoga workouts, and family vacations, messages to friends, and other mainstays of her private life. Her description doubled not only as a defense of their relative insignificance, but also served as an attempt to portray herself as just the type of voter she’ll be appealing to on the campaign trail over the next year.

“No one wants their personal emails made public,” she said. “And I think most people understand that.”

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. @columlynch

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