The Cable

State Dept. Watchdog: Hillary Clinton’s Homebrew Email Server Was ‘Security Risk’

An independent State Department watchdog revived Hillary Clinton’s e-mail headaches with a stinging criticism Wednesday of the Democratic front-runner’s use of a personal server for work messages -- arousing an issue her campaign has tried to dismiss as overblown.


An independent State Department watchdog revived Hillary Clinton’s email headaches with a stinging criticism Wednesday of the Democratic front-runner’s use of a personal server for work messages — arousing an issue her campaign has tried to dismiss as overblown.

In a report released to Congress, the State inspector general concluded the former top U.S. diplomat failed to ask for legal approval to run a private email server at her home, and that even if she had, Foggy Bottom would not give it to her due to serious “security risks.”

The report also rebuked Clinton for not handing over her emails after leaving office in 2013, nor making copies of the documents so the correspondence could be preserved.

“Secretary Clinton should have preserved any federal records she created and received on her personal account by printing and filing those records with the related files in the Office of the Secretary,” said the report. “At a minimum, Secretary Clinton should have surrendered all emails dealing with department business before leaving government service and, because she did not do so, she did not comply with the department’s policies that were implemented in accordance with the Federal Records Act.”

The report also includes an exchange between Clinton and her longtime aide Huma Abedin from November 2010 in which the former secretary of state expressed concern that placing herself on the State Department’s official email system would eventually make her personal emails accessible.

The issue apparently came up because Clinton’s emails to department employees sent from her private account were not being received due to a spam filter. Abedin emailed the secretary saying “we should talk about putting you on state email or releasing your email address to the department so you are not going to spam.” In response, Clinton wrote, “Let’s get separate address or device but I don’t want any risk of the personal being accessible.” The exchange was first noted by Politico.

Overall, the report found that the department, across previous secretaries of state, suffers from “longstanding, systemic weaknesses.” But it specifically called out Clinton’s use of a private email server at her home in upstate New York.

Criticizing Foggy Bottom more broadly, the report said the State Department had been “slow to recognize and to manage effectively the legal requirements and cybersecurity risks” that have presented themselves as email has become the dominant form of government communication.

“What concerns me the most, especially in this political climate, is the exercise of poor judgment shown by Secretary Clinton’s inner circle in allowing her to set this server up when it was so obviously a mistake,” Mark Zaid, a national security lawyer who often deals with cases involving classified government correspondence, told Foreign Policy. “This is exactly what those of us in this field have been saying the entire time.”

The report isn’t the only email-related issue giving the Clinton campaign heartburn. There is also a lingering FBI investigation into her use of a private server and a series of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits seeking to pry into her emails.

So far, the approximately 30,000 Clinton emails that the State Department has released have not uncovered any smoking guns or other particularly controversial correspondence. However, about 2,000 of her emails were later deemed classified, sparking criticisms that her setup did not adequately protect sensitive U.S. information.

Clinton also has come under fire for telling her staff to delete some 32,000 messages that her team said were personal in nature.

Responding to the report, Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon emphasized the report’s conclusion that many of the record-keeping problems at State are longstanding. “While political opponents of Hillary Clinton are sure to misrepresent this report for their own partisan purposes, in reality, the Inspector General documents just how consistent her email practices were with those of other Secretaries and senior officials at the State Department who also used a personal email,” Fallon said.

This post has been updated.

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