Hillary Clinton’s team has several issues with the New York Times’ latest story about her email use.
On Monday, Times reporter Michael Schmidt published an article that claimed “Clinton’s top aides at times corresponded with her about State Department matters from their personal email accounts” The story also argued this called Clinton’s past claims about her email habits into question.
In a lengthy response provided to Business Insider, Clinton’s top spokesman, Nick Merrill, disputed several aspects of Schmidt’s story. The response was initially sent to Schmidt. It was only briefly excerpted in the article.
Clinton’s email has been the subject of a growing scandal since Mar. 2 when Schmidt revealed she exclusively used a personal email address during her time as secretary of state. According to Schmidt, using a private email address for official business may have violated federal recordkeeping regulations and posed a security risk. Clinton’s team responded to the first story about her email usage by claiming she took care to copy in government email addresses when she used her private one. Nevertheless the controversy has cast a shadow over Clinton, who is widely expected to be very near to launching a 2016 presidential campaign.
In his latest article Schmidt argued the fact Clinton’s aides sometimes used personal addresses raised “questions about her recent assertions that she made it her practice to email aides at their government addresses so the messages would be preserved, in compliance with federal record-keeping regulations.” His story was based on emails Clinton turned over to a committee investigating the 2012 terrorist attacks on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. However, Schmidt noted he did not see the emails himself and was instead “offered descriptions of some of the key messages” by four government officials.
Merrill’s response argued there were several reasons State Department staffers may have sometimes used personal email. This included occasions when the state.gov email system was down, which he said happened “frequently.” Multiple sources have told Business Insider that the State Department email system is periodically shut down due to security threats. Earlier this month, CNN reported one such incident occurred last November as “suspected Russian hackers have bedeviled State Department’s email system for much of the past year.”
In his email to Schmidt, Merrill also claimed some of the messages the reporter described in his latest story were actually sent through state.gov servers and not only private addresses. Schmidt did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider on Monday evening.
Schmidt’s story also described some of the content in the emails Clinton provided to the Benghazi committee. He said they “showed the secretary and her aides closely monitoring the fallout from the tragedy, which threatened to damage her image and reflect poorly on the State Department.”
Republicans have long criticised the State Department’s response to the attacks. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina), the chair of the House committee investigating them has said he will summon Clinton to testify.
In his response, Merrill argued the messages described by Schmidt showed “internal State communications line up completely with how the administration was discussing the matter externally.”
One of the criticisms that has been leveled against Clinton and other officials is that the attacks were initially described by former UN Ambassador Susan Rice as a spontaneous response to a controversial YouTube video. They were subsequently revealed to have been a more coordinated terrorist attack. The messages described by Schmidt involved a top aide telling Clinton that Rice’s first public remarks reflected “our view that this started spontaneously then evolved.” In a subsequent message, the aide told Clinton she might escape some of the backlash because she initially had not called the attacks “spontaneous” or described the motivations of the attackers.
Merrill concluded his response by saying he looks forward to the committee eventually making the emails public.
“This is precisely why we hope that these emails will be released as soon as possible, particularly those related to Benghazi, so that everyone will have the full context and see for themselves,” he wrote.
Read Merrill’s full response to Schmidt below.
Mike, please treat this reply as my on the record response to your questions.
There are any number of reasons why people emailed from their non-work accounts, and every one of them are perfectly understandable and allowable – evidenced by the simple fact that the State Department tells every employee they’re allowed to and how to properly do so.
The most obvious reason people didn’t use their work account was when they weren’t emailing about work. That includes sharing newspaper articles about the 2012 reelection, birthday wishes, or asking about movies. The next most common reason is that the State Department system was down which happened frequently. But it was their practice to primarily use their work email when conducting State business, with only the tiniest fraction of the more than one million email they sent or received involving their personal accounts. And in those cases it was their responsibility, as it is for all State Department employees, to make sure what needed to end up in the State Department system did. And we’re confident that when the public is able to read them all they will see that’s what overwhelmingly happened, and then some.
As for how you’ve characterised them, yes, we have disagreed. Starting with the simple fact that you presented several email as examples of using personal accounts when in fact those emails were sent from State.gov accounts. And in terms of the content of these emails from state.gov accounts, you have cited examples of both an email sent by Jake about the Sunday shows taped after the attacks and one about the Secretary’s previous remarks. Since you seem to have been provided these without context, it’s important to note that the first is proof that internal State communications line up completely with how the administration was discussing the matter externally – that is, the publicly stated administration view and the privately stated administration view were exactly the same. And that view was guided by the intelligence community. All that the second email shows is that given the maelstrom that formed in the aftermath of the Sunday shows, Jake was simply informing the Secretary of what she had personally said publicly, since many people were mischaracterizing her remarks. To apply any further analysis, or to suggest it, would be wrong. This is precisely why we hope that these emails will be released as soon as possible, particularly those related to Benghazi, so that everyone will have the full context and see for themselves. And we of course are happy to look at any specific emails that you have to make sure you have the facts.
Again, this is on the record in response to your questions. And if you would like to post online our entire exchange about your story for every reader to see for themselves, I am more than happy for you to do so. It might be the best way for them to understand.
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